Monday, May 20, 2013

A windy winter workshop at the Sevilleta

Amber Churchill is a PhD student working at the Niwot Ridge LTER in Colorado. During her master’s work she conducted research at Bonanza Creek LTER, and her introduction to ecology was through an REU position at Harvard Forest. Having seen these northern LTER sites, she was most excited to experience a desert/grassland system at the Sevilleta LTER for the WEWoG meeting.

Winter ecology working group (WEWoG) meeting at Sevilleta LTER
Day 1: Arrival and introductions
Participants of the winter ecology working group, organized at the All-Scientist Meeting in September 2012 and funded to meet again via a synthesis grant from the LTER Network Office,, gathered in March for the first of two meetings in preparation for a cross site comparison looking at the ecological effects of winter at LTER sites across the US. Our group came from diverse backgrounds, ranging from statisticians to plant ecologists, and included one post doc and nine graduate students. Things started off quickly with a fabulous dinner, and then sharing background information about our respective LTER sites in the context of a paper on winter ecology that inspired our thinking on the subject (Kreyling, 2010). As the wind whistled around us (and the sand storms made for a hazy sunset) we started our schedule for the weekend.

Day 2: Gathering data and initial analysis
Bright and early (in the wind/cold!- for this ecologist unfamiliar with desert ecosystems I was surprised at the morning temperature; Picture 1) we headed from our cabins down to the main building; armed with coffee pots, laptops, and Starburst (brains need glucose after all). Our morning started with a summary of analysis that some folks had done in preparation for the meeting, after which we divided into groups to organize more data sets, analyze the existing data sets, and decide on a definition of winter that we could apply across the ecologically diverse LTER sites (Picture 2).

Picture 1. Windy start to the day, looking over the Sevilleta LTER to see sandstorms in the wind. Photo by Amber Churchill.

Picture 2. WEWoG data analysis in round table form. Photo by Juan David Muñoz.

After a break for lunch (so many options!) back at the cabins we evaluated where we were, and summarized our findings from the breakout groups. We determined that we needed more data, and divided the group into folks tracking down data sets, writing up climate summaries for each LTER site in our study and analyzing the data we already had. Everyone stayed intently focused though the afternoon- especially the data analysis group- and by the time dinner came everyone was very content to enjoy amazing New Mexican food (with lots of green chile) prepared by Katya Hafich (and helpers). As a fun end to the evening we cheered on various March Madness teams by streaming games projected on the wall of one of our cabins (life size!), and listened to the wind whistle through the house (which kept the smoke from various dishes in the oven from making the smoke alarms go off).

Day 3: Wrapping up data acquisition and preliminary analysis, and site seeing
Our second full day at The Sev dawned sunny and still. We started off the morning finishing the remaining data acquisition and analysis from the previous day, and then spent the rest of the morning hours reviewing preliminary results. Our list of paper figures and tables continued to grow, and we created a paper outline to guide our writing during the next meeting. Additionally we assigned individual tasks to accomplish before our second meeting to keep us on target for paper submission - I think things were looking pretty good. All of this before lunch!

After another delightful meal we all headed out for a tour of the Sevilleta LTER, as most of us were unfamiliar with the many different ecosystems contained in the watershed, and we had all looked over the many vegetation type abbreviations while looking for data and were confused as to what everything looked like. Our stops included looking at a blue grama/ black grama grassland, a very impressive warming experiment in the grassland with automated screens for covering the plots during the night. We saw many water addition manipulations, and rain out experiments, and it was wonderful to see firsthand some of the designs for projects that we have read about over the years. Our final trip for the day was to see the rainfall manipulation experiments in the Pinyon-Juniper woodlands. What an incredible sight to see! I have worked on some large manipulation experiments, mostly related to water table manipulations in wetlands, but none of them compare to these massive, replicated, rainout constructions on the hillsides of the Pinyon-Juniper woodland. It was inspiring just to look at and to think about what other ecosystem scale manipulations may be possible (Picture 3). I know I was motivated to start thinking about ecological experiments in a larger framework.

Picture 3. Pinyon-Juniper site at Sevilleta LTER. Photo by Amber Churchill.

After our site tour via car, and a day of sitting starring at computers, many folks were then interested in taking a hike, and we headed out from the cabins to follow a trail that shadowed the cliff bottom before climbing up to the top of the bluffs for the sunset. This hike provided some spectacular views (Picture 4) and left us with a strong impression of the winter winds at The Sev. We hiked down for an epic BBQ in the dark, huddled in many layers of blankets outside.

Picture 4. Evening hike near the cabins at the Sevilleta LTER. Photo by Amber Churchill.

Day 4: Heading home
On our final morning many folks left with the rising of the sun, and we quickly parted ways from those who were driving home vs. those being dropped at the airport. Plans were in place for coordinating our second meeting, slated for Cedar Creek LTER, and everyone left excited and enthusiastic about the work we accomplished and the plans we made for the future. We are super stoked about our paper- so stay tuned and check out our ESA poster led by Laura Ladwig. Thanks to everyone for making our meeting so successful (Picture 5)!

Picture 5. Group photo of the WEWoG team from our first synthesis meeting at the Sevilleta LTER. Photo by Juan David Muñoz.

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