Field season 2021. Luckily since 2020, i am not obliged to go to every of our mountain sites every time. Our PhD student Hugo loves to hike. Well, if you can call it hiking, as he takes 15-20 minutes from me per hour, and I take about the same time from the indicated hiking times. Meaning, i do 1h in 40 - 45 minutes, and Hugo does it in half an hour!
Anyway, field work. It is always great to change the seat in front of a computer with a exhausting hike in a wonderful landscape. It usually hurts.... muscles you not use in front of computer show that they are still there and that you have solicited them maybe a little bit too much.
This time I had not choice, speedy student helper Vincent was not able to come along, so Hugo and I went alone to the Bearn region of the French Pyrenees to visit our lakes and that of our London colleagues to have a look at the infection status of Alytes obstetricans tadpoles and metamorphs, as well as other amphibian species. During that trip, we also went to the Spanish site Ibon Acherito to do sampling for the London team, which could not come due to the Covid-Pandemic.
We bring usually quite some equipment with us and when unpacking all of it, it looks already quite bizarre for tourist hikers. Then the sampling procedures are also particular and attract attention from quite a few people, some to shy to come closer, others keep an interested look on our activities until we approach them to give explanations, few come hesitantly towards us, and even fewer come straight to us and ask us what we do. This time at Acherito, it was a bit different.
Sitting there, swabbing tadpoles of Alytes, the midwife toad, someone came straight at me, smile on the face, no hesitation, just clear and honest interest in what I was doing. "Hi there. You must be an ecologist", said that person.
"I am an ecologist myself! Never met an ecologist doing fieldwork!".
"Oh, hi", said I. "I guess you are wondering, what I am doing?!".
"Kind of, yes, but I have an idea, i think", said my Spanish colleague.
I was starting to explain that there is the disease chytridiomycosis, killing amphibians, and that we are investigating a range of parameters to better understand what is going on in the mountain lakes, how it is impacted etc.
"Ah, yes, so you must be Dirk Schmeller!"
I had a funny expression on my face, I am pretty sure. This was the first time ever. "I read your paper on zooplankton protecting amphibians, by consuming zoospores of the fungal pathogen". W.O.W! I not only meet someone who has read my work, but I meet that person at a mountain lake at an altitude of 1800 m asl.
"I am Xavier Montori, from Valencia University, i am working with zooplankton myself!".
"Ah, i think I also read papers of yours!", said I, still buffled by this unexpected encounter.
We were then diving in ecologist's talk about zooplankton, amphibians, pathogens and mountain ecosystems, until Xavier was gently told by his wife that the kids would be hungry. He left immediately. There are few things, which are more important than ecology, likely hungry kids are one of them.
I finished swabbing tadpoles and half an hour later, Hugo and I went back up, over to the French side. Fieldwork, always good for a surprise!