The main focus of my project for the past few months has been concentrating on my 30 sub-plots, and climbing Habitat Trees – often to the dizzy heights of 30 m in search of microhabitats (photograph below), but more importantly, epiphytes (lichens and bryophytes)!
The tree climbing element of my work is integral to my project in understanding the diversity of epiphytes found on different microhabitats. Climbing the tree allows me to access the whole tree and sample microhabitats that are normally inaccessible. Although the project has been my main focus, I have also experienced action-packed days of swinging around in the tree canopy! Overall my sampling approach takes a lot of time and energy, but it´s a whole different world within the canopy, with an exciting collection of epiphytes stretched across the long branches of the tree.
It has taken many weeks to organise and to get into a rhythm of epiphyte sampling. The climbing technique involves using a ´Big Shot´ (similar to a catapult) to get our ropes into the canopy, ascending the tree using prussiks and an ascender (with a bit of power and technique), and a lanyard to move around the canopy. Whilst advancing up the tree, epiphytes are sampled by collecting specimens in packets and recording abundance values within each compartment, and microhabitat.
One lesson that I have learnt from my tree climbing experience, so far, is never to climb on a very windy day! The Habitat Trees are generally very high and it can make you feel very queasy when the tree is moving around, especially when you are at the top!
Whilst sampling the trees, and especially once sampling has been completed, I will be concentrating my efforts on identifying epiphyte samples. This will include the use of a microscope and a chemical kit (to observe colour reactions and assist with identifying lichen species).
There are still many Habitat Trees to complete, but with increased familiarity with the technique (and stamina) we are advancing the trees at an increasingly faster pace!