Into the heart of the forest
6 December 2012, the forest core, Ngel Nyaki Forest Reserve
Why are some of the tree species so rare in this forest? What is stopping their seeds from developing into trees to replace the adult population? Are there genetic consequences of having such a low number of individuals of a species?
There are so many scientific questions waiting to be asked in this forest; plenty of scope for research projects for years to come.
Josh Thia, an MSc student from UC, is just starting a project on some of these rare trees. He will arrive at the end of the dry season in April, when his trees of interest will be fruiting.
In preparation for Josh’s arrival, Hamasumo and Hamadu were heading out in search of Cordia seedlings this morning. I decided to join them, as it would give me a chance to go deeper into the main forest.
Once into the main forest we soon arrived at the first Cordia. Hamasumo then lead the team to search for seedlings around the parent tree. As I had no idea what they looked like, I searched for interesting plants to photograph. Once the first seedling had been found, and shown to me, I could join in the search. But by then I had my eye in for interesting plants, so was always lagging behind.
After a few search locations, and only two seedlings found, Hamasumo and Hamadu had to move on to some other work along one of the tree transects. Leaving Idriss and I to continue photographing.
Idriss suggested that the only way to go was back up, but me, being a kiwi, thought traversing sideways was a better option. So we headed across into a steep gully, finding new plants to photograph as we went.
We then came to a thicket of vines covering a slope; Idriss thought surely we would have to turn back now. So I made a deal with him, I would take care of finding a way through, if he kept an eye out for snakes.
A bit of bush bashing later, we made it on to a ridge, where I quickly found a chameleon, by almost placing my hand on it. This one was similar in some ways to the previous one I found, but could be a different species – I will need to refer to the French id book again.
We slowly made our way up the ridge, which I recognised from my time in the forest 6 years ago, until we found a butterfly grotto. There were swarms of colourful butterflies of all sizes in this sunny patch. A perfect place for Sasha to come, net in hand, to collect a few specimens.
See the image gallery for more photos.
Cordia seedling in the main forest.
Chameleon number 2.
Butterfly in the grotto.
5 December 2012, Ngel Nyaki forest, Mambilla Plateau, Nigeria
The chimpanzees in Ngel Nyaki forest have learnt a few new tricks. Paul Dutton, a UC PhD student, has recorded them using tools in a novel way, and these findings are soon to be published in a scientific paper.
On the ground here, Musa and Alfred have spent the past few days looking for the chimps. Today they think they got close as they found a fresh nest. Hopefully in the next few days they may be able to locate them.
This is not an easy job. The bush is dense and the terrain rugged, with much of the forest on a steep slope, with deep ravines, which makes tracking animals very difficult. Whilst crashing through the bush, they are always listening for the call of the chimps, which they have yet to hear this dry season.
Today they returned to the field station with several digging tools, photos of a bee nest the chimps had been digging at, and news of finding a recent nest. So we are hopeful they are getting close.
The chimps move around the forest in sync with the fruiting of different food trees, and can cover a large distance in a day. Each day they build a new nest in the canopy buy folding together young branches. I saw nests on a previous trip in 2002, when on an expedition we visited Linde Fadali forest, about 50 kilometres from here.
If Musa and Alfred find the chimps before I leave, I will spend a day attempting to photograph them, which might be a challenge, as they are not yet habituated and so are very cautious of humans.
Today, I spent my day working with Idriss on image manipulation and database entry. In the late afternoon I walked with him back to Yelwa village to visit his mother. It turned into a slow trip as we kept finding dragonflies to catch; at one location we managed to collect 5 different looking ones.
We now have over 30 dragonflies in our collection; it will be interesting to see how many different species we have. News of our collecting efforts have already reached The Captain in NZ via this blog, we hear he is preparing reference materials in preparation for receiving the samples.
Musa and Alfred with the chimps tools they found.
A burning issue
4 December 2012, the grassland, Ngel Nyaki
Where there is smoke, there is fire, and lots of it. The annual burning of the grassland has well and truly started. The fires are started each afternoon by the Fulani cattle herders to burn off the dry grass and promote new growth.
The Fulani have been here for many years, but in more recent times, population pressure and a lack of enforcement, has led to widespread incursions into the forest reserve. Some Fulani have now become settled in these areas and it is hard to get them out again, and find somewhere for them to go.
Enforcement has now become much stronger due to the Project and the patrollers, but there still remains pressure to encroach into the forest.
When I last visited the Project in 2006 the message being sent out to the Fulani was to burn early. An early burn is much less intense than burning later in the dry season, and so causes less damage to the grassland and does not encroach into the forest nearly as easily. This message has obviously got through, as we are only 3 weeks in to the dry season.
The Project has fenced off several grassland areas of the Reserve to prevent cattle grazing and also burning. These areas are now being studied to investigate forest regeneration, including the experiments that are being set up now.
The set up of Hazel and Sasha’s experiments is progressing, we now have hundreds of stakes and cages are being constructed. Sasha and Sambo had to go to Nguroje to try and find some wire cutters as the five pairs of snips we had here were not up to the heavy use. They returned with four pairs of scissors, the best that they could find after searching all the shops. We hope they will be up to the job.
The number of residents at the field station has now reached 7. Today we have been joined by UC PhD student Aliyu Babale, and also Rhianna, who is visiting from Aplori, near Jos. Rhianna is here for a few days to investigate options for a PhD based at Ngel Nyaki.
Grassland fire near Fragment C. Early burning does less damage to the forest.
Teamwork: Usman Two stripping wire with help from Sambo (obscured) and Ali. The rest of the team are cutting netting for cages in the background.
Hunderds of cages, thousands of seeds, and tons of logistics
3, December 2012, Field station, Ngel Nyaki
Hazel, Sasha and Misa have ironed out the last of the logistics for two big experiments that are soon to be set up. Everyone will be called on to help as 600 cages need to be made and then carried into the forest, and thousands of seeds have to be sorted. It’s about to get very busy around here.
Hazel’s experiment is on plant herbivory and requires the cages to keep different animals and insects out. This will help to understand who is eating the leaves of the seedlings. Once set up this experiment will run for several years.
Sasha is running a seed predation experiment that will require around 18000 seeds to be put out at sites in the forest and then monitored. But before you can put out the seeds, you have to go and find and collect them, remove any damaged ones, and then count them out. This phase of the set up is already under way. This experiment will be run for a year with a range of different forest tree species.
The set up is estimated to take around 4 days, if all goes well - but this is Nigeria, so there are bound to be some snags along the way.
Today I have been out with Usman and Augustine to complete the other half of the photo points. We all took our new nets along and collected butterflies, dragonflies and even a large wasp, to add to the collections. We named a few more hills, there is now Betty Hill and JD Hill, named after Hazel’s parents who worked on forest conservation in this area in the 1970’s. They are the reason that there is a Project here at all.
In the late afternoon I managed to spend some time photographing along the forest edge, there are many interesting herbs and climbers in flower at the moment. They are all being added to the photo database. I arrived back at the field station just on dark, and just in time for dinner.
Misa, Hazel and Sasha talk logistics.
Preparing to take the new nets for a test run (L to R) Augustine, Thomas, me, Sasha, Bobo, Usman.