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One-month field assistant positions: tropical epiphyte ecology

by Marilene Rivas-Chavez on January 24, 2020

Internship position:
Interns needed for ecology field work in Panama (Room, board, and some transport included)

Project description:
Postdoctoral scholar in Biological Sciences at the University of Puget Sound is currently taking applications for two voluntary field assistants in Santa Fe, Veraguas, Panama. Epiphytes, or structurally dependent plants such as bromeliads and orchids, make up a third of tropical vascular plant diversity, but their community ecology is largely unknown.In spring of 2017, we set up a large long-term experiment in epiphyte community development and will be resurveying the 30 permanent plots from early March-early April of 2020.All of the fieldwork will be done in the beautiful premontane tropical rainforest of the Santa Fe National Park, a high-biodiversity park in the Cordillera Central of north-central Panama (Veraguas Province).The assistants will be a primary backup for the postdoc during tree-climbing to access the plants up in the canopy and also be involved with data collection and photo analysis. Every day we will hike out to the field site in remote mountainous terrain early in the morning and return before sunset. Assistants will be living with the postdoc and other field assistants in the nearby town of Santa Fe. All transportation within the country, room and basic board will be provided.

Skills gained/used in the internship:
Research assistants will gain a wide variety of valuable ecological field techniques as well as hands-on research experience:
-Single-rope climbing techniques used to access tropical tree canopies (up to 35m or 115’ high).
-Recognizing and identifying epiphytic plants (especially bromeliads, orchids, and ferns)
-Measuring canopy openness with a spherical densiometer
-Measuring heights in the canopy with a laser rangefinder
-Approximating vegetation cover of nonvascular and vascular epiphytes
-Taking high-quality photographs of plants
-Collecting, pressing, and preparing plants for deposition in herbaria
-Prepping plants in Silica for DNA extraction
-Spanish language (if not previously fluent)
-Collaborate on graduate-level ecology research

Upon arrival in Panama, all transportation, room and board will be paid for. Opportunities for small concurrent projects in which assistant would be a co-author on resulting publications are available if the assistant is interested in independent research. Glowing letters of recommendation for the future will be provided upon successful completion of the internship.

Duration and travel details:
Assistants are expected to arrive in Panama City, Panama by March 7h, 2020.The postdoc will meet the assistant in the airport and from there they will travel together to the field site, about a 7 hour bus ride.The team will live and do work in Santa Fe until April 4h(one month), at which point they will travel again to the city to fly back home. Depending on the research progress, a weekend may be used for a day trip to other areas of Panama, and the volunteers may feel free to stay and travel in nearby areas after the fieldwork is completed.

-Prior experience approximating cover estimates of vegetation
-Prior experience doing tropical field research
-Prior international travel experience or prior experience in Latin America
-Seriously considering pursuing a career in ecology or conservation biology
-Excellent academic performance
-Must be able to stay for the entire 1-month duration
-Must hold a driver’s license
-Fluency in English OR Spanish
-Physically able to carry 20-50lb of equipment along 2 miles of muddy, hilly, terrain every day
-Enthusiasm for living in rugged conditions for a month
-Must not be afraid of heights, getting dirty or wet, or insect bites

Strongly preferred traits:
-Prior rope-assisted climbing experience
-Proficiency in Spanish and English
-Extended time periods spent in rugged, rural tropical areas
-Tropical botany experience
-Familiarity with epiphytes
-Problem solving and practical hands-on skills
-Can drive manual transmission vehicles

How to apply:
If this position interest you, please send your CV, a short cover letter, and an unofficial transcript including your GPA are accepted from now until February 3rd. Skype interviews (in English or Spanish) will be conducted immediately thereafter. Feel free to email me questions!

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