Being in Japan for more than a year, I appreciate and enjoy the natural environment and the ecosystems I observe every time I go out for a hike up the mountains and do bird watching.
I am a programme fellow at the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (APN) located in Kobe and I work towards enhancing the knowledge and understanding on global change among researchers and policy makers. I am handling various projects on global environmental change along with the Programme Officer and Head of the APN Communication and Scientific Affairs. Most of the projects are focused on a research using climate data, assessments of impacts of climate change and improvement of adaptation practices that the vulnerable communities use, and some on capacity-building of early career researchers or scientists within the Asia-Pacific region.
As a young scientist myself, I also aim to continually enhance my knowledge and skills and implement research related to my field of interest. Although I am working for APN, an intergovernmental network bridging science and policy towards a sustainable Asia-Pacific, my background is on biology and biodiversity conservation. Back in the Philippines, I have been involved in a number of community-based resource management and local conservation programmes. I have a great interest in wildlife biology and biodiversity, and aspire to be a wildlife biologist implementing conservation programmes in protected areas that are vulnerable to climate change. I enjoy doing intensive field work in the forest and working with local communities. I can say that being a female is not a limitation for me when it comes to field research as my adventurous nature and my passion for biodiversity conservation make me as capable as the male counterparts.
Trying out my chances to join a field course
I learned about DIWPA and the International Field Biology Course while I was browsing through Kyoto University’s Center for Ecological Research (CER). I checked the announcement about the field course and read through the details on how to apply. It entails eight days of intensive field work in Kiso-fukushima, Nagano, where the Kiso Biological Station is based.
The international field course is a part of the Joint-Use and Cooperative Research Program by CER and it also serves as a curriculum for students of Kyoto University. The aim of the project is to monitor the long-term dynamics of riparian ecosystems under ongoing anthropogenic disturbances, such as eutrophication, river improvement and global climate changes. Part of the objectives of the project is to train young researchers as new-generation leading ecologists who can manage international projects. Hence, when I sent my application for the workshop, I received acceptance to participate as the field course provides capacity building for young researchers.
Knowledge gained and lessons learned
The fieldwork familiarized me with basic stream ecology and trained me on assessment and monitoring of riparian ecosystems, identification of aquatic macroinvertebrates, and on laboratory techniques. I am very elated every time I look at a collected individual for identification through the microscope. At first, I find it hard to do the task at hand as identification of aquatic insects is not my area. I have not taken a course on terrestrial and aquatic insects during my undergraduate years and therefore, it was a challenging experience to properly identify the collected individuals—more so when the books and references are in Japanese. Without the help and support of the other members of the team, I would not be able to finish my part.
I am grateful to get a hang of how on-site research is conducted in Japan. Also, I can say I am proud of myself to be the only female participant. I believe I have shown to the team that field research knows no gender. I also have done what the male participants are capable of doing such as going into the water when the river is on the rise and currents become speedy because of heavy rain, carrying bulky tools from one station to another, waking up at midnight to check driftnets and collect macrobenthos, among others. All for the sake of science.
It was a fascinating experience to be involved in this project alongside researchers from Kyoto University and other institutions who work on different fields or disciplines. I have gained new knowledge on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem interactions, assessment of epilithic algal biomass, behavioural adaptations of aquatic insects, and of course, the standard procedures in handling laboratory tools and equipment—not to mention the little steps or guidance on how to use, take good care, and store laboratory materials and equipment properly.
Immersion with local culture
Staying at Kiso, I had the chance to experience and enjoy a tour at a local sake brewery. Along with other team members, we were oriented with a variety of raw materials (biological resource) used in producing sake and observed the production facility.
Kiso town is popular for its sake as well as for its soba. It must be because of the healthy environment that provides resources and paves way for the production of good sake and soba. Indeed, local biodiversity is important as it offers people with diverse ecosystem services.
On last day of the workshop, we decided to enjoy a local summer festival. It was an unforgettable experience as I joined the traditional dance along with the local people. Almost all of the members of the team danced and enjoyed the festivities. On our way back to our research quarters, we passed by a hot spring and soaked our tired feet. It was a rewarding time for us after days of field and laboratory work.
Zest for environment and scientific insights
Working with the team and being part of the workshop was an awesome experience. It was something different for me as it was my first time to do a field work in Japan. The team was very helpful and supportive in guiding us along the way. My loquacious nature helped me gain a lot of skills from the mentors. I think it really helps to ask when you are not sure of something. On the other hand, it is also good when you try first and do it yourself. “Once all your ideas and resources are exhausted, that is the time when you ask and seek help.” I am quoting this line because this is one of the valuable lessons I have learned in the workshop. Something a student may not learn within the confines of the university building.
Going back to May 2013 when I was writing my research proposal as part of the requirements of MSc Wildlife Studies at University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), I am passionate on habitat and species distribution modelling of the critically-endangered Palawan forest turtle (Siebenrockiella leytensis) and since then, I know for sure that my interest lies on conservation science. I feel one with nature every time I am out in the woods and I have the zest working for the environment. My energy is unrelenting and a bumpy trail does not always seem to falter me. Because of the field experience I had in Kiso, I became interested to explore my options in conducting research in Japan and contribute to the efforts in sustainably managing the country’s ecosystems. At the moment, I am looking for possibilities to get admitted, receive a scholarship and do further studies focusing on the relationships among ecologically-important indicator species and species threatened or at risk to climate change, the habitats, and human systems in Japan.
It was truly rewarding to be part of the 2014 DIWPA International Field Biology Course.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the following people who inspired me to do my best: Dr. Noboru Okuda. Dr. Shin-ichi Nakano, Dr. Ichiro Tayasu, Dr. Jun-ichi Okano, Dr. Hiromitsu Kamauchi and Mr. Shohei Fujinaga.
This article is originally published at:
DIWPA Newsletter No. 32, March 2015. 2014 DIWPA International Field Biology Course in Japan: Summer monitoring program for young scientists in Kiso River. Retrieved 1 April 2015 at http://diwpa.ecology.kyoto-u.ac.jp/newsletter/no.32.pdf