Tetiaroa expedition (by Maya DeVries)

BioCode collectors traveled to the Tetiaroa Atoll to conduct a preliminary survey of the atoll’s biodiversity.  The majority of the collectors were undergraduates from UC Berkeley’s tropical biology course.  The students worked to achieve two main goals.  First, they collected as many animals in the lagoon and on land as they possibly could, so that they could later identify the animals and compare them to Mo'orea’s fauna back at the BioCode lab.  Second, they collected plant specimens in a 50x50m plot and brought them back to the BioCode lab where the samples are awaiting DNA sequencing results. Assuming that the plants on Tetiaroa are the same as those on Mo’orea, the students will be able to identify the Tetiaroa flora by comparing the DNA sequences from Tetiaroa’s plants to DNA sequences from plants on Mo’orea.  This study is one of the first to test the power of the BioCode’s genetic database.  One of the main goals of BioCode is to have a complete database of genetic sequences from all of Mo’orea’s organisms.  This database will allow researchers in the future to be able to identify organisms by matching the sequences of organisms that they collect to sequences of animals that are already in the database.

The adventure began with a very rough boat ride out to the atoll. But, all seasickness melted away when the crew saw a humpback whale swimming near the atoll’s barrier reef.  Once on the island, the collectors set pitfall traps and bucket traps on Motu Honuea to capture insects.  They also collected sediment from the lagoon and took photos of marine animals to document the marine fauna.  The students were lucky to be able to stay overnight at an eco-lodge currently under construction on Motu Onetahi.  That night, the seas became even more rough than the day before and threatened to keep the group on the island for another night!  But with the help of construction workers from the eco-lodge and many trips between the lagoon and the fishing boats awaiting the students on the other side of the reef, everyone made it safely onto the fishing boats and back to Mo'orea.

Back at the Gump Research Station, the students identified all of the animals and prepared the plant specimens for DNA analysis. April Yang helped to photograph and prepare the insects for DNA analysis. The students are now anxiously awaiting the DNA sequencing results from their hard work on Tetiaroa.

“Hermit crab from photo collection” (photo by Alex Title): one of the hermit crabs that Alex Title photographed for future identification.

“Boat ride to Tetiaroa” (photo by Maria Zizka): two fearless fishing boats took the students on a wavy ride out to Tetiaroa.

“Planning the collecting” (photo by Maya deVries): The collectors await instructions on how to collect samples.