When you think of the rainforest, you probably imagine a scene much like the above – lush vegetation, with light filtering down from a high canopy to the understorey. Here at Luquillo the forest is dominated by the Prestoea montana palms shown here. But this image is only part of a larger story of land-use. Much of this forest was once cut for coffee plantations or charcoal – thus, the growth we see today reflects past disturbances.
What disturbs today’s forest? Take the road north from El Verde field station, and within a few short kilometers you will pass gated communities with elaborate houses – then after a few more kilometers, the chaos of a multi-lane highway: PR-3. McDonald’s, Church’s Chicken, Burger King, Sam’s Club, Walmart… the detritus of American commerce easily reaches here. We have already spent several hours on this road, purchasing the necessary supplies (paint, plastic, wood, and so on) necessary to survey the forest. We are dependent on this road, but also abjure it for its ecological impacts. Below is the town of Rio Grande which is situated adjacent to PR-3 – above the hubbub of the road you see mountains – and in these mountains you will find our rainforest, and our field crew.