In the summer of 2014 I participated on a field research project, led by Dr. Bernat Claramunt-Lopez, called “Wildlife in the Changing French Pyrénées.” The purpose of this study was to understand how climate change is affecting the various organisms in the Pyrénées region of France. Up to this point, this area hadn’t been very well researched (the Alps have been for some time, but not the Pyrénées).
Bears were extirpated from France in 2011, so politicians decided to re-introduce them. At the time of this project, five bears had been re-introduced into the Pyrénées region. Changes in land use in the Pyrénées have also affected ecosystems. Previously, this area was widely used for agriculture, but farmers have increasingly been moving to cities. Consequently, land that was previously used for crops is now succeeding into forests. Dr. Claramunt-Lopez was interested in learning about the ecological consequences of this.
Our field work was divided into “long itineraries” and “short itineraries.” Days with long itineraries entailed long, strenuous treks up steep inclines. Here, our tasks included locating various wildlife cameras, replacing their batteries, downloading the contents of their SD cards, and baiting them. We also stopped several times along at various “listening stations,” where we stood silent for 15 minutes and identified all of the mammal/bird species we saw or heard.
On days with short itineraries, we would locate, check, and bait various small mammal traps and tag any small mammals (e.g. mice and voles) that were caught, before releasing them. We would also perform forest plots—taking inventory of the tree species present, measuring the diameter at breast height (DBH) of the trees, as well as counting all the shrubs and newly recruiting trees. Thirdly, we would check various nest-boxes that had been set up by the researchers prior to this project. Finally, we would perform an analysis of plant-pollinator interactions, identifying pollinator species (e.g. bees and butterflies), as well as the plants on which they landed.