Yes, dear readers, that is French!
I have arrived in French Polynesia and approximately 10 min. after touchdown, I realized I should have paid more attention during French lessons in high-school. But all good, for the non-frenchies, ‘on-y-va’ means as much as ‘let’s go’ and refers to my imminent fieldwork throughout Polynesia, from which I will occasionally report in these digital annals!
Ever since starting my work on Cryptoblepharus lizards, I have been fascinated about the geographic distribution of these little critters. While being a relatively ‘young’ genus (meaning they likely weren’t present when the world was one big pancake and all continents stuck together), they have an enormous distribution with representatives in Eastern-Africa, Australasia and large parts of the Pacific (from Fiji to Easter-Island, Hawaii and even Japan). For a little map, see the ‘research’ section of this website and scroll down to the bottom! I am very interested in understanding how such little lizards can cross vast oceans and to what extent human migrations might have played a role in all of this. Simultaneously, studying lizards on islands can learn us more about the evolution of similar species on continents and thus I initiated a collaborative project where A) we are aiming to study relationships between all Cryptoblepharus skinks (globally) and B) further explore the presence and habitat use of these lizards on some remote islands. Lastly but not less important, by surveying such remote regions we can actually map the diversity (in this case lizards) of these areas and potentially report on species new to science and/or assess the vulnerability of such island endemics. With the awesome support of National Geographic and the Mohamed Bin Zayed fund for species conservation, I am fortunate enough to do such research on a large number of islands in French Polynesia. The reason I am specifically here, is because although some preliminary data is known for this region, unfortunately there were no tissue samples (from which I could extract DNA) for genetic analysis. So I know that these lizards are here, we just lack data for them and furthermore, there are a number of unique island characteristics which make these islands fascinating places to study! But more about that on another occasion…
Anyhow, I’ve been drifting off again talking about my research, whereas I was only planning to shortly report that I arrived safe and sound. I left cold and windy Canberra, Australia, this morning around 4:30 AM. and via Sydney, Auckland and ultimately Papeete airport, I am now in a hostel close to the harbor of Papeete. Tomorrow, I’ll hop on a ferry to Moorea, where I’ll meet the good folks from the UC Berkeley Gump field station, where I will stock on supplies, gather some info and deliver some TimTams for all their help, before ultimately heading off to my first stop on this trip, the Austral islands. On y va!