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First blog post from Australia! This certainly has been an interesting beginning to a trip. I’ve had some trips (research and otherwise) where the flights have been awful for one reason or another, but never quite such a pain as what I have experienced for this trip. To begin with, my flights actually were pretty smooth. I had plenty of time between flights and didn’t have any delays, which is unusual. I guess that should have been foreshadowing. I flew on a Dreamliner from Los Angeles to Melbourne, and that was a pretty nice plane. Each seat actually had plenty of leg space (for someone my stature, anyway). Each seat also had an individual touchscreen monitor to play games or watch movies (with a pretty large movie collection). I think the thing that impressed me most were the windows. They didn’t have shades to pull down when you wanted to darken your area, but rather were electronic. You could dial them up or down for clarity and they would shade more or less. It was pretty cool, but given that I flew at night, I couldn’t actually tell the full effect.

When I got to Melbourne, that’s when things started going awry. I waited at the baggage carousel to grab my bags and escort them through customs, but they never showed. I had flights from Memphis to Houston to LA to Melbourne, so I guess it didn’t surprise me that they didn’t show. There was plenty of opportunity to get lost, despite plenty of layover time. I went through customs without my bags, which made it pretty smooth, and then got in line for my fourth flight of the day from Melbourne to Newcastle. I learned that for that flight, you’re allowed two carry-ons provided that they are less than 7kg. My 18kg camera bag was going to have to be checked. At the best of times, I’m nervous about anyone touching my camera bag, and this was right after an airline lost two of my bags. But I had no choice. I’m glad they didn’t weigh my laptop bag as it was well over the 7kg limit (full of books, mostly).

I got to Newcastle and was picked up by a friend who I met in Ecuador (I know, small world). She dropped me off at a hostel where I almost immediately passed out from jet lag. The next couple days were a blur of frustration and stress. For two days, the airline had no idea where my luggage was. It wasn’t until the 17th that I got word that it was sighted in LA and should be delivered here on the 18th. In the intervening time, I had been working on setting up a bank account here as well as trying to find a place to live. Securing a room/apartment/house is not easy from 8000 miles away. I ended up finding a small room for $120AUD per week, which is well under budget for me. It’s not much, but I’m not going to be there for a good chunk of the summer (winter), and it’s basically just a place to crash. I’m not going to be complaining, particularly because it’s only a 10 minute walk from where I’ll be working on campus.

My impressions of United Airlines aren’t great, but the reception I’ve received from Australians here has been wonderful. There must be something in the water that makes them all cheery, jocular, and smiling all the time. It’s quite wonderful (and I must say, I love the Australian accent). I met the lab that I’ll be working with over the last couple days, and despite them either, not knowing that I was coming or just finding out within a couple days of my arrival, they have been quite welcoming and curious about my research. They seem like a pretty interesting group of people, and I definitely look forward to learning more about their interests and research. It seems like I’m the odd duck in that I’m doing color evolution research. The rest of the lab seems to be working on some aspect of chytrid in the Green and Golden Bell Frog. It’s interesting, even now, seeing the differences between the Australian and US education systems (i.e., a 2-3 Masters in the US is equivalent to a 1 year Honors thesis in Oz; and PhDs are only 3 years in Oz whereas they’re 5-6 years on average in the US). The differences largely seem to be due to coursework and teaching requirements in the US.

Things are slowly starting to settle down, which I very much welcome. For a while, I was very worried that my luggage wouldn’t arrive in a timely manner, which would basically mean my completely revamping my experiment since all of my equipment was in my luggage. But things seem to be working out, and now I think I’ll be able to get into making models, and hopefully get into the field in a week and a half or so. We’ll see!

Aside from that, I need to plan a trip to Canberra for an orientation for this fellowship, and I think I am going to stop in Sydney to visit a future collaborator as well as stop at the Taronga Zoo to see the Corroboree Frog breeding facility there. I’m still working out the details and a little nervous about driving on the other side of the road in a major city, but I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

That’s all for now!

Time is growing closer and closer to heading off to Australia. I will leave on June 13! And there is still much to do before heading out to the Land Down Under.

I have been purchasing gear for the past week for this trip. Much of it has been photo gear because, as I've said before, I want to be able to document this trip, not just for my adoring fans, but also because scientists generally have a difficult time conveying their work to the general public. By having a variety of different camera equipment as well as the constant documentation, I can show all of you what it is like to be on the ground floor of conducting scientific research including all of the triumphs and headaches.

I have had the pleasant fortune to meet an Australian researcher who is doing some clay model work on Pseudophryne. Originally, this worried me because I didn't know if she was doing all that I proposed or what. But after talking with her a bit, it looks like we're going to collaborate on working with Pseudophryne which is a huge relief. Sometimes researchers can be territorial about their research subjects, but I am pleased that this researcher is not like that. That is how it should be! Science for science's sake, not for ego.

With this new researcher willing to help me out, it relieves some of the pressure I was having to work get all of my ducks in a row before heading to Oz. And that is fantastic because I am trying to figure out some experiments here in Mississippi before I go to Australia. I am going to be presenting at a Behavior conference in Cairns, Australia in August which will be my clay model experiments on Dendrobates tinctorius as well as some chicken experiments that I am hoping to complete before I leave for Australia. I did these experiments a few months ago and got some interesting preliminary results, but I wanted to try them again so that I'm confident in my interpretations of the behavior. Essentially, I'm looking at how chickens learn colors of frogs. Really neat results on that from the first go, but I don't want to spoil the surprise just yet!

#EAPSI #Australia

If you ever look at a scientific story with any vertebrate, you're probably not aware of the amount of work that goes into even preparing for a study on said animal. Endangered animals are a sexy system to work with, and they certainly are newsworthy but it often takes months or years to be able to work on these animals.

Australia is known to be fairly difficult in terms of permits, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Australia is probably one of the best developed countries when it comes to protections of their natural resources. They have made mistakes in the past (i.e., introducing Cane Toads), and Australian legislators and natural resource managers seem determined not to repeat the errors of the past (well, for the most part, aside from current debates to mess with the Great Barrier Reef).

This is something that I am becoming very familiar with. To begin with, I have to get Animal Ethics approval from the university that I'm working with. This ensures that any animals involved in the project are treated humanely. After getting this approval, I must now work on permits to get approval of the State governments to work with the frogs. This means getting a permit for each state (In this case, New South Wales and Victoria), and then if I plan on working within protected areas (i.e., national parks), I need separate permits for those areas. And these permits are specific, everything from what species I'm working, what species could be affected by my research, specific locations of where I'm working, etc. After the research concluded, I'll need export permits from Australia to take tissues out of the country, then import permits from the US Fish and Wildlife to take the tissues into this country.

This can be somewhat frustrating, but it is a necessary frustration. Each permit can take 1-2 months to get approval (assuming there aren't amendments - this can extend the time). Often permits need to be applied for sequentially, so after all is said and done, I'm probably going to be looking at 6+ months of waiting for permits for my research (and I won't be working on endangered species).

So next time you see a sexy news story about a new species being discovered, or being introduced back into the wild, or a conservation program starting with an endangered species, think about how much time was put into that story that didn't directly involve the animal themselves. It is am impressive effort that researchers go through to do this research!

#EAPSI #Australia #Permits #Research

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