Rainforest Climate Change Research!

$3,850 of $5,000 goal

Raised by 49 people in 24 months
I am a Ph.D. candidate at UC Berkeley studying the effects of climate change on rainforests, and I need your help! If you care about climate change and value science, then this is an easy way for you to have a positive impact.

I study the physiological adaptations of trees to their environment, in order to better understand how tropical rainforests will be affected by climate change. In other words, how will tree species that have adapted to year-round rain cope with warmer and drier conditions in the next century? I work in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest , an eco-region that is recognized by UNESCO as a biodiversity hotspot, yet sadly only about 5% of the original forest remains. The coastal rainforests of southern Bahia , where I conduct my research, are a nucleus of extreme biodiversity within the Atlantic Forest -- a hotspot within a hotspot, so to speak. Yet despite the importance of preserving and restoring these forests, they have been relatively under-studied compared to other regions due to a lack of infrastructure and funding for science. My research aims to understand which adaptations will allow native species to survive in a warmer and drier climate, so that regional conservation efforts will be more effective in the face of climate change.
Working on a Ph.D. through UC Berkeley is a very special opportunity, but conducting research at a public university means depending mostly on external funding sources, since departmental support is very limited.  Our current political situation has made funding opportunities for science – especially in areas of ecology, conservation, and climate change – much harder to obtain , and all of these constraints affect me directly. I do not have adequate funding to cover my research expenses for this field season, and as a last resort I have turned to crowd funding.

So, what do I need help with? The money I am asking for here will cover the following:
·      Transportation – in order to get to my field sites, I need a car. And, since my collaborators in Brazil aren’t able to provide this type of support, I must rent one myself. I always go for the cheapest and simplest option, but over the course of a 3 month field campaign, the cost really adds up. It would be great to be able to cover some of my plane ticket as well.

·      Field help – I would be nowhere if it weren’t for the wonderful field assistants who help me collect and process my samples, share their local expertise on plant identification, work miracles with machetes, and keep me from being eaten by jungle critters. I can’t effectively do my work without them, and they deserve a fair wage for all that they do.

·      Supplies –I am able to bring some equipment from the US or borrow from a local university, but I will still need to pay for a number of things. To give an idea, this ranges from purchasing flagging tape and Ziploc bags, to shipping boxes of samples to the US, to renting tanks of compressed nitrogen and a high-precision GPS device. Yay, science!

Donations of any amount will be greatly appreciated! Even as little as $5 or $10 can make a difference. And whether or not you donate, you can still help by sharing this campaign with as many people as possible.
On a personal note, the rainforest of southern Bahia has had a very special place in my heart ever since my first trip to Brazil in 2009. Way back then, the thought of getting a Ph.D. in tropical forest ecology seemed like an unrealistic pipe dream. But over the years, I learned much more about the region, became fluent in Portuguese, developed friendships in the local community, and thought long and hard about how I might use my love of science to help to protect this amazing place. Now, Bahia feels like a second home to me, and when I stand back from all of the challenges of doing international field research and look at the big picture, I realize that I’m quite literally living the dream.  I am profoundly grateful and humbled to have this opportunity, and I hope you will join me in keeping this dream alive.

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It’s been a little while since my last update because I’ve been busy chasing trees, but I want to keep you all in the loop about what I’m up to these days. First, a major thank-you: I received a number of very generous donations in the last few weeks, and they have made a huge difference for my work here! And remember, any amount really does help. I have been very moved by the number of people who have come forward to support my research.

The last month or so I have been primarily focused on a chapter of my dissertation that compares the physiology of trees along a precipitation gradient. The region where I am based here in coastal Bahia is moist tropical forest, which receives between 1700 and 1800 mm of rainfall per year. Fortunately for the forest and for researchers like me, a decent amount of this beautiful coastal forest was left relatively intact for shade-grown cacao production. Just 200 km inland, the landscape is dramatically different. For one, most of the forest has been cleared for cattle ranching, except for forest fragments that ranchers are legally required to leave standing. Less obviously, the annual rainfall is about 800 mm – less than half of what falls on the coast! By comparing trees that exist exclusively in moist coastal forests with those found both here and in “the dry zone”, my hope is to be able to make predictions about which species are likely to survive or die out under warmer, drier conditions in the future.

