Training Day: 4
Today I woke up feeling very off due to the very vivid dream I had. Dreams here are so real, detailed, and colorful and they really stick with you. I’ve been trying to write them down, just for the heck of it. It seemed like a little fairy or greedy goblin was following me around and moving all of my stuff today. I lost pens, sunglasses, field equipment and just when it seemed like I was going to lose my temper everything lost would miraculously appear again. It felt like I was the butt of some unseen cosmic joke all day.
We navigated to some off-trail wetlands to do some practice amphibian surveys. Thankfully, the data collection process has been refined since 2006, when we were the guinea pigs for this entire amphibian monitoring program. Things have gotten more streamlined and the low quality or just plain dangerous sites have been dropped. It still doesn’t mean that any of this is going to be a breeze. Data collection is still a pain and young tadpoles are hard to differentiate sometimes–as Andrew and I learned today. We were stumped many times but luckily Deb, our crew leader, is here for a few days to help us. The last site we went to already had another herpetology crew there collecting chytrid fungus swabs from the bellies and legs of adult spotted frogs. They said that about 60 to 70% of the frogs they’ve swabbed in the Park have the fungus (which basically suffocates them by causing hyperkeratosis of their permeable skin). Thankfully, in Yellowstone, they haven’t been dying off in the numbers that researchers once feared they would; however, that doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods (no pun intended). The team was able to buy their own PCR machine and run DNA samples right from their field office which has increased efficiency and detection. (Just as an aside, the field crew consisted of three very handsome young men and one lovely young woman. It was nice to socialized with people around my age and not have it be awkward. I guess having something like frogs in common helps more than one would expect. Needless to say, I hope to run into them again.) They caught and released about 15 adult spotted frogs in this particular wetland and the frogs were so worn out from the whole ordeal that all 15 of them just floated, with their little legs splayed out, on the surface of the water. It was kinda cute.
They also mentioned that the guy we’ll be working with next week, Andy, is developing a DNA test that can detect the presence of amphibians in a wetland–down to each individual species. So all you would have to do is collect a water sample or swab and it would tell you what amphibians are there, their abundance, and even what species had recently visited the wetland. This sounds cool but it may eventually put us out of a job. Andrew made a good point though: it may not account for wading animals traveling from one wetland to another carrying DNA on their feet and such. We shall see.
Later that night we went to the rustic employee pub which offers $2.95 microbrews, delicious pizza, hard rock/heavy metal music, billiards and best yet, no shutter-bug tourists. It’s heaven. We spent a few hours there voraciously eating, drinking, and catching up. Deb made the mistake of asking me how a biologist becomes a soap maker for a living and that opened up a whole can of worms that she wasn’t expecting. There is no simple, quick way for me to explain that. I highly value conciseness but I just can’t seem to do my story justice by making it short and sweet. Seemingly a lifetime later, after I was done giving them an overview of my life from 2006 to today, it was obvious from the looks on their faces that I had tired them out. So it was back to the dorm to read my addicting book. I’m blowing through the second book in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy like it’s nobody’s business! I can’t put it down!