Welcome to the Forty Mile Scrub So we finally made it to the second field site, the Forty-mile Scrub National Park, in Queensland, NSW. What's it like? Well, this site is a seasonally-dry rainforest. That might sound like a bit of a contradiction: how can a rainforest be dry? Well, the forest here does get a substantial amount of rain, but it has a distinct dry season every year. (That means all of the rain has to come in the wet season, exactly when we're visiting. ::sigh::) It also means that it has plants that are clearly related to ancient rainforest vegetation. These two facts are why I chose this site for my project. I want to see how plants that evolved in a warm place, with plenty of water all year, have adapted to places where the seasons are different: dry, here at the Forty Mile Scrub, or cold, at my other site, in Tasmania.

Seasonally dry rainforest is known for two things:
Sometimes vines can strangle the trees they grow on
Vines can block the road
The most vines EVER

These vines look pretty cool! But they can make things really tricky. Imagine trying to identify a plant whose leaves could be meters and meters away from the place where you find its roots attached to the ground. It's not easy!

Its scientific name is Carissa ovata.

Much worse!! These mean that even though it was pretty hot, Amanda and I had to wear long pants, long sleeves, and thick protective shoes and gaiters all the time. (Here's what gaiters are.) We nicknamed this plant 'little devil' because it seemed to be poking us all the time! It's somewhere between a bush and a vine. The stems grow everywhere and are very tough to cut through.


On the RoadHi All! I thought I might share some pictures of my travels. One of the interesting things about doing field work is often getting to the place you are interested in studying. For my study, I was interested in finding a place that where there hadn't been a lot of buildings built or crops farmed. That meant driving a really long way away from cities and towns. Here's a map of how far I had to drive:

The other exciting thing that happened on this trip was that I got to have someone to help me out. It helps to have someone else in the field with me for a lot of reasons -- first of all, because it's nice to have someone to share ideas and thoughts with. It's also a lot safer -- that way, if something happens, I there's someone who can call for help. Especially with all of those scary creatures around (see the post on Fangs and Venom below!) Here's Amanda on the day she arrived in Sydney:Amanda_in_Sydney

So here's a few pictures from the drive. It took a few days -- first I had to drive to Sydney, then, from Sydney, it took three days to drive all the way to my dry-but-warm rainforest site. We stopped in Byron Bay, the town of 1770 (yes, that's it's name, 1770 -- it's named after the year that Captain Cook stopped in for a visit), Airlie Beach, and then, finally, one reeeally long day out to the Undara campground, where we stayed while we were working on the project. Here's some of the stuff we saw along the way.

First of all, every good road trip needs food! We stopped for a meat pie in Fredrickton, New South Wales. Amanda had Kangaroo (that's the K that kind of looks like an H) and I had Lamb, Mint, and Honey (not sure why that one gets a B, but oh well.) Yum.


We had a rule that whenever we passed a 'big' thing, we would stop and take a picture. So here's a few...

The BIG Prawn (that's what they call shrimp in Australia)

The BIG Banana

The BIG Bull

The BIG Mango

The BIG Mudcrab

But there was also a lot of empty road...


which was not without its hazards...


Luckily we never hit anything!!

When we got close to the site, which is in Forty Mile Scrub National Park, the road turned into just one lane, which really made me feel like not a lot of people come this way.


But, the other traffic on the road is still something to watch out for. Mostly, it's big trucks towing three or four trailers. These are called 'road trains.' If you see one coming you have to pull off the single-lane road as quick as you can!!


But at long last we made it. At the Undara campground, we didn't have to camp (which is lucky because after a day of thorns and bugs and sweat/rain, I really feel like a shower!) Instead, we got to stay in a little cabin in one of these old train carraiges.


It was pretty comfy by the end of that drive!!


Hello there! Happy new year. I'm finally back from Tasmania and have lots of pictures to post from the trip. It was very exciting! It was so interesting to see the Tasmanian rainforest. It is very wet, but also pretty cold there -- a total contrast to the tropical forests in north Queensland. I'll post some pictures from the trip in the next few days.


Animal Pictures: Some other interesting animals

Here's a few other animals I've seen in my travels:

This is a Bettong. It's like a very small relative of kangaroos, about the size of a rabbit.
It has a pouch just like a kangaroo though. I saw this one when I pulled in to set up camp one night, just hanging out in the parking spot. Actually, it made for kind of a noisy night... the place where I set up my tent must have been right next to one of their favorite trails. They were running past my head all night!

