This December along with the ecology group for TERC I went to Melbourne for the Ecological Society of Australia meeting. While much smaller in numbers compared with the ESA (of America), I found this to be a much less stressful conference since I could more easily locate and chat up fellow ecologists. I also found it really helpful that ESA catered all of the lunches here so that you didn’t have to wander off and rush back for the next symposium. I attended a great symposium of Forest declines in Australia and met up with folks from the Centre for Excellence in Climate Change and Forest and Woodland Health to talk about forest declines. I was able to spend a good chunk of time hanging out with the Hochuli Lab and the Insect Ecology group during the week. The trip to Melbourne was complete once we had our fill of dumplings in China town, visited the art galleries, and explored the Zoo.
Next, I went down to New Zealand- a truly majestic set of islands with really distinct fauna and flora (including the ever-so awkward kiwi bird we ran into at dusk while hunting for glow worms). Its not really possible to sum up all of the breathtaking landscapes, but trust me when I say the pictures don’t do them justice. We did finish our tour of the North Island in windy windy Wellington (twice the wind of any city I’ve ever been in), just in time for the World Premiere of the Hobbit. The South Island was filled with train excursions through the alps, sea kayaking around Milford Sound, winery and brewery tours in Greymouth and Otago, and the impressive Franz Josef and Fox glaciers. A whirlwind tour of the islands, but a really great adventure.
More recently I went on a short, but sweet, trip to Copenhagen to present a research proposal I’ve been working on. It was quite refreshing to experience snowfall and icy winters after the driest wet season in Darwin in the past twenty years! I explored as much of the culture and history of Copenhagen as I could fit in, and enjoyed getting to know a few European ecologists during my stay. I did discover that the Morton Salt girl (the one with blonde hair and the umbrella) is actually named Irma and runs her own series of grocery stores in Copenhagen. For those who haven’t been to Copenhagen, the city is delightfully dedicated to cycling and I was impressed to see commuters pressing on to work despite blustering cold winds and fresh snow covering the icy streets.
For those wondering what happened since the field season ended a quick recap of what I’ve been up to this fall:
1) Sorting and identifying collected arthropod specimens
2) Presenting at the Ecological Society of America meeting in Portland, Oregon
3) Cramming my worldly possessions into my backpacking pack
4) Flying across the globe to Australia
5) Setting up camp in Darwin, the tropical Northern Territory town
6) Field work on a new project in savannahs and grasslands throughout the Northern Territory
7) Sending in my absentee ballot (and wishing I had the “My vote counted” sticker)
8) Analyzing my work from this summer
9) Biking to work and catching the spectacular Darwin susnsets on the ride home
10) Fishing for barramundi and getting all sorts of strange tan lines
A review paper by Israel Del Toro, Shannon Pelini, and myself was published recently in the journal Myrmecological News. In this paper we apply the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment framework to the goods or services ants provide. Check out the online version of the paper here:
After hanging up my samples in the extractors, I once again found myself covered in soil and surrounded by insects- it made me oddly reminiscent of my childhood which was spent much the same (sans winklers and being productive… kids aren’t really supposed to be productive).
My mom joined me for the trip to the Finger Lakes in New York (she is such a trooper and an excellent field assistant).
This venture included: 11 hours of driving with roman rest-stops (its my new tactic for waking up on the road where you get out at a rest stop with a nice grassy patch and do 5 minutes of crossfit inspired exercises, I think if I get Will Ferrell and Zach Galifinakis in on it I could corner the market), a nice stopover in Ithaca for mexican food, camping at Blueberry Patch, and field work during the heat wave at the bottom of a gorge. We were a couple of happy campers by the end of the day once all of the samples had been collected.
The canopy of this once hemlock forest is now open, allowing sunlight to reach the forest floor, which leads to changes in the plant, soil, and animal communities living in the undergrowth.
By comparison, observe the canopy below from another stand of hemlocks at Black Rock. It depicts a more intact hemlock canopy where much less sunlight reaches the forest floor, which creates a cooler microclimate for the organisms living underneath hemlocks.
Another successful venture into the woods to find hemlock forests in distress. For those curious about the typical tools of the trade, here’s a photo of some of the requisite field gear I take into the woods each day: My trusty field pack, GPS unit, camera, meter tape, soil moisture probe, winkler bags (the black bag in the lower left hand corner), and the critically important field notebook with accompanying pencil for recording the copious amounts of data and field notes I write on a regular basis.
The field days in Connecticut were incredibly hot and humid, since a heat wave was sweeping the northeast and reach 99 degrees in our location. Luckily, the healthy hemlock stand had a fairly intact canopy-blocking out the sweltering heat. It felt like a balmy 80 degrees in that plot, and I was thankful the hemlocks were faring so well in central Connecticut.
This site was a classic example of hemlock forests with an understory dominated by Rhododendron and little else. While this is fairly common for hemlocks in the southeastern United States there is greater diversity of understory plants as we travel northward, although still in very low abundances.