Despite having had a brief academic career, I have been lucky to have been a part of many different research experiences and projects in the past, many of which occurred either in college or during my year off between undergrad and grad school. The extensive field nature of many of these experiences have cultivated within me a love and deep appreciation for good field research and contributed greatly to my current academic interests.
For a period of about 3 months in 2013, I joined the lab of I-Min Tso at Tunghai University in Taiwan as a research assistant. This lab is broadly interested in the behavioral ecology and biodiversity of spiders, and a lot of the research questions focus on the function of body coloration and patterns on spiders.
Although I was fortunate enough to observe and participate in a number of small projects, one of my main projects included surveying the invertebrate biodiversity of university campuses in Taichung County by collecting, sorting, and identifying invertebrate specimens. Field collection included setting up pitfall traps as well as sweep-netting the ground vegetation and tree canopies. In the lab, I also photographed and catalogued the arachnid specimens that we collected. In a separate project, I worked with then-post-doc Sean Blamires to test whether differential nutrient extraction explains differences in web architecture and geometry observed in the giant wood spider (Nephila pilipes) when it is fed and exposed to different prey cues.
I participated in my first international arachnid expedition to the Dominican Republic after I applied for and received a grant for international arachnid research by Berkeley’s Institute of International Studies. I joined the Caribbean Biogeography group (AKA Team CarBio), a large collaboration between multiple professors, post-docs, and graduate students spanning various countries and institutions; the purpose of this ongoing project is to better understand the processes that generate biodiversity hotspots in the Caribbean, such as vicariance and dispersal. In 2012, I joined in a 6-week expedition in the Dominican Republic, where I and 15 other team members collected arachnids from over 70 lineages in habitats as diverse as caves, rain forests, beaches, and quarries. Besides successfully collecting most of our target taxa, we also made numerous new discoveries, including the description of the first two eyeless cave spiders documented in the Caribbean.
I later joined the group again in 2013 for a brief 3-week stint that involved island-hopping through the Netherland Antilles on the sailboat Reboot, captained by ex-Navy Captain Roger Jones. Team CarBio visited the islands of St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, and St. Kitts during this period, in which I continued to practice my arachnid field methods and learn about tropical spider biodiversity amid other colorful experiences involving the ever-toxic manchineel tree and hunger-induced entomophagy (but let’s not get into that right now).
Shortly after the arachnid expedition in the Dominican Republic, I joined National Geographic-sponsored Berkeley post-doc Karl Berg (now assistant professor at the University of Texas, Brownsville) for 10 weeks, where I stayed at the Hato Masaguaral ranch in Guarico state, Venezuela. Located in the plains of Venezuela, this fantastic ongoing study of green-rumped parrotlets was originally established by Berkeley professor Steven Beissinger over 25 years ago. The data collected on the green-rumped parrolets (Forpus passerinus) over the years comprises one of the most detailed, long-term datasets on a wild population of tropical birds. During my time there, I assisted in monitoring the population through daily re-sightings via telescope, mist-netting and banding new individuals, as well as tracking the development of nestlings in artificial nestboxes set up throughout the ranch.
Additionally, I was asked to create an insect and spider collection for the museum at the Hato Masaguaral ranch. So when I was not out re-sighting birds and monitoring nestboxes, I was trekking about in search of arthropods to add to these collections. I was fortunate to have spent 10 weeks at the ranch field station, because these collections were regularly destroyed as I struggled to preserve the specimens in a tropical climate; my insect specimens were attacked from below (ants climbing up the tables), from above (hordes of ravenous cellar spiders descending from the ceiling to feast on them), and within (mold and mildews)! Eventually I learned how to protect my precious specimens from these perilous internal and external forces just in time before I left.
I was selected to participate in this 9-week, research-based course at Berkeley’s field station in Mo’orea, French Polynesia. Here, I conducted my own independent research on the defensive whirling behavior of the cellar spider, Pholcus ancoralis, a common forest-dwelling spider. I was keen on investigating this behavior because this high-speed, whirling action seems counter-productive for its assumed purposes of defense, as the motion seems more likely to attract rather than deter predators. Furthermore, I wished to determine whether this behavior is effective in promoting survivorship, and whether its efficacy differs across individuals of different ages/sizes.