Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fieldweek in Tasmania

I travelled to Tasmania from January 3rd through 12th for the WorldDendro Conference Fieldweek. There were 32 participants, 15 group leaders and organizers, six grade school students (mostly high school), and one high school teacher.

The participants for the fieldweek were mostly graduate students and came from all over the world including Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, USA, Finland, Germany, Russia, and Zambia. The fieldweek was organized much like the North American Dendroecological Fieldweek which I have organized for the past 11 years. The participants split into six research groups and conducted original research from start to finish in a seven day period. The groups included climate response, stand-age structure (also called dendroecology which I lead), dendrometer bands to measure short term (every 15 minutes) stem growth in the trees, and long-chronology development.

My group analyzed six tree species (which were all knew to me) and developed well-dated chronologies from two of them. The samples below are Mrtle (Nothofagus cuninghamii), Tea Tree (Leptospermum sp.) in the first row, King Billy Pine (Athrotaxis selaginoides), Celery Top Pine (Phyllocladus aspleniifolius) in the second row, and an understory shrub Tasmanian Waratah (Telopia truncata).

Tasmania is one of the few places in the world that legally grows poppies for medicinal purposes as the main ingredient in morphine.  This produced many beautiful white blooming fields across the country side like in the picture below.

We caravanned with three vehicle out to the field site (see the van in the picture below) and stopped in the town of Sheffield to get a few supplies on the way out to the field.

We spent the first day in the field.  The weather in Tasmania was quite variable and relatively cool since we were there in high summer. It was often windy and storm fronts travelled through in our first few days.  Of course the entire day that we were in the field rained constantly and our rain gear was totally soaked by the end of the day.  It is also hard to core trees and label straws to store the cores when it is pouring down rain.  We had three groups (Climate response, dendroecology, and dendrometer bands) to sample this field site so we had about 20 people at the site.  This was a wet bog site with what seemed to be sphagnum moss forest floor.

Besides the rain, we got to encounter terrestrial leaches (see the one that was attracted to the heat of my increment borer in the picture below).  By the end of the day, I found seven leaches (five of which had attached to be already).  Because they inject an anticoagulant, we had many people arrive back at the field station with blood soaked garments.

We also got to experience Jack Jumper Ants which some people have an allergic reaction to which could be fatal.  Luckily no on got bitten by the ants, although we saw three ant nests on our hike in to the site. Below is a nest on the left and a close-up of the ants on the right.  See their blond colored pincers that they use to bite. Apparently they are quite aggressive.

 Our lab space for the research was relatively small. We spent most of our time in the space below for breakfast, lunches, and lab work.  

Our group moved out to a pavilion to do most of our work.  This was nice because we got to spend the days outside working on the microscope and our computers. 
We had dinner at the restaurant that was at Gowrie Park.  This area is also set up for backpackers with cabins and for campers.  We took over the whole dormitory space, but there were still many campers at the site.  We completely filled the restaurant during our dinner hour, so we had dinner early at 6:30pm, so that their other customers could come in after that.

Tasmania was a very beautiful island with many endemic tree species that do not occur anywhere else.  The fieldweek was a great success and all of the groups presented their research on January 11th.  We ended with a large social event which included some dancing. It was nice to have all of this work done and we all prepared to fly off to Melbourne for the WorldDendro Conference.

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