The goals of the course for me were twofold: (1) to learn more about plant functional trait collection and how to analyse the data and (2) meet a lot of awesome peers from around the world. I feel that only part of my first goal was achieved; I learned how we collected functional traits but because of a time crunch at the end, we did not really learn how to analyse the data (I would have liked to learn a bit even if we used data from a different study/course). The second goal was overwhelmingly achieved! I met many awesome people on the course who shared very similar as well as very different interests in ecology than mine and it was fantastic! I fully intend to keep in touch with many people from the course – if anyone is heading towards Brisbane within the next couple of years (or sometime in the distant future when I finish counting my seeds…) give me a buzz!
From this course the things that I knew about myself that were reinforced were: my ability to speak/comprehend Spanish is terrible; I am very out-of-shape, especially at altitude; I am always overly ambitious on what can be done resulting in a poor work/life balance (or at least not giving myself enough time to work in and also enjoy Peru). Things that I learned new about myself were: I pack way too much for the field (though my over-preparedness did help others a few times); I really don’t like scanning leaves but enjoy other menial tasks such as leaf thickness measurements; I cannot sleep in buses/vans; probably a few more I am forgetting. 🙂
Through our interviews, I learned that many of the people of Peru have felt/observed changes in the climate and that many attributed the change to human activities. However, multiple other environmental changes that are not correlated with climate change (e.g. pollution) were also included within the ‘climate change’ concept for many people. I think that this showed a misunderstanding of how to tease apart climate change and other anthropogenic environmental impacts (which is a common trend also in the US and Australia). I enjoyed getting out and surveying the people of Peru. However, as a non-Spanish speaker, I did not get much out of the interactions with the people because of my lack of ability to converse. I think that the information collected is valuable, though (as usual), I think more surveys would have been even better (maybe canvas a few more days in Cusco or other towns such as Pisac). I did think the surveys were too long (especially when standing out the in hot sun) and, perhaps, if some of the questions could have been trimmed to make a shorter questionnaire we might have been able to collect more data points, though I understand that wanting to mirror a previous study was one of the purposes that the survey was as it was.
Overall, I very much enjoyed the course in Peru and look forward to working with the cleaned dataset and identifying any interesting trends in the plant species/trait composition across elevation and fire. Til next time… cheers!