Diving Deep into the Short List

Today was the first Friday we’ve spent indoors. We spent our time researching the ideas that made it to the short list and coming up with possible research questions and figuring out logistics.

Zotero! It’s so convenient! You can save PDFs to your Zotero library and while you’re writing in a Word doc, you can use Zotero to easily insert citations and bibliographies. Louie had us all download Zotero so we could share research papers with each other through a common folder. There is a folder for each topic and we have already uploaded over 70 papers… so if anyone is looking for some light reading this weekend, you know where to find it!

Then MC Elizabeth said it was time to break into groups! We grouped based on which topic on the sort list interested us the most and spent an hour deep diving into the world of research publications. We all learned A LOT!!!

Searching and researching…
…and researching some more!

We reconvened to share our findings with the class.

The Dead Fish Project

The Dead Fish Project group had the idea to fence off dead salmon. Typically, dead salmon are eaten by coyotes, birds, and other animals, but if we sequester the salmon so that the typical animals can’t get to them, how will the fish decay and what will break it down?

Louie commented that in his experience smaller detritovores move you closer and closer to mummification.

“Microbial decomposition is surprisingly ineffective.” – Louie Yang

Cricket Paralysis Virus

Jess explained the Cricket Paralysis Virus to the class. There is not very much data on this virus, and it would be interesting to research whether it can be transmitted between arthropods.

Maybe we could test transmission to ecologically important arthropods? Perhaps spiders?

Or maybe we could look into Jerusalem crickets, because these are a staple for the owl population around here. If the Jerusalem cricket population crashes because of this virus, that could impact the owls.

Plant-Soil Feedback

The Plant-Soil Feedback group found that invasive plant species create litter faster, which then decays faster, and contains more nitrogen than native plants do. In previous classes Louie has explained that aphid honeydew is rich in carbon. This group was wondering: could these effects balance out?

They also found that honeydew can effect the microbiota on the surface of plants that it drips on to. Louie added that this also causes bugs to get stuck to the plant. Kasey wondered if this could reduce herbivory, and Arianna questioned whether this could reduce photosynthesis. Vincent added that this could possibly change the volatile profile of the plant, and effect predator and herbivore reactions that rely on this signal.

Realistically, identifying microbes could be hard, and we may need to stick with testing carbon and nitrogen levels, as this is more feasible with our resources.

Monarch Stripes

I think we can all agree that polarized light is pretty crazy. Vincent asked what the timeline would look like if we chose this topic. Louie replied that we would need to start right away. We need to plant milkweed, rear caterpillars and tachinidae, and also rear food for the tachinidae.

Mia added that research has found that the 1st and 5th instars tend to be the most vulnerable to parasitism, but she hasn’t seen any research looking at why the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th instars are more fit.

A suggestion of how tachinidae may view their hosts.

Noise Pollution

The noise pollution group came up with the idea that some insects may be using noise as a type of camouflage. Elizabeth added that there is a moth that emits sound to throw off the echo location of bats that are trying to hunt them.

Marina found that blackbird songs have different tones depending on how much sound pollution there is where they’re from. she wondered: if we record the calls of blackbirds that live around noise pollution and those that live without noise pollution, and then played them in an open field, would the blackbirds sort themselves? Could this be a type of reproductive isolation?


Then we dispersed into groups again to look into more of the logistical side of things, and added the information we found to the files on the google drive.

We ended the day by going around the room to ensure each of us had a chance to share any last comments.

I agree with Arianna’s comment: although she came into class today set on the Monarch caterpillar experiment, today’s research revealed that any of the experiments on the short list are quite interesting.


For next time:

The plan is to work collectively to come up with a clear question and hypothesis for each topic, and work toward the conciseness of an elevator speech for each experiment.

See you all on Tuesday!

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