I’ve been making trips out to some ranches in the dry zone to scope out the appropriate tree species to study. From a distance, it’s not easy to assume much about these forest fragments, but walking around in them is pretty interesting – there are some familiar species from the moist forest that also occur inland, but a lot of the trees and shrubs are totally new to me. There are cacti growing in the middle of the forest, a clear indication that water is less abundant. And, the diversity overall is much lower, which is to be expected under harsher environmental conditions. Now I’m selecting individual trees and taking measurements – woohoo! Funds that I have received through this campaign have been paying for my transportation, field help, and also a very large tank of compressed nitrogen gas, which I use with a pressure chamber to measure the trees’ water status via leaf water potential. In the photo below (from today), I’m using the pressure chamber (with a smaller, portable N tank) to assess the mid-day water status of trees here in the wet forest. I’ll go back tomorrow at 3:30 AM to measure the same trees when they are the most hydrated.

In the meantime, I will be here for another month and a half doing fieldwork. Thanks to all of my wonderful supporters, I am only $1,450 away from my goal! There’s still more work to be done and more costs to cover, so if you feel compelled to support this research, I promise you that I will put your money to good use. And please spread the word!

Deforested landscape
Cactus in the dry forest!
Measuring leaf water potential
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The GoFundMe team decided to donate $1,000 to my campaign this week! This means that I'm almost halfway to my goal. I'm blown away that folks who don't even know me personally decided that my research is worth supporting. What a great affirmation, and good timing.

In the meantime, I had an incredibly productive week here in Bahia with one of my professors visiting from Berkeley. I had lots of great conversations with him and several local scientists, received invaluable feedback, and new research possibilities are opening up that I never would have imagined. This coming week I'll be scoping out some new study sites with my collaborator, and I'm happy to say that with the funding I've received, my field assistant and can get moving right away with fieldwork.

As promised, I'm including some photos from our site visits yesterday. Please help me keep the momentum going! Keep sharing my campaign and donate if you can. Many thanks!
Native Atlantic forest tree seedlings
Showing my prof some study plots
Big, beautiful trees!
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Aaaand... I'm off! Almost. Waiting for my first flight. I don't think I've ever traveled with so much gear, but it makes me feel pretty science-y. I'm also feeling incredibly grateful for all the support I've gotten through this campaign. Thanks to a large number of people who apparently believe in my science-y tendencies, I've reached almost $750 in just two weeks! Who thinks we can make it to $1000 before I get to Bahia tomorrow afternoon?? much love to all. The next update will include field pictures.
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It's been 10 days since I launched this fundraiser, and thanks to all of the wonderful people who have donated and shared this campaign, I'm more than 10% of the way to my goal! I am very appreciative of the support I've received so far, as this will cover about two weeks worth of car rental plus salary for my field assistant. Thank you! All of the donations, people sharing the campaign on Facebook and elsewhere, and the encouraging comments I have received are especially meaningful to me right now since I had the misfortune of my laptop being stolen earlier this week (grrrr!). Luckily I had backed everything up the day before, but it is a major financial setback that couldn’t really have come at a worse time. I’d rather not dwell on it too much, but if you haven’t already, I hope you will consider donating. Every dollar counts, so even if you can only chip in a few bucks, it will be very well received.

On the research front, I'm in the final days of preparations before I leave for Brazil on Tuesday. It's a lot to pull together, but I'm excited to get back out in the proverbial field (it's literally a forest, but you know what I mean). I've been testing out all of my equipment so that things will hopefully be as streamlined as possible when I get to Bahia. Of course, part of getting ready for fieldwork is being mentally prepared for the unforeseeable challenges that will inevitably come up. The flip side of that is I’m 97% confident that it won’t be boring!

I will post more updates and some pictures once I am situated in Bahia, but for now, thanks again to all who have donated so far!
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$3,850 of $5,000 goal

Raised by 49 people in 24 months
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