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Day 12 – First day of sampling

August 23, 2010

Besides the usual call to prayer, we woke up to the sound of rain. Rain is not a good thing for most types of field sampling. Insects tend to go under cover. Our first of two church forest sites is about an hour’s drive north of Bahar Dar. We packed up the SUV’s and piled in. It was quickly established that all team members under 35 had to sit in the rear of the SUV’s. There is a 60 year age spread among our team from 19 – 79. I am the second youngest member at 28. My hats off to the folks over 75! A reminder that life is long and to never use age as an excuse for not doing something.

Churches are community centers, white robed church members fill the courtyard

We arrived at the church forest and took a walk around the 8 hectare site. 8 hectares not only sounds small, it looks small too (the forest may have shrunk some since the last time it was measured 2 years ago). Standing in the center of the forest, where the church is located, you can very nearly make out the edge of the forest. Yet it was refreshing to see a forest filled with indigenous (native) and endemic (found only there) species. A number of walking paths intersect the church, which contributes further to its fragmentation. The church clearing in the center of the forest acts an interior edge (120 divinity students live in this forest).

Hunched over a beating sheet, I am showing some local children what I've collected with my aspirator

We split up into teams to work on various projects. I started off sampling by beating sheet with Meg. We took our first set of data on the forest edge. We mostly sampled under an exotic (not native) bush with bright yellow flowers. We placed a 1m x 1m sheet of white ripstop nylon on a PVC frame (the beating sheet) underneath a bush before shaking it vigorously for 10 seconds. During the shaking, you look for insects dropping onto the sheet. Then you tally up the number of individuals for each order present. We sampled 6 times and saw primarily beetles, beetle larvae, thrips, leaf hoppers, weevils, flies, mites, spiders, bees, isopods, and ants.

Meg Lowman records data with future scientists lending a hand (that head covering on the left is a rolled up plastic bag which is slit open and used as an umbrella - the modern version of the woven ones)

We attracted a large following of passerbys. The children were excited to be sampling with us. A few young men spoke English well enough to ask us about our reasons for being in the forest. Though we have not been teaching in any formal capacity, we are here as ambassadors of conservation. These young men helped us to get our message across more clearly (in Amharic) to some of our younger helpers: we are studying the forests to find ways to keep it and the communities around it healthy for many generations to come.

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