Experiential Science Education - Yanayacu, Ecuador 2010

Samantha Stutz

Hometown:  Los alamos, New Mexico

University/Department:  University of Wyoming:  Botany

Why did you decide to go on the Yanayacu Research Trip?  I wanted to go on a traveling trip, a lot of the ones that were offered were through the English Department, I saw this and thought science!

What was the most important thing you learned?  Meeting different people that I know I wouldn't have met at the University of Wyoming.

How has this experience changed you?   I want to come back and learn more Spanish.  It ignited a desire to learn another language.

What are your plans for the future?  I want to go to graduate school and work with plants but I don't what specifically.

What advice would you give a young scientist?  Take as many science classes as you can and find a really good teacher.  It makes all the difference.

Sam's Reflections on Ecuador:
  The rainforest is always publicized by showing the cute animals, such as monkeys and jaguars.  We never hear about insects, especially parasitic insects. When I heard about the trip to Ecuador I was intrigued.  When I found that Greg was going I knew that this would be an excellent learning experience.  This spring I took plant ecology physiology.  One of our topics was plant defenses against herbivores (but we only covered qualitative and quantitative defenses).  I also learned that plants do better in diffuse light than full sun.  I looked forward to seeing the effect of diffuse light on plant life. 


I was amazed by the vegetation diversity in Ecuador.  The mountain pass was an incredible place to see.  It reminded me of the top of Rocky Mountain National Park.  The alpine vegetation was familiar (the plant families were different) but the low growing vegetation reminded me of mountain passes in America.  I found the trees (pine and deciduous trees) even looked like the krumholz in the mountains of North America.


I really enjoyed the drive through Ecuador.  On the drive all the vegetation was new to me so it was easy to just look.  The road was clear of vegetation so we could see the mountains and the vegetation at a distance.  I found the trees with epiphytes to be the most interesting.  It was so strange to see trees with branches covered with other plants.  I also liked the living fence posts with epiphytes growing on them.  On the road we could see many beautiful waterfalls and nice volcanic mountains. 


I enjoyed walking around the forest.  There were so many different plants to see.  The stream trail reminded me of trails in the canyons of Northern New Mexico (the canyons are really lush) but with epiphytes.  I loved walking on the trails because everyday there was something new that I had not noticed before.  My favorite trail was the ridge trail.  Climbing up the trail was grueling, but once at the top the view was amazing.  The day when Greg and I hiked a long distance was my favorite.  When we came back we reached the open saddle, and the sun came out.  We could see a great distance into the clouds in the next mountain and see the plants with really good light.  There were these two epiphytic bromeliads that caught Greg’s eyes, one red and the other green.  The red one looked stressed but was still beautiful, the green one looked happy.  I found a new appreciation for bromeliads in Ecuador which one can never gain from a conservatory in Wyoming. 


The rain forest was truly an incredible place.  The vegetation is so different than anything we have further north.  The plant and animal diversity is also quite different.  When a group of us went to look at the birds we saw more species of hummingbirds in 15 minutes than I have ever seen in North America.  The number of insects was also interesting.  After looking under about 10 fern fronds I saw many different, unique, and beautiful spiders.  I found the diversity and abundance of ferns to be breathtaking.  I am so used to only seeing ferns along streams, but we saw them everywhere.  I was also surprised by the number of plants that I have seen as house plants in North America.  When Greg explained that these plants are adapt at using sun flecks and therefore make excellent house plants I was amazed.  The plant leaves are so different.  It is really neat that the plants have a vein that sits on the outer margin of the leaf and forms a leaf within a leaf. 


I found the lectures exciting and engaging.  I liked the laid back atmosphere.  Each lecture was exciting, ranging from the play action of Scott to the artistic skills of Greg.  I liked the addition of the M&Ms to insect lectures.  I was happy that we all brought in insects to examine the coloration and camouflage.


After visiting the cloud forests I would like to go back.  I would like to see a lowland forest and compare it to a cloud forest.  I would also like to spend more time in the alpine region.  People are always talking about saving the rainforests and now I have a better idea of why.  By chopping down one tree millions of plant and animal lives are lost.  I was also amazed by the soil.  I had always learned the rain forest soil is nutrient deficient, but hearing about it and seeing it are very different.  After walking along the trail with the Wolffs and later hearing about the landslide I have a better understanding of how dynamic the forest is and how important it is to have vegetation keeping the soil in place.    


When I go back to South America I want to have a better understanding of Spanish and of the plants, animals and insects.