The LTERs Get Hip!

It seems that blogs, twitter, etc, are beginning to really leak into the consciousness of ecologists! In two weeks, I’m attending the LTER All Scientists Meeting (ASM). As I browsed through the working grounp lists, I came across the following: Blogs, Posts, and Tweets: Potential Uses of Web-Based and Social Networking Media for Communicating LTER Science and Conducting Citizen Science.

Tres cool.

The LTER network, for those unfamiliar, is perhaps the oldest network of Long Term Ecological Research projects, well, anywhere. It consists of a collection of sites, each representing a different ecosystem type – from kelp forests to the arctic tundra to even urban ecosystems (oddly in my hometown). The data from these sites is largely out there and publicly available, and the network funds some really top-notch projects from established researchers and up-and-coming postdocs.

Whoops, how did that link get in there!

Because it is a network of sites sharing data and tools, there is a ton of cyberinfrastrcuture. Given the types of folk that has recruited into the project, I’m not surprised that the network is hip to blogs, twitter, and the like. And I’m pretty psyched that we’re having a working group on how to harness their power. Should be neat.

First you get the urchins, then you get the power, then you get the data!

Well, it’s been a few weeks since I put the revised version of my diversity-disturbance experiment out in the field. I completed sampling on Monday, and, *whew*, my power analysis paid off! Although not entirely how I expected…

First off, kicking the maximum urchin density up to 50 per cage (as opposed to 16) was indeed helpful. Even after 1 week, there was a strong urchin effect. And after three weeks, well…

What is perhaps most interesting is what one sees in looking at the relationship between the number or urchins added to a cage and the change in the amount of cover. I sampled by counting the amount of cover of benthic sessile species under points in a fixed grids. Looking at the change in total number of points we see the following relationship:

A far cry from the results in trial 1. What’s fascinating, however, is to look at the points in the 0-16 urchin range in trial 2. Take a gander at the above figure, and, as you can see, there appears to be no real pattern – another scattershot. It really did require high densities of the spiny little buggers to generate a strong grazing effect. The guidance from my power analysis was right on!

What is perhaps the most exciting (and puzzling) is my preliminary results regarding diversity and disturbance. The following only really shows up when looking at algal cover and algal species richness (i.e., number of species in a plot). It shows that, yes, the effect of urchin grazing appears to change with initial algal species richness – but not in the way one would expect. Basically, low diversity plots with low number of urchins GREW. High diversity plots with few urchins in them LOST COVER. However, at high densities of urchins, everything got chomped, and pretty evenly.

What does this mean? I have no clue as of right now! As soon as the data was collected, I began feverishly entering and analyzing. Why such a rush? I had to decide whether to move the cages and run yet a third trial, or, just cut off the fencing on the cages, and use the weighted frames to mark the plots in order to follow how the community in each plot recovers. After seeing the preceeding graph, and weighing many costs and benefits, I’m sticking with my single trial (the data from trial 1 is being treated as pilot data and won’t be used in the final analysis). So, yesterday was a crazy day of cutting hundred of cable ties and herding thousands (about 1500) of urchins underwater.

I’ll be following up with recovery, but for now, the really heavy lifting is finis. And it looks quite intriguing, although I emphasize that this is all VERY preliminary.

I’m an Editor?

So, someone over at was decidedly foolish, and asked me to be one of their new editors-at-large for Biology. That means, every Thursday, I’ll be posting the three biology (typically ecology and evolution) research paper reviews linked through that I enjoyed the most. My first post is up, and hopefully there will be many more to come!

Tweeting A Trashy Voyage

For those who aren’t following it, the SEAPLEX cruise blog is pretty amazing. SEAPLEX is a cruise being led by none other than Miriam Goldstein of The Oyster’s Garter to explore the Great North Pacific Trash Gyre.

The Seaplex Cruise Track. Not quite a three hour tour.

OK, so, a gyre of trash may not be that great, but, you know, it’s Great. As in Awesome. By which I mean Awe-inspiring kinda Great. Not great. You know. Sheesh.

The cruise is not only ambitious in its goals to map out the garbage patch itself (and to see, is it a big patch, a bunch of islands, or what), but it’s both blogging and tweeting away giving the public a fascinating snapshot into real oceanographic and ecological science in real time. And, they’re being pretty candid, as can be seen below.

Science in real time.  The good, the bad, the silly.

Science in real time. The good, the bad, the silly.

So keep your RSS-feeds updated, check your twitter feeds, and let’s see just what Miriam and her hearty crew find out!