May 2016
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First Vermont-Puerto Rico High School Student Exchange
By Noelia Báez, Luquillo LTER Schoolyard Coordinator

It all began last June when I was invited to talk for 20 minutes about Luquillo LTER Schoolyard activities at the Training Week for the Vermont EPSCoR program: Research on Adaptation to Climate Change, Research Experience for High Schools Students and Teachers.  At lunch time that day, science teacher Meghan Wilson from the Hartford High school approached me and the visiting teachers from Puerto Rico with the genuine interest of developing an exchange opportunity between teachers and students from VT and PR.  The idea was immediately accepted by our Puerto Rican crew, and the planning commenced.  Later that summer, VT science teacher Tom Lane from the Bell Falls Academy joined the effort and we got the approval and support from Lindsay Wieland, Director of the VT EPSCoR Center for Workforces Development and Diversity, and also Dr. Jess Zimmerman, PI of the Luquillo LTER Program. 

Following several months of planning, the first part of the exchange took place this past March when a group of 4 Puerto Rican science teachers, 8 high school students and I traveled to Vermont for a week full of educational and cultural experiences.  On March 29th students participated in the Annual Student Research Symposium hosted at the Hilton Hotel in Burlington, where they presented the results of the research they had conducted over the course of the school year. The research themes presented were related with PCB and heavy metals in Guánica Bay, stream characterization of the Río Limón in Utuado during the 2015 drought, and macroinvertebrates and chemical and physical parameters of urbans streams.  This research experience was shared among a broader audience that included undergraduates, high school students, scientists, managers, government officials, and other interested state and local groups.

On March 30th, Harford High school welcomed us and Mrs. Wilson students lead two blocks of science classes where they performed lessons related with carbon dioxide emissions and soil health, phothosynthesis, tree identification, vegetation growth and biomass.  A tour of nearby Dartmouth College was also part of the schedule that day, which included  a visit to the Life Science Department, where a series of talks related with climate change, bird sexual selection and survival mechanisms where taught by undergraduate and graduate students.  The next day, back at Hartford High School, the Spanish teachers incorporated our group into their classes where there were all kinds of gastronomic activities related with authentic food from Latin American countries.  The Vermont students prepared a traditional Green Mountain breakfast and the Puerto Rican students cooked rice and beans (por supuesto!).

We left the Hartford area and traveled to the northeast part of the state to the town of Fairfax, where we visited Bellow Falls Academy and spent the rest of the week.  By this point in the trip, the sweet smell of maple syrup was in the air, as March is sugaring season in Vermont. We visited the Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill, VT, a sugaring operation managed by the University of Vermont.  Then we got to experience a small family sugaring operation, where we observed the boiling-down process and enjoyed fresh samples of the delicious maple syrup.  Back at the school, the students attended Spanish and Botany classes.  They also constructed Global Decomposition Bags for deployment in PR, to be part of the Global Decomposition Project, a worldwide initiative that engages students and the general public in exploring local and global patterns of soil organic matter decomposition.  On our last day we visited a Vermont dairy farm, Green Mountain Dairy, owned and managed by the Rowel Family, and got up close and personal with the process of milk production.

We returned home safely to Puerto Rico, and a week and half later the Vermont crew, composed of 12 high school students, two science teachers, and one student’s family, arrived to Puerto Rico for the second half of the exchange. The agenda was packed with a mix of ecological, educational and cultural experiences.  On April 14th, everyone visited the Children’s Museum in Carolina, where the Hon. José Aponte Dalmau, Carolinas’s mayor, and his staff welcomed the group and talked about the educational programs that the municipality offers.  On the same day, they explored the Piñones Lagoons by boat, visited old San Juan, and learned about the San Juan Bay Estuary Program’s projects. In the evening they visited La Escuela de los Duros de Carolina (a school specializing in Science, Technology, Mathematics and Language) where science teachers Yiria Muñoz and Rosaliz Rodríguez coordinated a series of laboratories activities that were taught by their high school students.
The next day the destination was El verde Field Station, where Dr. Jess Zimmerman welcomed our visitors prior to their heading to the field for a series of Schoolyard workshop experiences. These included vegetation and soils characterization protocols that were led by Seth Rifkin, Project Manager of the Luquillo Forest Dynamics Plot, and Christopher Nytch, PhD Candidate in the UPRRP Department of Environmental Sciences, and a data entry activity led by LUQ-LTER Information Manager Eda Meléndez that focused on exploring the concept of biomass in a tropical rainforest. We concluded the afternoon with a nice hike to see the Canopy Trimming Experiment and the radiation site, led by Sarah Stankavich, LUQ-LTER Program Coordinator, and Seth Rifkin, and cooled off with a quick chapuzón in the Quebrada Sonadora.  That night the group kayaked Bahia Grande in Fajardo to experience the unique ecological phenomenon of bioluminescence.

