Tag Archives: ecology

Notes from Phnom Penh

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10th August, 2014

The sky is clear and I am in a boat on the Mekong River, off to Vietnam. I can see little mangroves on our way, and small shrubs that are very peculiar in both of Cambodia’s rainy and dry seasons. The Mekong River hosts the world’s largest freshwater fishery and is the second-most biodiverse river on Earth. In certain periods of the year it flows South and for the other periods it changes directions and flows North. This makes the river have a very unique habitat and is one of the reasons why you can find so many fish species here.

DCIM101GOPRO mekong

We are in Phnom Penh for 2-3 days and have seen the Killing Fields already. The Khmer Rouge atrocities are unbelievable, and seeing the thousands of skulls with my naked eye made my hair stand on end. I cannot imagine how much the native Cambodians suffered during the four long Khmer Rouge governed years between 1975 and 1979.

I am currently reading a book called ‘They First Killed My Father.’ The main character is a little girl named Leung, who is telling the story of her family of nine, including Pa, Ma, and the seven siblings. In the beginning of the book the author depicts city life in Phnom Penh during old days, where everybody is busy with their daily life routines, far away from understanding the meaning of war. One day in April 1975 everyone is forced to leave the cities and take the roads towards rural areas. No one knew where this journey would end and the Khmer Rouge soldiers told them they would go back to their homes within three days, which soon turned out to be a lie, a big lie.

This book explains all the delicate details of the Cambodian people’s sufferings during the mass atrocities. Although I’ve heard many stories like this (i.e. Bosnian War, the Nazi Holocaust, etc.), this one is extremely unique in the sense that one fourth of the entire Cambodian population was executed in just four years, and one can see the traces of this through the pile of skulls in the Killing Fields.

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Pile of skulls in the Killing Fields.

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Rice fields in the Killing Fields. The unity of life and death.

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A photograph of a Pol Pot victim in Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh.

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Photographs of Pol Pot Victims in Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh has a unique smell, which till now, I still cannot not figure out what is. It could have been tamarind or some creamy sauce, but I am just speculating! The street bazaars provide a scene showing some of the freshwater diversity found in the Mekong River. There are snails, crabs, eel fish and many others that I do not know the name of. I am not sure how people are not disgusted (empathy Bilgenur empathy!) by the appearance of all the naked flesh exhibited on the stalls.

pazar (1) pazar (2) pazar (3) DCIM101GOPRO

There does not seem to be any refrigerator with all the meat sold outside under the boiling Cambodian sun. I feel like they should get rotten and fleshy very quickly, but interestingly, people buy them no matter what.

My disgust over the street  food leaves itself to some sort of curiosity, and my exploratory side wants to try different tastes. However, I did not find myself courageous enough to try the grasshoppers sold on the streets side by side and do not think I ever will. However I do understand why people would eat these insects. Basically, these insects are noted for their nutrients, having a high content of protein, and are eaten by people who survive with a relatively low per capita income and purchasing power. Yet, it is not the only indicator for why insects are part of their diet. Also, based on the IMF World Economic Outlook, 2014, Cambodia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) seems to show an increasing trend.

I’ve seen many homeless people in Phnom Penh, and it struck me hard ever since I arrived in the city. It may be because Singapore, where I am living now, is so sterile, safe and homeless-free that I could not envision how the economically lower class thrive in Cambodia’s current dismal state.

photo 1Living in Singapore, I sometimes feel myself in a bubble, where people do not suffer from the lack of basic commodities, such as food and accommodation (even though I may be incorrect in saying this).

Overall, Cambodia to me is a country of smiling people who have suffered tremendously under the Khmer Rouge Regime. I feel so bad for how much they lost in order to survive. And yet, I am amazed by their generous smile, which you would see once your eyes come across with theirs.

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This is the very instant moment I captured with my camera on the streets across Mekong River. Perfect image for Nicholas A. McGirr’s words in his book Life of Death: “Death truly does have life, and walks with and lives through us everyday.”

PS: Many thanks to Francesca McGrath for proofreading.

Yün hasır, Antalya güneşi ve Alakır

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09 Ocak 2014

İstanbul’dayım. Antalya’dan annem ve anneannem ile aynı uçakta geldik. Bir birinin omzunda uyudum, bir diğerinin. Çok uykum vardı, sohbet etmek istediysem de.

İstanbul puslu ve gri. İki gündür ben de biraz öyleyim.

Bu ayrılık halleri yaramıyor.

Annem ve anneannem Azerbaycan’a gidiyorlar, Bakü’ye Afsana’nın düğününe. Onları uğurluyor gibi hissetmek istedim, hani sürekli giden olmak zor ya.

Dün de kızkardeşim artık sıkıldığını söylüyordu, hep kalan olmanın da zor olduğunu, artık uzaklarda olmak, yaşamak istediğini. Onu bundan beş sene önce daha iyi anlardım aslında. Ben de tam olarak onun gibi hissediyordum. Ama şimdi bu gidişler koyuyor. Bir yerden sonra döner insan gibi geliyor.

Hafif güneş açtı, İstanbul’a 10 km falan kaldı. Her taraf TOKİ, her taraf inşaat, tek tük ağaçlar kalmış sağlı sollu (unutmuşlar galiba onları da).

