Some of our (lucky!) 2nd year students are currently undertaking a field course in Costa Rica! For the past two weeks they’ve been studying the breathtaking biodiversity in the Costa Rican rainforests. They’ve even had to deal with rainforest floods – more on that later! One of our students, Anna Kell, has taken some time out to write up this quick blog post to give you a feel of what it’s like to go on a University of Manchester field course:
Costa Rica is such a beautiful country with a range of life zones including premontane rainforest, Caribbean mangrove forests, cloud forest and dry forest. It also has numerous endemic species unique to Costa Rica including 60 amphibian species, 20 reptile species, 7 bird species and 6 mammal species. The country is only really touristy by the coast and when you get into the mountains and rainforest, only volunteers and researchers really visit.
Why did you choose to do this field course?
I thought this field course would be a wonderful opportunity to explore and study an ecosystem that I would never get the chance to otherwise. It’s such an amazing experience to be thrown into conducting your own research on something you’re passionate about in a new and beautiful environment. Having the opportunity to work in a rainforest with home comforts of beds, good food and even wifi, was so attractive for me.
What have you been up to on the trip?
We started in Turrialba mountains to acclimatise to the heat and the humidity at the Turrialtico lodge. Here, we were very busy: we went on walks through the forest to collect insect samples and bird spot for our species logbooks, we went to the Costa Rican Amphibian Research Centre for a night hike to find lots of interesting frog species, we surveyed bats with detectors and we even had a day off to go white water rafting!! We then moved to the Caribbean coast to experience lowland coastal forests before moving to La Selva cloud rainforest to conduct our research projects.
What was your research project about?
Hummingbirds. There are more than 300 species of hummingbird in Costa Rica, all with beautiful colours and patterns and I thought it would be really interesting to study an animal I otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to. Because hummingbirds have a poor sense of smell, I investigated the extent to which colour determines which flowers hummingbirds visit for feeding. This was determined by studying different coloured flowers and observing how many birds and of which species, at specific points in the day, come and visit those flowers.
Would you recommend field courses to other students and why?
Definitely! Field courses are an unbelievably amazing opportunity to develop your science skills in a field environment and to investigate ecosystems and parts of the world you may otherwise never have the opportunity to go. I also went on the South Africa field course last year and that again was an outstanding opportunity to conduct research in a new habitat and on animals you would never have had contact with. Everyone should experience these field courses – they are so rewarding and when you go back to labs in Manchester, you realise how much you’ve learnt and can apply your skills.
What has been the highlight of the trip?
Probably having the freedom to not only conduct my own research but to also enjoy the area you’re in e.g. by going on a canopy cable car and white water rafting. You’re treated as adults on field courses unlike trips with school so you actually get the opportunity to explore the areas you’re working in which is a great experience and obviously really enjoyable.
What have you learnt from this experience?
I think I’ve learnt how flexible science is: how science isn’t just about someone sat in a lab in Manchester but includes applying your skills in less conventional environments. For example, the scientists we were working around in La Selva spend so much time researching the rainforest and it can be easy to forget that science isn’t any less important or interesting because it doesn’t involve lab coats and test tubes. The whole experience has also been extremely rewarding in terms of developing essential skills that I can apply to my upcoming placement and final year, and the field course has inspired me to pursue a career in science communication to educate people about science and the environment around us.