A Bettong

Here is a mantis I saw in a tree-fall gap in the rainforest. As you might imagine, rainforests are usually pretty dark, due to all the trees growing there (thanks, captain obvious.) When a tree falls down, it clears a big hole in the canopy, which lets a lot of light through. So the plants and animals that live in the tree-fall gap are usually pretty different from the ones in the rest of the forest. This one was sunbathing perched on a giant fern.

It is Australia so of course my animal pictures wouldn't be complete without a picture of a kangaroo. This one is from a small hotel where I stayed one night between two different field sites. They give the kangaroos breakfast every morning, and if you are staying there, you can watch them while you are eating your cereal.
A Kangaroo

Ok, I'm going to go get ready for my next trip now. I'm heading to Tasmania in about two weeks, so there is really a lot to get set. Maybe my next posting will be about some of the equipment I'm getting ready to take with me... or about making plans to take the car ferry (it is a pretty long trip... overnight!)


Animal Pictures: Fangs and Venom

So I've had lots of requests for more animal pictures, especially of snakes and spiders. I have to admit that Australia is one of the best places to see these creatures. It has some of the most dangerous snakes and spiders in the world. I don't have any of my own pictures of them though so I'll have to share these pictures from the generous people who have posted them for ge
neral use on Wikimedia Commons:

external image Huntsman_spider_white_bg03.jpg
Huntsman Spider -- these are seriously big, like about 6 inches from leg-tip to leg-tip,
which makes them one of the most awesome looking spiders in Australia.
In spite of their take-no-prisoners looks, though, they're really more like
gentle giants... although they can inflict a nasty bite, they
are kind of shy usually choose to run away.
Photo by Fir0002, from Wikimedia Common

Funnel-Web Spider -- there are two different kinds, but they are both quite poisonous. Check out the fangs on the spider on the right!
Left: photo by Fir0002 from Wikimdia Commons
Right: photo by Tirin from Wikimedia Commons
external image Victorian_funnelweb.jpgexternal image Atrax_robustus.jpg

Now for some snakes... both of these ARE found at my field sites so I have to be a bit on the careful side. In fact, if you look back to my first posting, you'll see that I'm wearing yellow gaiters above my boots. The reason for this is to avoid snakebites, just in case I run in to one of these guys.

This one is the Coastal Taipan, posted by AllenMcC
external image Coastal-Taipan.jpg
Eastern Brown Snake
Eastern Brown Snake

This one is the Eastern Brown Snake, posted by Poyt448 (Peter Woodard)

Grants: Paying for Science

Hi Everybody...

Sorry I've been out of touch for a few days. I've been working really hard to finish a grant application that I hope will help cover the costs of traveling around to all these cool forest sites. I decided to share a few of the pictures from the grant with you.
So this is a picture I made to explain the place where I work to the people who will be reading my grant and deciding if I should get the money. It shows the three forests where I am working: At the top (labeled A) is a picture I took of the wet tropical rainforest; below that (labeled B) is a picture of a bottle tree from the dry forest, and on the bottom (labeled C) is a picture of the cool-temperate rainforest in Tasmania. I borrowed a pictures that KeresH posted to Wikimedia commons, because I haven't been to Tasmania yet. But I am going soon... !

One of the hard things about writing a grant is explaining where you are working and what you are doing. Even though the people who read it are other scientist, they might not know very much about rainforests, because they might be studying something completely different. For instance, they might be studying ecosystems where the most common plants are grass, like the prairie, instead of trees.

The people who read the grant are other scientists, who volunteer for the job. Most of them would be a bit older than me though--they are probably already done with their PhDs (I'm still working on mine.) Everyone takes a turn doing this jobs, and that keeps the whole system working. It also keeps things fair, since the people who are deciding who gets grant money changes every time.

Where does the money come from? Most of it actually comes from taxes. Most people don't really like paying taxes, but I hope it helps to think about the things the taxes are paying for, like helping learn about where biodiversity comes from (like my project) or how to make people healthier (a lot of funding goes to heath research.)

OK, now I'm going to get back to answering your discussion questions... and I hope to hear more from you all soon!

-- Steph

First_field_trip.pngJust thought I'd post a few pictures from my first trip to the field (this was last June, so a little while ago.) I went to look at some different rainforest sites and see which ones might be good for my project. I wanted to see if they really did have rainforest-type plants growing at them, and how easy (or hard!) it was to get to the different places.

HomeToMany.JPGThis tree growing in the wet rainforest (it was in Koombooloomba State Forest, isn't that a great name?) was absolutely covered in other plants -- vines, ferns, orchids, you name it. Although it's hard to know the age of tropical trees, this one was certainly hundreds of years old. It's interesting to think about how many smaller living things depend on this one. One of the hypotheses I'll be testing in my project is whether this kind of dependence is more common in the tropics. First observations suggest it is... have you ever seen a tree with this many things living on it in California?

