New research program in Europe called Forests and Nature for Society (FONASO- check out fonaso.eu for more info) has uprooted me and led me to relocate to northern Wales in the United Kingdom. I am primarily located at Bangor University in thh SENRGY department. My research is largely focused on interactions between tree species and soil communities, with a focus on root development, intra-specific competition, carbon allocation, and nutrient cycling. I’ll be working out at Henfaes Research station and forest http://www.bangor.ac.uk/senrgy/research/facilities/henfaes.php.en and at the Rhizotron at Treborth botanic gardens http://www.bangor.ac.uk/senrgy/research/facilities/treborth.php.en.
I start my day with these views on my way to work. Plenty of sheep in the area which is always charming.
On my last field excursion in Northern Australia I stopped to check out the trees… and got a nice visit from my friends the green tree ants, just to ensure it was a realistic representation of going out to the field in the Top End.
We had very successful trips out to the wildlife park (more info here: http://www.territorywildlifepark.com.au/). All of the permanent plots were relocated (always a good way to start your fieldwork, by first finding your plots!), and quadrat sampling went smoothly enough. I did have my first unhappy encounter with green tree ants, they clearly didn’t appreciate my accidentally bumping the tree their leaf nest was in, and I found myself quickly stripping out of my field clothes in the savanna. Luckily, my field partner was trying to find the other side of the plot, and I am a fast dresser. Most of the time my fascination with green tree ants is fairly benign, and in fact I have welcomed them into the bean plants in the garden, these territory ants sure are… territorial (had to be said).
There was a stark contrast between sites, based on their burning frequency and intensity (read more about the whole study design and the impetus for the project here: http://www.terc.csiro.au/burningforbiodiversity/expdesign.asp). A few sites have been invaded by gamba grass, which was so tall at the time of sampling that it was easy to get swallowed into the savanna and get fairly disoriented. It is a good thing I’m religious about carrying my compass into the field! All in all a great week at the wildlife park, with a deeper appreciation for the dataset I have been working through this year in Australia.
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: