The transition has begun

Today was probably our last day in the field for a little while, as we are starting to transition toward solidifying our questions and will be increasingly engaged in the challenging process of turning our observations and ideas into questions, hypotheses and experiments.

Before we handed things over to MC Kelsey, I passed out the sets of keys that we had available. So far, we only have 12 sets to distribute, so unfortunately, some students didn’t get keys today. Soon, we hope! But hopefully, there are now enough keys in the class that people can get in when they need to.

MC-K had the great idea of having our discussion first, before we go into the field. We opened things up with an emphasis on turning observations into questions and experiments.

  1. Annabelle described a study from the 70’s that looked at mobbing behavior in crows, in response to a fake owl, and a fake owl with a dead crow model, and piece of black cloth. It raised the question: what makes crows mob?
  2. Vincent professed his new love for mistletoe. We all appreciated his enthusiasm for galls and mistletoe. He suggested two questions:
    1. Does the presence of mistletoe reduce herbivory (by attracting birds)? We wondered if there are any studies showing that mistletoe increases the local density of birds, or even if it could set off a positive feedback of more birds > more mistletoe > more birds.
    2. Can mistletoe transmit signals of herbivory to other mistletoe or to the host? Apparently, other studies have shown induced resistance between parasitic vines and their host plants.
  3. Mia advocated a pragmatic approach in which some variable of interest was manipulated, and arthropod communities were the response variable (as in the 2017 light project). Possible key factors might be soil acidity, moisture, color, fertilization, animal waste, urban noise.
  4. Jess was interested in transient communities, like the sorts of communities that assemble to consume dead things.
  5. I mentioned that I’ve been wondering how the heavily invaded Putah Creek ecosystem is responding to the recent influx of dead Pacific chinook (king) salmon. The salmon are native, but the ecosystem has changed pretty profoundly.
  6. Mia and Annabelle were thinking about vibratory signals, and whether they might be signals of herbivory or predation. We talked about ways in which vibratory signals have been used for pest control.
  7. Elizabeth and I pitched a recent and half-baked idea about the potential adaptive value of monarch caterpillar stripes. We talked about ways to pull of these experiments, the implications of hot vs. cool climates.
  8. Marina observed that Batrachoseps salamanders are almost always found in groups, and wondered if they have friends. It would be interesting if they form persistent and specific relationships with other individuals.

Heading into the field

After our discussion, we headed into the field. We made three stops: 1) the Haagen Daz Bee Haven, 2) the “Black Widow” Barn, and 3) The EC Garden.

There were honey bees at the Bee Garden, and lots of native plants in flower. The pigs were loud, and there were lots of birds. The Black Widow Barn was looking pretty cleaned up, with lots less junk about, but plenty of logs to roll with mucho gusto. We found some tenebrionid beetles, a house centipede, and a black widow, among other things. The EC Garden was fascinating and full of surprises, from the giant agave to the large thistle (wild artichoke?) to the outdoor cats.

The agenda for next class

For next Tuesday, we will stay in the classroom. I think we will continue our transition toward developing more structured questions, hypotheses and experiments from our observations and ideas. It is great that we all have a common base of field time to build on, as we will probably spend more time in the coming week looking at the literature. In general, people wanted to continue doing library research free-form over the weekend, but I anticipate that we will likely start forming small groups around a few ideas in the coming week, and doing more structured research.

If this is to be our last hurrah of wildly creative brainstorming, here are a few random prods to get you to think more creatively about potential project ideas:

  1. Think of an idea inspired by the music you are listening to.
  2. Think of an experiment that could be done on foot.
  3. Think of a project that would use museum specimens.
  4. Think of a project that happens mostly underground.
  5. Think of an experiment that could be done on a single tree.
  6. Think of an experiment that could be completed in 3 days or less.
  7. Think of a study that would use an Arduino or Raspberry Pi device.
  8. Think of a study that happens mostly in the dark.

If these prods get you thinking in new directions, great – run with that. If not, no worries – just move on, nothing to see here.

In the next couple weeks, we will start honing in on a short list of possible projects, and we’ll be doing more detailed research and analysis of each of those. More on that later. For now, have a good weekend!

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