Here's another thing that lives in the wet rainforest: land leeches! Here's on that tried to bite me making a getaway. It's just a little below the center of the picture. These guys hang out on leaves or twigs all day, waving their heads in the air. They'll latch on to any passing animal, and then they suck their blood. Hey, everybody's got to make a living. Even though I think is totally gross when one bites me, they are kind of cool. When one bites you, compounds in its saliva keep your blood from clotting. This is being explored for its uses in medicine. If you are curious, you can read more about it on the Australian Museum's leech page.

WalkintheDryForest.JPGSo now compare this picture of the seasonally dry tropical rainforest to the one of the wet rainforest above. As you might guess from the name, seasonally dry rainforest is dry for part of the year. This might sound confusing, but, these forest still do get enough rain to be considered rainforests. It's just that all of the rain comes in a few months of the year, and the rest of the year is dry.

As you can see in this picture, this rainforest still has quite a few vines in it, but many fewer ferns and orchids than the wet rainforest. Why do wet places have so many more plants living on top of other plants? I hope to find out!

This page in my field guide made me laugh. (It explains that the next section will be about "Less Familiar Plants.") Since most of the plants in the Australian rainforests are new to me, sometimes it seems like they are ALL unfamiliar plants.

Last but not least, here's the campsite that was home sweet home while I was checking out the wet rainforest. Well, one of the wet rainforest places that I went to... I actually looked at four different spots in my search for the one that fit my project the best. Most likely, I'll actually try and collect samples from at least three different places, so that I can get the best sense of what plants are like in the tropics in general, and have less of a chance that my overall measurements will be messed up by something peculiar that went on at just one place. But more about that later. For now, I just wanted to show how peaceful the campsite was. You can't see it in this picture, but it was right near a beautiful creek where I went for an afternoon swim!

That's all until my next trip! In a couple of weeks I'll be heading south to Tasmania, to see if I can pick out a few good sites in the cool temperate forest. I'll post some more pictures when I get there!



PS. I had a request for more pictures of the plants that grow on other plants (thanks for the comment from c-shotz!) So here are a few pictures of orchids, vines and ferns that I managed to find. Like everything scientific, there is a term for these kind of plants -- we call them epiphytes. "Epi" means "on top of" and "phyte" means plant. So it is just a shorter way of saying it. Anyway, here are some epiphyte pictures!

An orchid plant (without a flower) -----------Some crazy vines!-------------------------------- These vines are just getting started------A solid-leaved fern epiphyte
Two pictures of rock orchids, both in the cloud forest.

Click here to read the most recent posting: TOP OF PAGE

Welcome to Reports from the Field! I wanted to start with a few words about myself and what I'm working on. My name is Stephanie Stuart, and I'm a graduate student at University of California, Berkeley. It's in the bay area, near San Fransisco. I'm working on getting my PhD. Contrary to what you might think, I'm a scientist. Before I started my PhD, I pretty much thought that all scientistsDaviesCreekRoad.JPG worked in mysterious labs, like the ones in movies, or maybe for shady organizations that were planning to take over the world. Some do work for private companies, of course, or in government agencies, but most work at universities, which means that most are either students or professors. So I'm one of the student ones.

My project is about the plants that grown in three different types of rainforests in Australia: the tropical wet rainforest, the seasonally dry tropical rainforest, and the cool temperate rainforest. To show you where I'm working, I wanted to make a map showing California and Australia. So I opened up Google Earth:
Hmm, further apart than I thought.

Here is another view (from Google Maps) that makes things a little clearer.
It also shows you where in Australia I am right now: when I'm not in the forest, I work in Canberra. There's a lab here, where I can do different kinds of analysis, for instance, if I want to do different tests on the thickness or chemical properties of leaves. I also have an office here, where I can crunch numbers about the different kinds of data I collect.

Finally, here are the places where I'm working. As I said, they are three different types of rainforest: tropical wet rainforest, where it is warm enough, and wet enough, for plants to grow all year; seasonally dry tropical forest, where it is warm all year, but there are several months without rain when many plants are dormant, and finally, cool temperate rainforest, where there is plenty of rain all year, but it is too cold for plants to grow during the winter.

There you have it! The purpose of my study is to compare these three different types of weather: warm and wet, warm and dry, and cool and wet. I want to see if it is harder for plants to live in a place that is sometimes too dry, or a place that is sometimes too cold.

So that's the set up. I went on a trip to the two tropical forests last June, so my next post will have more interesting pictures from those places!

See you again soon,


This project supported in part by an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, NSF Award #1011638
Thanks NSF!