Every field ecologists hopes for field days with only few dramatic adventures. We were lucky, because there is almost no destitution to share, or it should be the thousands and thousands of sticky plants that hooked on to our clothes like the best velcro, only to fall apart in even more sticky pieces when you tried to remove them. But if that is the worst…
For a minute, it seemed to have gone wrong when we saw the family of cows that had made our plot into its favorite walking route. The result: knocked-over labels, deep tracks in the plots, angry cow faces looking at us, intruders and cowpats everywhere. Luckily, all our seedlings were strong enough to survive the trampling and limit the drama.
Nothing else could stop us from collecting data that at first sight already seems to agree seamlessly with our hypotheses. This realisation makes our days in the Chilean nature even better and pays off the effort we had to put in to get to the other side of the world.
But only when you are here, you start to realize how important our work on alien plant invasions really is. The Chilean nature – through tourism one of the main posts of the Chilean economy – is becoming completely infested with aliens. Close to the important harbor of Punta Arenas, it turns out that almost half of the vegetation is from European origin, with millions of dandelions, clover, daisies, ordinary European grasses and many more, all trying to elbow out the native vegetation.
Our work will help predicting the impact of the aliens on this main source of income for the Chileans, which makes it highly relevant.