By Finella Blair - Data manager for the Human Modified Tropical Forest Progamme
In November 2016, as part of my role as data manager for the NERC Human Modified Tropical Forest Programme (HMTF), I had the chance to attend the Heart of Borneo conference in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah and visit the SAFE project where the BALI and LOMBOK consortia researchers conduct most of their fieldwork.
One of my tasks as data manager is to ensure that the datasets (nearly 200 to date but still increasing) produced by over 50 researchers, are identified and documented so that at the end of the programme they are available for reference in future research. With so many people and datasets, the only way to track it all is with a database so the majority of my job is desk based. To manage data effectively it is important to understand the information you manage so I like to learn as much as possible about the research projects. The opportunity to get into the field and see them first hand is one not to be missed.
My first few days were spent at the conference, the first day hearing all about Heart of Borneo and the work of the Sabah Forestry Department. On the second day Greg Asner gave the Keynote speech, announcing that LIDAR imagery produced by the Carnegie Airborne Observatory had confirmed measurements to show that not only was the tallest tree in the tropics in Sabah, but also the top 50 tallest trees.
I then had a perfect introduction to the work of the LOMBOK researchers, as each gave a short presentation about their work, including my personal favourite, Rosie Drinkwater’s work on analysing leech blood meals as a potential method for identifying the presence of host species that are hard to survey by standard methods.
At the end of the conference I travelled to the SAFE project site. Over the week I stayed in camp, each day I followed a different team. While I don’t consider myself particularly unfit and I have done fieldwork in the tropics before, I was very impressed by the fitness levels and dedication of all the field researchers I followed!
The first day was spent with BALI’s Sam Robinson (photo right), Daffyd Elias (CEH) and their research assistant, taking soil cores, collecting hyphal growth bags and surveying canopy gaps.
On the second day I joined LOMBOK researchers (photo below) Ute Skibe and Julia Drewer as they worked with their PhD student from ITBC, University of Malaysia, Melissa Leduning. For Melissa, this was the final field work trip of her studies on the impact of land use change on soil greenhouse gas fluxes.
I later joined Proffessor Owen Lewis from the University of Oxford Zoology Department and his research assistant, Ross Gray, as they tested the design of a capture-mark-recapture experiment, using bait traps to investigate how moths and butterflies use riparian zones within oil palm landscapes.
The highlight of the trip for me was the day I spent with University of Kent MRes. student, Dave Seaman walking a 2.5km primate survey transect. We were at the start of the transect at dawn and when we emerged from the forest many hours later, I had not only seen and heard gibbons and langurs but had had the privilege to stand quietly and watch a young female wild orang utan barely 10 metres away staring calmly back at us. The temptation to click away with my camera was strong, but instead I just enjoyed the moment and it is one I shall never forget.
The rest of the week was filled with more field excursions and evening data sessions in the camp lab.
It was a very useful and interesting trip that has helped me understand so much better the information I am being sent and I appreciate just how much hard work is behind the spreadsheets I see back in the comfort of the Ecosystems lab!
Thank you to all of the BALI and LOMBOK teams who let me tag along and ask basic (but hopefully not stupid) questions! I will be chasing you for your metadata shortly!
A few of the many photos I took on the trip are below...