Friday March 4, 2022
I am writing from the Amani Gardens Inn in Nairobi. Today we made the trip from Mpala Research Centre to the big city to prepare for our flight home on Saturday. It was tough to say goodbye to Laikipia and the people we grew to know in these short 2 weeks.
On Wednesday and Thursday we spent the mornings in the field continuing to collect student project data regarding how both ants and swallows responded to smoke cues. The beneficial ants that live in the whistling thorn tree (Acacia drepanolobium) are able to smell smoke (even minuscule amounts) from miles away and evacuate their tree to prevent mortality from grassland fires. Our team has been documenting this response for several years and previously found that one ant species evacuates much sooner than the dominant ant species, presumably allowing it to survive a fire better than the other ant species. (This trait may allow it to coexist with the dominant ant.) During this particular trip we sought to investigate how quickly they return after the smoke ceases, and whether the onset of lowering (and the rains) changes their evacuation behavior. Mira and Alex observe another fascinating response, the arrival of swallows to the smoke. They too seem to be cueing on the smell and coming to see if the fire is driving away insects on which they can forage.
Thursday evening we had a lovely last evening game drive which afforded stunning skies. These images will stick with us for some time. It has been a short but intense 2 weeks of research and I am very proud of the team! We look forward to sharing our results of the research in the coming months.
The burning we did this year is to allow us to test the effects of grazing and fire on soil carbon; with the goal to better understand how we can manage grasslands to sequester carbon. We look forward to future trips where we can sample and analyze the soil from the burns we completed this month. I am also so grateful for the collaborators and Kenyan colleagues who continue to make this work so interesting.
Thanks for joining us for part of this journey!
– Ryan Sensenig