Time for a little update. Since the last post, I’ve moved to Fort Collins, started working on teaching and research projects, and been back down to Perú for a 2 week visit. In Perú, I first stopped in Cusco with Kim and we met with collaborators Juan Carlos and Amanda to talk about frogs and permits and drop off museum samples (and to sample some local flavors).
Then, with a quick stop in Lima to pick up some new insect cultures to feed various sizes of toad, I hopped on the bus to Oxapampa and met with Flor and Fede. We spent time working on permits, refining protocols and data sheets, and checking in on the animals. One of the tadpole clutches started to get their little front feet while I was there, which is always an exciting time.
We also spent many hours searching around for more frogs so that Molly could test their hearing when she returns later this year. But, it seems as if the dry(er) season had already started, so those hours spent in the day and late in to the night amounted to moving lots of leaves with lots of sticks rather than finding frogs. But, given the location, it could have been worse.
Aside from the trip to the field site, I have been adjusting to life in the US after many years in Costa Rica. Some things are taking a while to settle in, such as the lack of extravagant hellos and goodbyes and cheek kisses regardless of how long it was since you last saw a person, which when suddenly absent feels a bit like you are being smugged off on a regular basis. But generally the adjustment has been relatively easy because Fort Collins is a charming town full of mountain trails, great food (and breweries!), quirky little cafés, and truly friendly people.
I’ve spent most of my time in these first few months on 4 main things. First, I have spent way more time than I ever thought would be necessary completing orientations, trainings, and sorting out the logistics of life, transportation, and being legally licensed and employed with benefits. I’m glad this phase of bureaucracy and paperwork is finishing up now.
Second, I have been preparing to teach Animal Behavior (BZ300) at CSU this summer. While I’ve spent a good amount of time dissecting the textbook and writing lectures, a lot of the time has also been spent coming up with engaging activities and reading potential discussion papers so that the students will actually be doing scientific thinking during class and not mindlessly taking notes. They’ll be writing funding proposals (GRFPs), developing experiments and hypotheses in class, and presenting a short journal article while learning the basic concepts of the field of animal behavior. I am thrilled at the opportunity to teach my favorite subject, and grateful that I have the time to invest ahead of the course to make sure it is a good one.
Third, I have been in constant contact with the folks in Perú to move along the permit process, troubleshoot over obstacles with rearing frogs and tadpoles, and talk about plans in the coming couple of years. Flor sends lovely photo and video updates so that I can live vicariously.
Lastly, I have been working on a piece of another of Kim’s grants focused on the behavior of Trinidadian guppies. My role is to analyze some existing transcriptome data, specifically focusing on using bioinformatics tools to find SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms, or places that the genes differ between individuals). It involves a lot of trial-and-error code writing while logged on to the supercomputer in our collaborator’s lab in Florida. I am having way more fun with this computer-based work than I anticipated, which is great because the upcoming analysis of the development of ears or not-ears in toads will involve similar work pipelines. I often forget that this work has anything to do with a pretty fish, but I still squeaked a little bit when I saw these first little blue dashes indicating SNPs after weeks of writing code scripts:
In the coming months, I’ll keep working on the teaching, guppy SNP, and toad rearing projects, and I’ll start mentoring some students in the lab to get going on histology (specimen slicing) of the development of ear bits in the toad samples we already have from Ecuador. The Hoke lab will also be attending the SSAR meeting in Kansas and the Evo Devo meeting in San Francisco in July and August. As they say in Costa Rica, “solo bueno, mae”.