Best of Both Worlds

Mareike D. Duffing Romero

Senior, Humboldt State University, California. Department of Biology

There are simply too many wonders in nature.
Red eyed tree frog. Marveling the many wonders in nature.

Being at La Selva Biological Station is a dream. As a world traveler I get the best of both worlds here: cultures and science. I have the opportunity to get exposed to many cultures at La Selva, from Americans, Ticos, Latinos, Europeans and many other ethnicities across the globe. The people I have come to meet are fascinating because they bring their different cultural and scientific background to the table. With this mixture at any point in time you can pick up a conversation of any topic, ranging among science, adventures, and cultures and of course some jokes to make it more fun.

As a trilingual person I have gotten caught having a conversation simultaneously in 3 languages with Ticos, Germans and Americans. It gets really funny when I answer a Tico with a word in English or suddenly say a word or two in German to an American while both are sitting next to me. I never knew how small this world is – everything is connected, especially if I meet compatriots from my hometown (Mexico City) or Germany and even anyone who has been to the places I have lived or been to.

Let’s not forget about the amazing science that everyone contributes to and participates in at the biological station. Every single scientist is studying an aspect of ecology that is beyond wonder. Subjects that I never knew about or thought about have been studied, from plant/ant interactions, fruit dispersal by bats, the great tepuis of Venezuela, relationship between caterpillars and plant compounds, the great diversity of flora and fauna to climate change. Phew, I can’t even keep track of all the talks I have attended this summer, but ultimately they are all extremely intriguing to the point your jaw is touching the floor.

Phewf, I just crawled out of there. I was knee deep. I had to make a bed of leaves to lay on and then extract my boots that were getting swallowed by the swamp. My expression says it all
Phewf, I just crawled out of there. I was knee deep. I had to make a bed of leaves to lay on and then extract my boots that were getting swallowed by the swamp. My expression says it all

Every day is a new adventure in the jungle and you never know what to expect. With my backpack on, a compass and a homemade PVC pipe walking stick I explore the jungle. Up and down a steep hill, over the log, in and out of the swamp, in the rain with your personal swamp in your boots and at every step telling yourself, “No snakes, no bullet ants, watch my step. Ok it is safe to go.” You may get dirty, slip down a hill, or perhaps get stuck in the swamp knee high or need to cross a stream on a log but you end up having a blast in the field.

My research with Susan and Leigh consisted of measuring trees and surveying the neighborhood of seedlings (young trees) to better understand how the survival of seedlings is affected by light availability, other trees, palms and different climate regimes in tropical rain forest. My project is part of the TREES project at La Selva, which was founded by Deborah and David Clark. The results in our research are simply beautiful, because we were able to find field evidence to support a proposed hypothesis. One of the best parts of my project was personally getting invited for dinner by the Clarks and enjoying a nice dish with a margarita and further talk of our daily adventures and findings in the jungle.

What's out there? The whole world needing to be explored
What’s out there? The whole world needing to be explored

So for everyone out there, just know that there can be a person or a trip that will change you forever. Seize the moment and go on an adventure and take advantage of any given opportunity. I have done that, and being at La Selva has definitely changed me. I am more motivated than ever to keep up with a scientific career, and I am even more eager to keep exploring every corner of the world scientifically and culturally. La Selva has really brought four amazing factors into my life: cultures, science, motivation and exploration; and for that I am extremely grateful to have been granted this opportunity

Thank you everyone who made this an unforgettable summer. Especially Carissa (REU Coordinator), Celena, Connor, Jose, Kellie, Kyle, Leigh (my project partner), Marlena, Martina, Roberto, Susan (my mentor), Carlos, Claudia, the ant and hummingbird people. Pura Vida!

The goddesses of the Jungle. We are simply fabulous.
The goddesses of the Jungle. Leigh, Susan and I are simply fabulous.