Agua Salud

The Agua Salud Project has three main research areas, as described by our guide:

  1. Secondary forest succession– 50% of land around the canal has been deforested, and the canal authorities want to replace those losses with plantations and/or with replicating the species makeup of native rainforest. Since many plots have been reforested separately over decades, this creates an opportunity for “chronosequencing” and comparing the development of biodiversity across ages without waiting ages. As would be expected, biodiversity can be oversimplified as increasing with age, and vertebrates like monkeys and snakes are far more likely to be seen in the 80-year-old forest than in the 50- and 30-‘s.
  2. Hydrology– The difficulty with crowding woody plants around the canal and river sources is that the roots may soak up too much of the water and prove counterproductive, especially during dry years (like this one) where low water levels put transportation capacity at risk. Agua Salud consists of nine watersheds instrumented with weirs (mini-dams), which are checked weekly for data on water purity and quantity. In doing so, this mainly allows them to test the “sponge hypothesis” and the effects of secondary forest and cattle pastures on water level.

    our guide's own experiment, testing the speed of vascular transport via heat gradients

    our guide’s own experiment, testing the speed of vascular transport via heat gradients

  3. Smart forestation – The last sphere is more direct than observational, and contains several experiments focusing on optimizing water yield/purity, economic gain and biodiversity off what they’ve learned from the first two. For example, one group is testing growth in nitrogen enriched soil vs phosphorous vs both vs neither, with care to place these experiments so that runoff wouldn’t greatly affect readings in the weirs. Another huge experiment is that of narrowing down the best candidates for timber production that help all three areas. Currently teak is rather popular, but it’s a non-native plant and has specific soil demands that aren’t met across all parts of the country. The watersheds in particular consist of a red and nutrient-deficient clay, and teak plantations there have only grown at half the normal rate. As of right now, shade-grown coffee is looking like the best for sponging and the economy, and other native plants they favor include amarillo, cendrospino and cocobolo. So currently they’re taking each of these species in turn and surrounding them with members of another to see how they fare in competition, among other factors.

Due to long term nature of these projects, it’s very common for them to be passed on between scientists and interns over time. Also, we have to be up in >8 hours, hence the brevity. Also, puppies.

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