When my MSc-thesis was almost finished, in November/December 2006, I started to look for an interesting internship. I read some internship reports of other students in the library, and searched the internet for ecology-related companies and institutes in the Netherlands. Besides some other possibilities I also came past the website of the Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW), and the most interesting centre to me was the centre for terrestrial ecology.
In January I started my 4-months project at the Animal Population Biology-department, one of the three Terrestrial Ecology departments in Heteren (they moved to Wageningen, red.). At that department one of the questions is the effect of climate change on the reproduction timing of the great tit, studied in the food chain oak-butterfly-tit. Another research species in this question is the pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca), a long-distance migratory bird species that faces population decline because of mistiming: while the, temperature dependent, caterpillar food peak is advancing due to climate change, the flycatchers appear to be limited in their ability to advance laying date at the same rate, due to the timing of their migration. A previous comparison of different areas in the Netherlands showed that in areas where the peak date is early (there the birds are most mistimed), the population declined the most. My project focused on differences in peak dates within areas, and asked: do flycatchers breeding in parts of the study area (the Hoge Veluwe) with an early food peak show a stronger population decline compared to flycatchers breeding in parts with a late food peak? To answer this question I wanted to make a map of the area with ‘early’ and ‘late’ food peak parts, and I found out that I could use the diameter of oaks as a measure for earliness.
My activities in this internship varied widely: sorting and weighting caterpillar frass, measuring tree diameters at the Hoge Veluwe, using the sixth-tree method for estimating the differences in openness within the area, taking soil samples and preparing them for further analysis, and I also learned to the basics of working with Access, R, and ArcGIS. Just by accident there were two other students doing an internship at the group almost within the same period as I was there; a geodesy student from Delft and a biology student from Wageningen. That was very nice: we could discuss our projects with each other and combine the knowledge of three different study areas.