PFTC5 Blog Post

Field work in the puna (photo by Joseph Gaudard)

What were your goals for this course in Peru and to what extent did you realize these goals?

My first goal for this course was to learn more about plant functional traits. Specifically I was interested in learning methods, the gaps in literature, and how my PhD project fits within this field of study. I certainly met this first goal by taking PFTC5! I was able to learn most methods related to the trait wheel including sampling, leaf area, leaf thickness, and data management. Through discussion I also learned a lot of the gaps in literature including the assumption that there is lower intraspecific variability that interspecific variability in ecosystems. The group I was a part of is now testing this assumption with the data that we collected in Peru! I also learned that the functional traits of mosses are often not characterized because it is quite difficult to do so! My PhD work will certainly be able to answer some questions about moss functional traits in peatlands and may demonstrate the importance of characterizing moss functional traits in ecosystems.

My second goal was to learn more about data documentation and how to make data as transparent as possible. This goal was also met while taking PFTC5! From field work to the final sorting of leaves for storage I learned the importance of having a clear and documented methodology to help keep data collection consistent. Most importantly, I learned that all data cleaning should be done in R (not just the final analysis and graphs) to make it transparent how I got from raw data to the final published values. On this note, I also learned how to use GitHub for collaboration on scripts and for data transparency.

Working on the trait wheel (photo by Brian Enquist)

To what extent did COVID-19 affect your ability to realize these goals?

COVID-19 did not really affect my ability to realize the aforementioned goals that I had set for this course. Something I didn’t realize was a goal for me was to get to know new people, and I believe that the virus did affect that aspect of the course. When we found out that Peru was closing its borders to Europeans, the European teams were forced to leave much earlier than expected. While this ultimately saved them from getting stuck in Peru (like the rest of us!) I was disappointed that I didn’t get to know them better. When we got stuck in Peru, I did have the opportunity to get to know the others a bit more.

I also wish we had more time to spend in the field. The puna grasslands are breathtaking!

The puna overlooking the amazon rainforest

What did you learn about yourself during this course?
I learned a lot about myself through this course, but also by being stuck in Peru. First, I learned that I am capable of going on an adventure on my own! This was my first ever trip outside of North America, and as someone who struggles with anxiety, I wasn’t sure if I was even capable of doing a trip like this. It was difficult to navigate international airports (especially when they thought they had lost my bag at 3am!) but it this was a trip of a lifetime, even though I got stuck! During the time I was stuck in Peru, I learned that I am resilient and I can keep going even when the situation is undeniably difficult. PFTC5 was certainly an adventure of a lifetime!

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