On Saturday, the Corredor Ecológico del Noreste (CEN) welcomed us with a great tour of the leather back sea turtle nesting area, which was led by Diana and Ricardo Ju, active members of the Tortuguero Group, together with other members of the coalition and 4H club students.  Nilda García, vocalist with the local group Bombaé, offered a Bomba (Puerto Rican traditional dance) workshop to the group in the Luquillo Plaza.  With this experience we all merged into one language by singing out loud and communicating with the drummer in a vibrant Afro-Puerto Rican rhythm.  It was a magical experience indeed!  The following day, after a long drive to Guánica, we encountered the dry forest terrain with a heat index of 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Though challenging, our Northern guests dealt with the heat very well.  Schoolyard teacher Glenda Almodóvar organized a series of activities for the day.  We worked on Glenda’s experimental parcel where her students directed the group in gathering atmospheric, vegetation and soil data. The field work was followed by a hike to Fort Caprón, where we took in astonishing views of Guánica Bay, and a visit to the forest museum, where Aaron Hogan, Research Assistant of Luquillo LTER, gave the group a summary of the main research being conducted the forest and led us on a walk to the Flux Tower of the NEON Site. We closed out the day with a welcome visit to Tamarindo Beach and a dinner party at the residence of the Izquierdo family (two of the Guánica students). 

Monday morning started with a drive through the heart of PR to the northern Karst zone and the Arecibo Observatory, where we received a VIP tour of the facilities.  In the afternoon, we visited Schoolyard science teacher Elliot López at Juan Ponce de León high school, where Principal Jeannette Vazquez and many of Elliot’s colleagues and students made everyone feel right at home.  They received us with a very nice lunch, then treated us to a tour of the school projects such as the vegetable garden, recycling and compost stations, the greenhouse, and the new forest experimental parcel.  Our Vermont visitors had the opportunity to work in groups led by Elliot’s students and measure the DBH of the trees in the Karst Forest 25 m x 25 m plot, and then enter the data in Mrs. Trinidad’s computer laboratory.  The last activity of the day consisted of guessing flavors among different kind of traditional Puerto Rican candies! On April 19th, following a whirlwind trip, the Vermont group returned home.
This summary encompasses most of the activities and people who collaborated to make this effort possible.  We are extremely thankful of your support and participation. The overall purpose was to lay the foundation for an on-going program of cross-site and cross-cultural interchange, where students from VT and PR have opportunities to explore, experience and learn about science,  and take on active roles as young leaders.  From the feedback I have received thus far, the exchange was a success.  During the trip, I heard one of the VT students make the following comment: “This is the best vacation ever!” If we give students a series of hands-on, field-based science education experiences that challenge them mentally and physically and they still feel like they’re on vacation, I think we all are doing a great job.

To read an article about the program from the Gobierno Municipal Autónomo de Carolina, click here (Spanish)
Journey to El Yunque Webinars
Steven McGee initiated the Journey to El Yunque webinar series and associated YouTube channel to disseminate information about the research behind Journey to El Yunque.  In February, Jess Zimmerman presented results on the CTE. In March, Mike Willig presented on the population dynamics of walking sticks. In April, Grizelle Gonzalez presented on carbon cycle. The teachers who participated appreciated the opportunity to learn about Luquillo research and how it relates to Journey to El Yunque. The presentations can be found on our YouTube channel: The series will pick up again next year.

Updates from STRI:
Smithsonian in Panama:
New paper just out in Nature- Exciting new evidence pushes primate arrival to North America deeper into the past.

Bloch, J.I., Woodruff, E.D., Wood, A.R., Rincon, A.F., Harrington, A.R., Morgan, G.S., Foster, D.A., Montes, C., Jaramillo, C.A., Jud, N.A., Jones, D.S., MacFadden, B.J. 2016. First North American fossil monkey and Early Miocene tropical biotic interchange. DOI:10.1038/nature17415

Click here to read this article

La Hora del Planeta, a 6-minute Spanish-language video for Earth Hour that focuses on forest and water conservation, produced by the Panama Canal Authority

