Nature Reserve & Biological Station

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How to catch a hummingbird!

For about a year now, we are part of a research project in Northwest Ecuador which studies the interaction network between hummingbirds and plants. Each month we do a transect count of available hummingbird-pollinated flowers and we place time-lapse cameras in front of flowers to record hummingbird visits. Our reserve is just one of many other sites and it’s been a great opportunity for us to collaborate with Aves y Conservación and Prof. Dr. Catherine Graham, the head of our research team.

And after a year, the project has even grown bigger and we have been developing several side projects with our students and interns. One of them just started a few weeks ago with the arrival of our Dutch intern, Lyanne. She has to conduct a research internship for her studies at HAS University and she is staying at the reserve for five months. We are well aware that our research with the time-lapse cameras is limited to the lower levels of the forest. So that's why Lyanne wants to reconstruct the hummingbird-plant interactions through pollen collection from hummingbirds and will compare the results with the data on interactions recorded by cameras. To collect pollen, she catches hummingbirds and takes pollen samples from their head, beak and throat. For the collection, she uses a syringe which we filled with a fuchsin-gel that she puts on microscopic slides and analyses with a microscope later on.

The most exciting part of the field work is probably the trapping of the hummingbirds, though this also requires a lot of patience. We place feeder traps in the forest which are aimed to attract the hummingbirds and then wait. Once a bird flies into the trap, we have to drop the line and the trap closes. Our first attempts with the trap have been working quite well, as you can see!

The identification of the pollen samples is not that easy, even under the microscope a lot of pollen looks similar. Even though, there is a data base on neotropical pollen it's far away from being complete. Therefore, Lyanne is also collecting pollen from plants on our transect to have a reference collection. And additionally, our project now also collaborates with the herbarium of the Catholic University in Quito. An Ecuadorian biology student, Gabriela, who is planning to do her thesis on hummingbird-plant interactions as well, is now helping Lyanne with the identification work and Gabriela will continue with the project afterwards.

Photo credits: Jip Leermakers, Lea Kerwer

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