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Summit, Mt. Kinabalu


Master of Arts candidate, Environmental Management, Harvard University Extension School

Focal Taxon: Arachnids; Lambir Research Project; Gaya Research Project; Maliau Basin Research Project

Field protection checklist on rain resistant notebook…a necessary reminder.

Field Experience

I love field work. Nothing compares to the rigors of working nights at sea, sorting and dissecting thousands of fish, or to the monotony of staring at 5,000 miles of sand, searching for sea turtle tracks. I look forward to testing myself in Borneo. Leech bites? Bring it.

Course Goals

I hope to compare Borneo’s resource management techniques, many of which are representative of other developing countries. From palm oil plantations to sustainable timber extraction, economic strategies in Borneo range from abysmal to innovative in relation to conservation of biodiversity. I would like to better understand how developing nations can have a robust economy and minimize impacts on natural resources.

With my master’s thesis looming ahead, I also hope to gain insight into the research process and to narrow my focus to one specific topic. I am particularly interested in restoration ecology, High Conservation Value designated areas, and GIS mapping as tools of environmental management, and I look forward to exploring their application in Borneo.

Personal Interests

After working at the New England Aquarium for four years, I have developed quite an affinity for all things marine, particularly fishes. I love snorkeling and diving, and I hope to see many familiar and unfamiliar species at Gaya Island.

When I’m not studying or underwater, you can find me covered in dirt in my garden in Cambridge, Massachusetts, or cooking with others.

Focal Taxon: Arachnid admiration!

I have been an arachnophile since childhood. Spiders are so impressive: 8 eyes, 8 impressively jointed legs, fangs, molting exoskeletons…the list goes on. My love of spiders came to fruition through my job at the New England Aquarium where I presented live tarantulas to large audiences of terrified visitors! This often involved mimicking mating dances and foraging behavior; when else do you get paid to wiggle??

On a night walk in Lambir Hills National Park, the spiders were just begging to be collected and investigated: everyone else was finding stick insects, flying lizards, and tree frogs. All that I could see was the reflection of my headlamp off of the millions of spider eyes.

For that reason, I have decided to spend the next 5 weeks as a spiderhunter. I hope to collect and describe 20-30 different species in the family Salticidae with the end goal of producing a phylogeny and gaining a better understanding of their biodiversity and evolutionary history.

Lambir Research Project: Territorial water striders!

Prepping for the capture!

I was immediately drawn to the water striders found in Lambir Hills National Park. I used to swim with them as a child and was always curious how an insect could walk on water so easily. After discovering an awesome collecting technique (which involves sling-shooting a net over the individual as quickly as possible) I brought several back to our lab. I was excited to see that their middle set of paired legs was covered in unidirectional hairs that allow for better distribution of their weight, as well as facilitates limited drag in one direction and increased drag in the other direction: a mechanism to allow for forward propulsion and less restricted forward movement of legs.

So many questions came to me and other members of my research group, Alex and Mindy, while we observed their behavior and distribution patterns: Are they territorial? Do larger striders live in larger areas? If their habitat is disturbed, how quickly would they recolonize? Are they distributed evenly? Do certain species live in certain water conditions? The list goes on…We chose to research intraspecific density dependent variation in territory size.

Gaya Research Project: Hungry Butterfly fish!

Ready for the field…er, reef.

I was very excited for this research project because it involved hours of snorkeling and observing fishes! Fae, Agri and I decided to follow butterfly fish species around, taking note of the surface that they were feeding on. We were hoping to find out if they partition themselves across the habitat according to feeding preference. We observed that as long as they aren’t chased off by damselfish, they eat all day. For our results, check out the abstract.

This research was very fun to do, but wasn’t without hazards. On the last day, a smack of jellyfish drifted into the reef. Consequently, we were stung all over. The dull itch was still worth it: I learned a ton about competitive exclusion, habitat partitioning, and butterflyfishes, and also I was able to observe many other interesting animals along the way.

Maliau Basin Research Project: Tasty rotting fruit!

Ganoosh making.

For our last research project, I teamed up with Shana and Kristina to study how a new resource on the forest floor becomes colonized by hungry critters. I got to indulge my love of squishy things by concocting apple ganoosh, a mush of apples and eggplant. We put many different size globs out all over the forest floor and periodically returned, checking for presence, density, and biodiversity of insects over time. When our ganoosh globs weren’t stolen by civets, we were able to see some interesting things. For more information, check out our report.

Like the my other experiments in this course, I had fun with this project. When else do you get to enjoy a post-lunch nap in a tree canopy of primary rain forest while you wait to collect data? Who else spots a pig-tailed macaque mother and baby on their way back from work? It was worth dealing with the stench of rotting apple ganoosh for sure.

Aside: I plan to cook some non-rotten apple-eggplant baba ganoosh for my research team back at Harvard! Delicious…I hope it doesn’t attract any frugivourous insects as well!