International Urban Field Station Charter
I am pleased to share the details of our new Charter for the International Urban Field Station, administered through the International Institute of Tropical Forestry in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico.
The purpose of the Charter is to define the International Urban Field Station, describe its mission, vision, and objectives, and outline priority areas for research and conservation education/citizen science outreach programs. While the focal scope is to serve urban communities and systems in the Caribbean and American Tropics, this Charter was developed keeping in mind the goals and functions of the USFS Urban Field Station Network, and is intended to complement and bolster those broader efforts.
This charter was developed in collaboration among the Institute’s Research and Development, State and Private Forestry and International Cooperation Programs.  And it is with much excitement, we envision the International Urban Field Station to serve as a network of ideas, resources, sites, and people that would contribute to the social well-being and vibrant environmental health of urban systems in the Caribbean and the American Tropics.
Grizelle González
Reminder: LUQ Annual meeting is June 9th and 10th. Public talks and poster session will be held June 9th at El Portal. LUQ Scientists meeting on June 10th will be at the Luquillo baseball stadium
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   extremes: Tree seedlings at intermediate abundance in a tropical forest have the highest
   richness of aboveground enemies and suffer most damage. J Ecology 104:90-103.

Bachelot, B., M. Uriarte, J.K. Zimmerman, J. Thompson, J. Leff, A. Asai, J. Kosher and K.
   McGuire. In press. Assessing the mechanisms underlying land use impacts on the composition
   and diversity of soil fungal communities in a tropical forest. Ecological Applications.

Chazdon and many others. In press. Carbon mitigation potential of Neotropical second-growth
   forest. Science Advances.

Gentine, P, M. Guérin, M. Uriarte, N. McDowell and W. Pockman. (2015). An allometry-based
   model of the survival strategies of hydraulic failure and carbon starvation. Ecohydrology
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Kunstler, G., D. Falster, D. A. Coomes, F. Hui, R. M. Kooyman, D. C. Laughlin, L. Poorter, M.
   Vanderwel, G. Vieilledent, S. J. Wright, M. Aiba, C. Baraloto, J. Caspersen, J. H. Cornelissen,
   S. Gourlet-Fleury, M. Hanewinkel, B. Herault, J. Kattge,
   H. Kurokawa, Y. Onoda, J. Penuelas, H. Poorter, M. Uriarte, S. Richardson, P. Ruiz-Benito, I. F.
   Sun, G. Stahl, N. G. Swenson, J. Thompson, B. Westerlund, C. Wirth, M. A. Zavala, H. Zeng,
   J. K. Zimmerman, N. E. Zimmermann, and M. Westoby. 2016. Plant functional traits have
   globally consistent effects on competition. Nature 529:204-20.
Click here to access this article

Lasky, J., B. Bachelot, R. Muscarella, N. Schwartz, N. G. Swenson, J. K. Zimmerman, J.
   Thompson, C. J. Nytch, J. Forero-Montaña and M. Uriarte. (2015). Ontogenetic shifts in trait-
   mediated mechanisms of plant community assembly. Ecology 96:2157–2169
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Letcher, S.G.,  J.R. Lasky, N. Norden, R.L. Chazdon, A. Andrade, J.L. Andrade-Torres, P.
   Balvanera, J.M. Becknell, T.V. Bentos, R. Bhaskar, F. Bongers, V.S. Boukili, D.A. Clark, D.B.
   Clark, D. Craven, A. DeFrancesco, J.M. Dupuy, B.G. Finegan, E. González-Jiménez, J.S. Hall,
   K.E. Harms, P. Heitz, J.L. Hernández-Stefanoni, D. Kennard, T.J. Killeen, S.G. Laurance,
   M.W.M. Lohbeck, M. Martínez-Ramos, P.E.S. Massocca, J.A. Meave, R.C.G. Mesquita, F.
   Mora, R. Muñoz Avilés, R. Muscarella, H. Paz, E. Pérez-García , F. Pineda-García, J.S.
   Powers, R. Quesada-Monge, E. Romero-Pérez, M.E. Sandor, L. Sanaphre-Villanueva, E.
   Schüller, N.G. Swenson, A. Tauro, M. Uriarte, M. van Breugel, O. Vargas-Ramírez, A. Wendt,
   G.B. Williamson, S.J. Wright. (2015). Environmental gradients and the evolution of
   successional habitat specialization: a test case with 14 Neotropical forest sites. J of Ecology
   103: 1276-1290.
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Locatelli, B., C. Catterall, P. Imbach,  K. Chetan, R. Lasco, E. Marin-Spiotta, B.  Mercer, J.
   Powers, N. Schwartz, and M. Uriarte. (2015). Tropical reforestation and climate change:
   Beyond carbon. Restoration Ecology 23: 337-343.
Click here to access this article

Muscarella, M., M. Uriarte, T. M. Aide, D. L. Erickson, J. Forero-Montaña, W. J. Kress, N. G.
   Swenson, J. K. Zimmerman. (2015). Functional convergence and phylogenetic divergence
   during secondary succession of subtropical wet forests in Puerto Rico. J Vegetation Science
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Muscarella, M. and M. Uriarte. (2016). Do community-weighted mean functional trait values
   represent optimal strategies? Proceedings Royal Society B.

