Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Hosting friends from abroad at HBR

A few weeks ago, I hosted Dr. Zhiqun Huang and his forest ecosystem and soil science research group from Fujian Normal University in China, for a visit to the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest (HBR).  It was a great opportunity to meet with Dr. Huang and his colleagues again, after visiting their lab and research sites in Fujian last year.  The experience was a good deal of fun, and I hope the group learned a lot about the way we approach ecology and research at HBR, some of which might be helpful as they invest in building long-term research facilities and projects in Fujian province.  I was lucky, despite the visit happening in the “quiet season”, to be able to include meetings and meals with many people at HBR and UNH, including David Sleeper and Geoff Wilson from the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation, Ian Halm and Amey Bailey from the US Forest Service Northern Research Station, Pam Templer from Boston University, and several members of the Terrestrial Ecosystem Analysis group who met with us at UNH.

Photo 1:  Huang lab group at HBR in November 2012, Photo by Pam Templer

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Backyard Ecology

Worldwide, populations have been moving from farms and rural areas to cities and suburbs. The shopping malls, Starbucks and parking lots that people build in these urban and suburban areas all create impermeable surfaces that alter how water drains from the land. Combined with pollution from fertilizers, human waste and fossil fuel combustion, urbanization often has direct impacts on surrounding ecosystems, which can be transferred to downstream ecosystems by the flow of rivers.
Figure 1. Plum Island Ecosystems LTER located on the suburban North Shore of Boston.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The temps are low, but the research is on FIRE!

Greetings from the Dry Valleys of Antarctica! The McMurdo (MCM) Long-Term Ecological Research site is located in the middle of an extreme polar desert, and is regarded as the end-member of the LTER program. The Dry Valleys are representative of the 2% of Antarctica that is ice-free, and are also considered one of the harshest environments on the planet because of low temperatures, scarce precipitation, and 24-hour darkness over the winter months. However, the terrain is not completely barren, and for the past 20 years the MCM LTER has been monitoring lake levels, streamflow, soil transects, and glacial melt in order to better understand this harsh environment.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

We're on a boat!

Stuck on a boat in the California Current for one month is one way to
promote LTER graduate student collaboration
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be on a boat for a month straight with no land in sight, no cell phone service, slow internet, and 30 other people you have never met before? Well the graduate students studying in the California Current Ecosystem (CCE) experience this almost every summer. As part of the CCE- LTER program, students, faculty, technicians and post-docs join together every summer to do joint field work aboard one of the vessels housed at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. Students are studying everything from physical mixing properties, to deep sea fish aggregations; all at large oceanic fronts (where two different water masses come together) just off the coast of Southern California.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The adventure lies in the jouney: Reaching the remote sites of the Everglades

The Everglades is our backyard, and that backyard is HUGE! Fourteen cities of Miami fit in the Everglades. But in exchange for the high-rises, freeways, and spanish-tiled roofs there are tree islands, sloughways, water, pines, mangroves, birds, alligators, fish, spiders, mosquitoes, and plenty of beautiful scenery. The vastness of the Everglades provides prodigious niches of scientific interest to pursue. Some of us study the impacts of the drainage and canal system that line the perimeter or pierce through the Everglades. Other scientists scrutinize the causes of vegetation community structure changes. Some research predator/ prey relationships and others, the animal movement between biomes. Some study the water cycle and the physical and chemical interactions between surface water and groundwater*. But before we can crunch all the numbers, write all the papers, graduate and go off to save the world, we need to take the measurements, collect the samples, and download the data. Truthfully, it might just be the best part!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Graduate Student Collaboration Success Story!

A successful graduate student collaboration that began at the 2009 All Scientists Meeting (ASM) Graduate Student Symposium has recently resulted in a publication!  The group, led by Todd Robinson (formerly of KBS), examined the effects of intra-annual precipitation on productivity across a broad range of LTER sites, from forests to tundra.  After meeting at ASM, the group successfully applied for funding from the LNO to meet at KBS to hammer out the details of the data analysis and compile datasets.  Then a few students took the lead on analyzing the data, while others wrote up the results.  The paper is now featured on the Oikos blog (http://oikosjournal.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/its-raining-again/) and the full manuscript can be found at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1600-0706.2012.20655.x/abstract.

