I’m currently in Sweden having a blast spending time with family and catching up with friends. Like in the UK, the weather is transitioning from winter into spring and we’ve had some gorgeous and sunny afternoons which I’ve spent out in the forest with my mum, sister and our dog, Belle. One of the things I miss most about Sweden are the forests, the air is so clean and spending time roaming around is totally invigorating. While I’ve been back, it also seems like my mum has made it her current mission to feed me non-stop, in fact, I don’t think I’ve felt hungry once since I’ve been home! I shouldn’t really complain though, because I really have missed her cooking.
Catching up with friends has been surprisingly uplifting (as well a good chance for me to brush up on my Swedish which has slowly been diminishing). Filling them in on everything I’ve been up to since I last saw them has reminded me just how much I get to experience while at university. Last weekend I also had the great fortune of catching up with one of my best friends from Australia! It had been about seven years since the last time I saw her so we had an infinite amount of things to talk about. She’s currently doing an exchange in Sweden which is why we’ve finally been reunited on the same side of the planet. I found it particularly interesting to hear about her experiences of university in Sweden seeing as had I not moved to the UK, this would have probably been my fate. She also showed me around the city of Uppsala and impressed me with her knowledge of its history.
Now on to a totally different subject, as promised in my previous blog post I thought I’d take a look back over my first year Spanish field trip and share my exciting experiences from a year ago. All first year biology and zoology students have the opportunity to go to Bolonia, Spain with the work that is achieved there equating to one module’s worth. If I remember correctly the field course lasted about 10 days but I was amazed at how much I learnt during this relatively short period of time.
Entrance to the room I shared with my course mate during our stay. It was pretty luxurious considering it was paid for by the University (flights and accommodation which included breakfast and dinner). Not to mention the wonders of living right by the beach!
We were given a simple breakfast every morning and a complete abundance of food in the evening, usually starting with salad and bread rolls followed by some kind of soup type dish as a starter. The main course was different every night and then for dessert we were given yoghurt or fruit. (On our first night, I actually thought the starter was the main course! They were very generous with the portion sizes.)
Here’s a photo from a typical dinner. If you're wondering, it's lentils with potatoes and yes it is a huge portion and this is only the starter!
For our first field day we walked around the streets, countryside, mountains and woods, looking at the great diversity of plants in the area. We also were given key information as to what to look for when classifying angiosperms (flowering plants) into their different families.
The photo above shows a member of the Carrot (Apiaceae) family
We did a fair bit of walking and while the weather was perfect (maybe a bit windy) during our stay, it had rained the day before we arrived so it was quite muddy in some areas of the mountains and woods. Lucky, I’m not afraid of a bit of dirt so I wasn't bothered.
Proof of the mud we trekked through
When we finished work for the day my roommate and I decided to go check out some Roman ruins which were situated at a walking distance to our hostel. The locals didn't speak much English but were very friendly, so we got in for free. I always try to see as much as possible while abroad so I thought it was very cool that we had some free time to go and learn a bit about the history of the area.
Photo taken at the ruins
Typically, we would meet at 8am every morning to have breakfast so we could leave the hostel at around 9.30am. We spent the second field day collecting all the different species of arthropods we could find in the area, which included a great variety! After spending half the day collecting specimens, we brought back what we had found to the lab (a shed which the hostel had provided us with to keep all the equipment) and spent the rest of the day identifying and classifying what we had collected.
Above is a beetle in the order Coleoptera, Sub-order Polyphaga and Family Scarabaeidae. Again we had to learn key characteristics for each Order and Family
I’d also like include a quick story about one of my spider encounters. I remember trying many times throughout the day to catch small spiders on the ground and failing miserably. Then while nonchalantly walking from one area of the woods to another I happened to notice a massive yellow spider hitching a ride on the upper part of my leg! Luckily I was wearing long trousers so without panicking and shaking it off which is probably what I would normally do, I quite calmly called to my friend to bring a large cup so she could collect the spider off my leg. I wanted to bring it back to the lab for identification. All in the name of science!
Most evenings we would have 30 minute lectures before dinner, to further explain the theory behind what we were learning during the day. This included some valuable information about statistics which can often be an essential part of biology. In an attempt to make statistics seem simple my lecturer decided to partly teach us in Spanish. His logic being that compared to learning Spanish, statistics should seem easy!
As I mentioned earlier, this trip was worth the equivalent of an entire module’s worth of credits so we of course had to be graded in some way. On day four we worked in groups in order to prepare a poster about a Family of either plants or arthropods. I was very happy that my group got full marks! Then for the rest of the day we were free to do as we pleased. The following morning we had a test on everything we had learnt the previous few days.
That afternoon we then took a coach to Ojen Valley where we went out in groups to collect as many beetles and members of the Fabaceae plant family as we could (within a couple of hours) in order to get an idea of the biodiversity of these in the area.
Me and one of my course mates after arriving at Ojen Valley
One of the groups happened to find a snake while searching for the beetles and flowers. I was happy to get the opportunity to hold it. The snake was of course not venomous but apparently it did have a persistent bite. Luckily, it seemed quite happy to simply rest in my hands.
On our sixth day out in the field we spent the morning collecting marine specimens found in the rocky shores (while the tide was out) to bring back to the lab for identification. Also, somewhat off topic but before I forget, I think it is worth mentioning that from the beach we could see mountains in Morocco, Africa... That is how far south Bolonia is. Amazing!
Together we were able to find a huge diversity of marine life, some of which I had never seen before such as this very large sea cucumber (Class Holothuroidea). We brought back our specimens to the lab for identification and had a small test at the end of the day.
We spent the seventh day practising two sampling techniques. The first one was rock flipping and identifying the different arthropods we found underneath. Later, we used the collected data to perform statistical tests to see if there were any significant relationships between the types of species we found together. After lunch we used quadrats to count and identify different plant species which we also did statistics on later in the day, including calculating the Shannon-Weiner Diversity Index (H).
I also happened to get sunburnt on my hands that day in spite of my efforts to protect my skin. I remember being really surprised because I very rarely get sunburned. Once the redness had disappeared, it looked liked I was wearing a pair tan coloured gloves for months because the contrast to the rest of my skin was so distinctive.
Here’s a photo of one of my sunburnt hands!
We spent the last few days working in groups on a project of our choice which also accounted for our final assessment. I knew I wanted to work on something marine-related since I had enjoyed working along the shore so much during the marine day. Following the two days of data collection and statistical analysis each group presented their investigation and findings. Below are some photos taken while out collecting data for my group’s project.
All in all it was a fantastic trip, which as I mentioned in my previous post has been one of my highlights at university so far. Lastly, I forgot to mention that I also had the opportunity to watch vultures up in the mountains which was very cool. Anyway, as for the rest of my current Easter break I plan to meet up with a couple more friends and try to finish off (get started on) the heap of coursework I have due in for directly after the Easter break!