Costa Rican plants: Studying the present to understand the past

I recently visited the Costa Rica rainforest to collect samples for my research. Mireya Córdoba, a professor in sustainable development at the Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas, in Bogota, Colombia, joined me. Mireya is a botanist and environmental consultant and she’s done floral inventories all over Colombia. She knows Los Llanos—the savanna region between Colombia and Venezuela—very well and will also accompany me when I go there.

I collected soil samples (from which I can extract phytoliths) from several quadrants along a transect. In each quadrant, I made an inventory and collected plant species to compare the phytolith composition with the plant species composition. The plant specimens I collected will become part of the Burke Museum Herbarium collection (with copies going to the herbarium of the National Museum of Costa Rica) and the phytoliths will be part of the Burke’s paleobotany collection.

I then took a hemispheric photo at each sampling site. Hemispheric photos are “pictures of the sky” and are used to calculate the openness of the vegetation (a dense forest is very closed, a savanna is very open). The phytolith samples also provide information on vegetation openness. I want to compare this information with the one obtained from the photos to determine how accurate it is. In particular, I will use the “phtolith undulation index,” a proxy for canopy openness based on phytolith shape that was developed by Regan Dunn, former paleobotany grad student and collections manager at the Burke.

Article Source: Burke Museum