Broadening, then Narrowing

Today marked our return to the classroom, where we will likely be spending a lot of time in the upcoming weeks mulling over and hashing out our project ideas. The main theme of the class was broadening, then narrowing – that is, letting ourselves take a last chance to really cast widely before we get into the nitty-gritty of refining a research topic.

Literally “wiping the slate clean” in preparation for new ideas!

Louie proposed a “broadening” exercise first, where we listed 10 journals we felt were important to ecology on the board. Then, from there, we split into groups of 2 and randomly read through the articles in those journals to find topics or keywords that excited us (with only slight counting-off confusion). It was fun to see our wide diversity of interests represented in the journal selections! The journals & interesting articles we discussed were:

  • Arthropod-Plant Interactions
    • Lots of studies on the effects of insecticides on different species
  • Journal of Forensic Science
    • Some really interesting technique ideas – including cheap analyzing methods (such as isotopic detection)
  • Ecology
    • How might artificial or moonlight affect community composition?
    • The influence of photoperiod on the coloration on insects
  • Nature and Nature Ecology & Evolution
    • General responses to temperature change
    • Soil community response to temperature change
  • Global Change Biology
    • Invertebrate communities in drought conditions (are there linear changes in physiology, morphology?)
    • Changing one variable can greatly affect a whole system!
    • Effects of cell phone towers, such as on chicken incubation patterns
  • Chemical Ecology
    • Desiccation resistance in ants
    • The effects of eucalyptus on soil chemistry
    • Pigmentation – alternative functions
    • Plant species that scare herbivores away from other plant species
  • Journal of Entomology and Zoology
  • Behavioral Ecology
    • Jumping spiders that mimic ants, and continue to mimic ants when ant predators are absent
    • Arthropod recognition capacity
  • Journal of Biogeography
    • Watching populations disperse and comparing phenotypic differences between the different gradients of the population (front vs. center vs. rear)
  • Ecology Letters
    • Adaptive learning, such as in mites
    • Mechanisms for avoiding inbreeding in close proximity (e. g. herbivores that live on a specific plant)
An ant-mimicking spider – pretty convincing!!

Overall, we found & talked about a lot of really cool topics. It was interesting to notice that even the seemingly “out there” or less “ecology-based” journals provided a lot of cool ideas. It’s good to keep your mind open when it comes to sources of inspiration!

After this broadening exercise, we decided to work on narrowing our shortlist of topic ideas. These are the ones that we have on the list right now (in no particular order):

  • What is the adaptive value of monarch stripes?
  • Plant-soil feedbacks (Eucalyptus alleopathy and honeydew N-immobilization)
  • The “Dead Fish” project
  • Noise pollution (particularly its implications for birdsong)

As Louie said at the start of the class, it’s “good to stand at the summit of possibility”! Now that we’ve pretty much reached the summit (at least for this class), we can start our slow descent into the valley of research.

Next Week’s Agenda: Our main priority will be to dive deeper into our shortlist! Let’s plan to all meet in the classroom Friday – be ready to do some directed research and thought-organizing. We’ll be forming small groups, and will spend the class creating google doc “outlines” for each project on the shortlist (and potentially a few others that some students will be looking at outside of class). Things to include in these rough project outlines:

  • key references
  • potential questions
  • hypotheses
  • maybe even some research methods/logistics

Come prepared to work together, dive deep, and do a lot of “mental” fieldwork! See you all Friday.

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