Two months in the GloMEc Mountain team
More than 115 kilometres hiked, ca. 15,000 metres of ascent. And that all for an internship of two months. We also caught more than 500 tadpoles. From the rich pastures of the Aspe valley (Gallery 4) to the rocky massifs of the Ariège (Gallery 1), inbetween the mountains of Cauterets (Gallery 2) and Néouvielle (Gallery 3). Sounds like an excellent vacation program, right? Well, no. During my internship I contributed to science, a scientific study on amphibians, mountains, lakes and climate change. I see it as a great chance to have been able to participate in such an adventure!
The starting point of this experience was a desire to find an internship that could combine an experience in research that would focus on the environment that I am passionate about, the mountains. I then discovered that there was a "Functional Ecology and Environment Laboratory" located on the ENSAT campus, just a few minutes from my home. They were also looking for people to assist PhD students in their field campaigns. This is how I met Dirk, Hugo, Rémi and several others of the GloMEc team.
The BIOREF team, one of the four working groups of the laboratory, works on the relationship between biodiversity and the functioning of aquatic ecosystems. Having assisted Hugo, who is doing a thesis on the role of biofilm in the epidemiology of the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, I was able to learn about the relationship between ecosystems, the complexity of interactions between each species of a mountain lake as well as the existence of this pathogen, which is one of the biggest threats to amphibians. Well, you have read about it in previous blog posts.
Gallery 1: Bassies, Ariege
The lakes studied are spread over five gradients across the Pyrenees: Ariège, Couserans, Néouvielle, Cauterets, and Lescun. The fieldwork part was both the most physically challenging and the most incredible. What could be better than working outdoors in a setting like the Pyrenees with the aim to protect this environment? I suspect that the GloMEc team selected the lakes with the best views. Fieldwork allows you to work both your head and your legs. In the lakes, we took samples from populations of tadpoles of three species in order to detect the presence of the pathogen. This was a tricky step, first capturing and then handling the tadpoles without causing them injury while ensuring that our samples were taken correctly. For a novice like me, this part of our work really impressed me, being able to handle such small animals was a first. This was followed by a battery of tests: biofilm recovery, phytoplankton, water analysis, pollution analysis. I really appreciated the trust that was shown to me in the field despite my inexperience, because I was able to take part in the manipulations straight away. The atmosphere during these campaigns was really excellent and it allowed me to discover my colleagues in a different light. But you have to remember that when the weather is bad at an altitude of more than 2000 metres, or when you have to carry several kilos of equipment under a blazing sun, it's not always a pleasure.
Gallery 2: Cauteret, Fache
For the analytical part, I was able to learn about Rstudio and SAS, as well as totally new statistical concepts such as GLM and GLMM. This work, although less spectacular than the field, allowed me to see all the other aspects linked to the research world. I was confronted with the difficulty of obtaining relevant and exploitable results. The complexity of models and statistics also proved to me the importance of building a rigorous data set. Finally, it is when working on a subject as vast as environmental protection, which requires many different skills, that one sees the value of teamwork. At the end, I could really see the contribution that everyone could make.
Gallery 3: Neouvielle
Although I did a short internship in a field of study that was not my own, the experience was beneficial to me. I came out of it with clearer ideas about my orientation and a different vision of the research world. I really saw the impact of human activity on the fragile mountain ecosystem through the introduction of fish, heavy metal pollution and eutrophication. This reinforced my desire to protect it, whether through research or another professional path, and made me aware of the cause of amphibians. I am leaving with a lot of memories and a lot of motivation for the future. And also, with a list of Pyrenean summits to climb...
Gallery 4: Lescun