Poorter, L., M. T. van der Sande, J. Thompson, E. J. M. M. Arets, A. Alarcón, J. Álvarez-
   Sánchez, N. Ascarrunz, P. Balvanera, G. Barajas-Guzmán, A. Boit, F. Bongers, F. A. Carvalho,
   F. Casanoves, G. Cornejo-Tenorio, F. R. C. Costa, C. V. de Castilho, J. F. Duivenvoorden, L. P.
   Dutrieux, B. J. Enquist, F. Fernández-Méndez, B. Finegan, L. H. L. Gormley, J. R. Healey, M.
   R. Hoosbeek, G. Ibarra-Manríquez, A. B. Junqueira, C. Levis, J. C. Licona, L. S. Lisboa, W. E.
   Magnusson, M. Martínez-Ramos, A. Martínez-Yrizar, L. G. Martorano, L. C. Maskell, L.
   Mazzei, J. A. Meave, F. Mora, R. Muñoz, C. Nytch, M. P. Pansonato, T. W. Parr, H. Paz, E. A.
   Pérez-García, L. Y. Rentería, J. Rodríguez-Velazquez, D. M. A. Rozendaal, A. R. Ruschel, B.
   Sakschewski, B. Salgado-Negret, J. Schietti, M. Simões, F. L. Sinclair, P. F. Souza, F. C.
   Souza, J. Stropp, H. ter Steege, N. G. Swenson, K. Thonicke, M. Toledo, M. Uriarte, P. van der
   Hout, P. Walker, N. Zamora, and M. Peña-Claros. (2015) Diversity enhances carbon storage in
   tropical forests. Global Ecology and Biogeography 24:1314-1328.
Click here to access this article

Poorter, L., F. Bongers, T. M. Aide, A. M. Almeyda Zambrano, P. Balvanera, J. M. Becknell, V.
   Boukili, P. H. Brancalion, E. N. Broadbent, R. L. Chazdon, D. Craven, J. S. de Almeida-Cortez,
   G. A. Cabral, B. H. de Jong, J. S. Denslow, D. H. Dent, S. J. DeWalt, J. M. Dupuy, S. M. Duran,
   M. M. Espirito-Santo, M. C. Fandino, R. G. Cesar, J. S. Hall, J. L. Hernandez-Stefanoni, C. C.
   Jakovac, A. B. Junqueira, D. Kennard, S. G. Letcher, J. C. Licona, M. Lohbeck, E. Marin-
   Spiotta, M. Martinez-Ramos, P. Massoca, J. A. Meave, R. Mesquita, F. Mora, R. Munoz, R.
   Muscarella, Y. R. Nunes, S. Ochoa-Gaona, A. A. de Oliveira, E. Orihuela-Belmonte, M.
   Pena-Claros, E. A. Perez-Garcia, D. Piotto, J. S. Powers, J. Rodriguez-Velazquez, I. E.
   Romero-Perez, J. Ruiz, J. G. Saldarriaga, A. Sanchez-Azofeifa, N. B. Schwartz, M. K.
   Steininger, N. G. Swenson, M. Toledo, M. Uriarte, M. van Breugel, H. van der Wal, M. D.
   Veloso, H. F. Vester, A. Vicentini, I. C. Vieira, T. V. Bentos, G. B. Williamson, and D. M.
   Rozendaal. (2016). Biomass resilience of Neotropical secondary forests. Nature 530: 211-214.
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Umaña, M.N, J. Forero-Montaña, R. Muscarella, C. J. Nytch, J. Thompson, M. Uriarte, J. K.
   Zimmerman, and N. G. Swenson. (2015). Inter-specific functional similarity and intra-specific
   negative density dependence underlie the seed to seedling transition in tropical trees.
   American Naturalist.

Uriarte,M., J. Thompson, B. Turner and J.K. Zimmerman  (2015). Linking spatial patterns of leaf
   litterfall and soil nutrients in a tropical forest: A neighborhood approach. Ecological Applications
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Uriarte, M., J. R. Lasky, V. Boukili, and R. L. Chazdon. (2016). A trait-mediated, neighborhood
   approach to quantify climate impacts on tropical rainforest succession. Functional Ecology 30:
Click here to access this article
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