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R-MWC In the News: Rainforest Adventures

Amanda Hartley '08 spent summer in Ecuador studying biodiversity

11/9/2006 11:07:01 AM

   

Rainforest adventures
By Casey Gillis
Lynchburg News & Advance
Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Amanda Hartley says her summer felt like she was starring in her very own version of "Indiana Jones."

As she lived and worked in the rainforest of Ecuador, she had to look out for poisonous snakes, insects and plants.

And she enjoyed every minute of it.

"I love the excitement," says Hartley, a junior at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. "I love the action. I love all the life within the forest. Every day is an adventure. Your heart is always beating really fast and your adrenaline is always pumping."

Hartley, 26, spent eight weeks in the Yasuni rainforest working with Margaret Metz, a scientist from the University of California at Berkley.

"Amanda loved seeing, touching, hearing, smelling and sometimes even tasting everything the rainforest had to experience," Metz said in a recent e-mail. "She wanted to learn the plants, ask about the sounds of insects or birds we were hearing, go fishing for piranhas, see animals whenever we could, climb trees to see what was up them - you name it, she was interested in seeing it."

Metz is studying rainforest biodiversity for her Ph.D., specifically the kind of trees that are found in tropical rainforests. Biodiversity is basically the relationship plants and animals have to their environment. And since the Yasuni rainforest is the most biodiverse region in the entire South American continent, they had plenty to keep them busy.

"There are more plants and animals in one small area (there) than anywhere in the world," Hartley says. "It’s a scientific hotspot."

Every day, she and Metz would get up early in the morning and make their way deep into the forest, where they would study seedlings - the very beginning stages of a tree - in random plots of land. They’d look at things like the seedlings’ growth rate, what insects were feeding on them and the height of the leaves.

And if there happened to be a poisonous ants nest or a giant boa constrictor in the plot of land, they still had to survey it, Hartley says.

"We’d just stick our arm in and just try not to get stung," she says, which was risky because some of the ants’ bites can cause an instant fever.

They normally worked 12 to 16 hours a day, seven days a week on the project.

"Out of everything I’ve done in my life … this is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done," says Hartley, who lived in Blacksburg with her parents and younger sister until the family relocated to Southeast Asia when she was 12. By the time she got to high school, Hartley was ready for a change, so she enrolled at a British boarding school in India.

While she was living in India, she visited a rainforest for the first time and says she was drawn to it. Afterward, she did a lot of reading on the subject, but didn’t immediately pursue it as a career.

Instead, she moved back to the United States and joined the Army when she was 19. She originally signed up for two years of service, but "I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I just kept extending it," she says.

When she did get out of the Army, Hartley was 22. She moved to Roanoke to be closer to her family (who now reside in Bedford) and enrolled at Virginia Western Community College, where she graduated in December with an associate’s degree in science. She transferred to R-MWC in January and is majoring in environmental science with a concentration in tropical ecology.

"By studying biodiversity in (the) tropical rainforest, I (want to) be able to help protect and conserve the (rainforest)," she says. "(I want to) give politicians a reason to stop cutting down the rainforest."

Hartley found Metz, who needed a field assistant for her summer research, through a series of contacts last semest



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