Antalya çok güzel, dolu dolu geçti. İki hafta oradaydım. Esra geldi Ankara’dan. Onunla Kaleiçi’nde tekne turu yaptık, sonra gezindik. Maaile zaman geçirdik yeni yılda, gırgırlı, şamatalı, müzikli, yemekli bir geceydi. Konu komşu, eş dost bizim evdeydi.

Kaleiçi arkamızda. Esra ile.

Kaleiçi arkamızda. Esra ile.

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Canım güzelim Toroslar ve Akdeniz.

Antalya’yı seviyorum ben.

Ertesi gün yine Esra ile buluştum, akşamüstü, Ferdi de oradaydı, turnalar ve biyokültür üzerine çalışan bir kuşbilimci. O gün aslında Alakır’a gidecektik ama alkol sonrası kimse erken uyanamadığı için kaldı. O akşam biyokültürden, etnik çeşitliliklerden, azınlıkların psikolojisinden turnalara kadar bir güzel muhabbet döndü ki! Tabi ben yine Singapur’u anlattım.

Bunları yazdığım defteri ve bir diğer balıklı defteri de canım mektup arkadaşım Fulya hediye etti, Gökhan ile beraber. Özleyecek ne çok insan var. Ben de hemen yazmaya başladım.

Şimdi Kadıköy’e gidiyorum. Oradan Göztepe ve Begüm’lerin evi.

Alakır’ı anlatasım var. İki gün önce oradaydık, Ferdi ile gittik bizim arabayı alıp. Ben yolluk hazırladım, yufka ekmek içinde peynir, zeytin, domates, yanına da Niğde gazozu. On numaraydı o yolculuk, sağlı sollu kızılçam ve sedir ağaçları bize eşlik ederken. Söğütcuması üzerinden Kuzca sapağına vardık, oradan da iki sağ ve bir sol yapıp Tuğba ve Birhan’ın kerpiçten evlerine vardık.

Alakır yolunda.

Alakır yolunda.

Bizi bekliyorlardı zaten. -Bir defter, kalem tutan çocuk görüntüsü beni mutlu ediyor, otobüste karşımdaki çocuk bir şeyler yazıp çiziyor da.

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Tuğba ve Birhan’ın kerpiçten evleri.

Soldan sağa: Ben, Tuğba, Birhan, Ferdi ve kedi.

Soldan sağa: Ben, Tuğba, Birhan, Ferdi ve kedi.

Bütün gün dışarda, güneşin altında, yün hasır ve kilimlerin üzerinde oturduk Alakır’da. Bir yandan kuş sesleri, Ferdi’nin ayağına sokulan kediler, uzaklardan gelen derenin sesi ve bolca kepçe, vadiye indikçe bir balığın daha ölümüne sebep olacak olan.

From the field: Collecting insects in mangroves

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I started my PhD in Evolutionary Biology Laboratory at National University of Singapore. Our lab’s primary interest is in the Sepsidae family (a.k.a black scavenger flies) which has more than 300 described species. The main reasons for studying these organisms are that many species possess fascinating morphological and behavioural characters, can be easily bred under laboratory conditions, and have short development times. In our lab, the evolution of sexual dimorphisms and mating behavior of flies are intensively studied [1].
In order to do basic science on insects, there is a need for continuous species input from both inside and outside of Singapore. For instance, one of my colleagues just got back from a field trip in Africa, where he collected several fly specimens. There are various methods for collecting insects. When I was a field research assistant in wetland restoration project at KuzeyDoga Society in Kars, we used home-made sticky traps [2].
Bilge nin
Sticky traps are useful for monitoring an area for crawling insects 24/7, however their best use is to collect large-sized beetles. Thus, they are not very good when it comes to detecting small insects or mite pests. You can see an example to sticky traps in the picture above.
For the current fieldwork, our insectory lab is using the Malaise trap, named after its inventor René Malaise. This large, tent-like structure can have various colors and is used for trapping flying insects, in particular Hymenoptera and Diptera [3]. As I explained in the video below, the insects fly into the tent wall and are funnelled into a collecting vessel attached to highest point, which then are directed into a cyclinder or a bottle containing a killing agent, such as ethanol or cyanide.
The orientation of the traps is very important. The opening of the trap should be wide enough for allowing high number of insects to pass through. For instance, if there is a wide corridor in a forest, the trap should be positioned with its opening to the corridor. Upper sections of small streams or the edges of forests are some other examples to ideal trap locations. Our field work was in mangrove forests, which are the characteristic forest ecosystems of tropical and subtropical intertidal regions.
Given that the mangroves consist of several habitats such as salty branches and entangled roots, they are teeming with life, respectively. The mangrove biome is characterized by depositional coastal environments with species adopted to harsh environment conditions such as extreme salinity, temperature and high tides. Mangroves dominate three-quarters of tropical coastlines [4].
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In the following video that is recorded by my colleague Gowri, you can see a tiny bit of mangrove forests and my effort to reach the malaise trap located in this muddy environment. Enjoy!
Special thanks to Gowri Rajaratnam and Evolutionary Biology Lab.
References
1- Evolutionary Biology Laboratory, National University of Singapore: http://evolution.science.nus.edu.sg/
2- KuzeyDoga Society: http://kuzeydoga.org/
3- Gressit, J.L ve Gressit, M.K. (1962). An improved Malaise Trap. Pasific Insects 4 (1). 87-90.
4- Giri, C., Ochieng, E., Tieszen, L.L., v.d. (2011). Status and distribution of mangrove forests of the world using earth
observation satellite data. Glob. Ecol. Biogeogr. 20, 154-159