Keep in mind that the next deadline for working group proposals is October 15th.  I highly encourage all of you to apply!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Satellites: Spying on Earth processes

This is a blogpost of mine taken from the Florida Coastal Everglades Blog. I hope this gives you an idea of some of the stories we are interested in posting on the LTER grad student blog. Contributions can be short and sweet, long and informative, or just full of site pictures! Just as long as they are your tales of what it is like to be a scientist. Cheers!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Graduate Student Symposium at the LTER All Scientists Meeting

Estes Park, CO, September 9, 2012

Hello from beautiful Estes Park, CO, where we are attending the 2012 All Scientists Meeting (ASM).  The week is coming to a close, but before it does we wanted to recap the success of the graduate student contingent at the meeting, particularly at the Graduate Student Symposium (GSS) on Sunday, Sept 9th.

The GSS took place the day before ASM officially got started, and included about 150 graduate students from across the LTER network, about ¾ of whom were attending their first ASM.  We had a great time getting to know everyone and learned a lot throughout the day!  Our theme for this year’s GSS was “Thinking outside the ecological box: Incorporating additional disciplines in ecological research.”  To address this theme, we had a plenary address by Dr. Nancy Grimm from the CAP LTER, who spoke to us from the two “perches” from which she has a gained a unique perspective: as the lead PI of the CAP LTER and as an NSF program officer.  Nancy discussed with us the why, what, where, who, and how of working across disciplines, including advice such as:

  • Ecology tends to inherently draw on other disciplines for their tools, mechanisms, etc; but be aware that not all questions need to be cross-discipline in nature.
  • Get investigators from other disciplines involved early (at the question development stage) and keep them involved throughout the project.
  • Ask questions that are at the cutting edge in both/all of the disciplines you are working in.
  • Find commonalities in discussion with investigators from other fields, but don’t get hung up on differences in terminology.
  • Many NSF programs encourage research than spans disciplinary boundaries, so be on the lookout for many funding opportunities for such work.  Graduate students and post-docs may particularly be interested in IGERT and the SEES Fellows Program.  Additionally, NCEAS and SESYNC offer great ways to get involved in interdisciplinary research.
We also saw presentations by three graduate students who have incorporated other disciplines into their ecological research.  Sakura Evans, from CWT, discussed using social science techniques to examine why land owners are practicing techniques that degrade riparian zones in the southern Appalachian Mountains.  Next, Sarah Frey Hadley, who works at both AND and HBR, walked us through some great collaborations she has formed with computer scientists to examine single- and multi-species distributions of birds and identify bird songs from field recordings using machine learning.  Finally, Rebecca Hale, from CAP, spoke to us about working within engineered systems in Phoenix to examine water flow in the city.  The students speakers all gave us a lot of food for thought about how we can each incorporate other disciplines into our ecological research within a time scale relevant to our dissertations.

The last activity of the morning was a panel of PIs who work across disciplines, including Drs. Nancy Grimm, Nik Heynan (CWT; social science), Mary Spivey (CDR; citizen science), and Dave Gutzler (SEV; climatology).  They had some great advice for how to incorporate additional disciplines into ecological research during our dissertation work and beyond, including:

  • “Get a life” – meeting new people will facilitate an exchange of ideas that might shift your perspective.
  • “We don’t work with assholes” – collaboration is fun!
  • “Push back on your advisor” – of course this is good advice!
  • “I work with citizen scientists, so ask me if you need free labor” – check with your education reps at each site for details.
We spent the afternoon in a series of concurrent working groups, organized and led by graduate students.  Participants had the option to attend groups ranging in topic from patchiness in plant communities to identifying best practices to cross-disciplinary research.  The working groups were all well attended and many will result in ongoing collaborations, including data synthesis and starting up new cross-site experiments!

Overall, the day was a resounding success.  We all left feeling a little brain-weary, but full of excitement for future collaborations and continued friendships. 
Graduate Student Symposium

Graduate Student Mixer

-Kim La Pierre and Sally Koerner, graduate student co-chairs