Last Thursday I was lucky enough to accompany one of our visiting investigators, Martha Zapata from Ohio State University, into the field to assist with her masters thesis research. Martha is studying the complexity of food webs in the East River, a tributary to Fakahatchee Bay.
The day started great - we met at the Environmental Learning Center and headed out to our Goodland field station with all our gear, food, water and coffee. It was a beautiful south Florida day, sunny and in the low 70s. The journey began with a 45-minute boat ride out to Martha’s lower study sites in the East River. Martha also has sites upriver that are only accessible by kayak from US 41.
Martha is monitoring spider abundance and diversity, leaf litter accumulation, aquatic insect emergence, water quality and stable isotopes from collected plants and animals. All of this data is used to paint a picture of energy transfer throughout the system: from the nutrients in the water to phytoplankton and plants, then to aquatic insects, and further on to higher level predators like spiders and fish.
The day started with a spider survey, sitting in kayaks launched from the boat, we would scan the tree-line for different species of spiders and collect them using entymology forceps, if they were within reach. I was hesitant at first to grab the spiders but I quickly learned how to keep a hold on them while trying to lean and balance on a kayak.
After the spider survey we then checked and removed the pan traps and aquatic insect emergence traps, since this was the end of Martha’s research. The pan traps are floating Tupperware containers that catch leaf litter falling off the mangroves. The emergence traps, also called “Bug Dorms,” look pretty goofy: they resemble small camping tents tied at the top to a mangrove branch with pool noodles attached at the bottom to keep them afloat. At the top of the trap, there is a collection vial which the insects fly into after emerging from the water. While we were out on the water a local crab fisherman came by and said that, at first glance, he thought someone was trying to sleep in the tent-like traps.
Everything collected in the field is taken back to the lab for analysis at a later time. By the time we collected all the traps it was late afternoon and time to head back in. It was a wonderful experience being able to help a visiting investigator with their research and learn all about their project and sampling methods, which I had never seen before.
SWMP Water Quality Technician