Hi all – I was inspired by the Day in the life of UVM. So here’s a week in my life.
I spent Monday and Tuesday serving as an external evaluator of a similar Environmental Studies program at Miami University in Ohio. It was great fun to talk with new colleagues and old about the best possible models for educating students, engaging the public and policy makers, and generating research and scholarship.
On Wednesday, I (and many faculty in Environmental Studies) attended the 2017 George Washington Henderson Fellowship Seminar, where we got to hear our colleague Bindu Panikkar talk about her important work in Bristol Bay, Alaska.
Thursday morning, I met with Brendan Fisher and Beverley Wemple from Geography to talk about our shared interests in research on the ecosystem services and functions provided by biodiversity in mountains around the world, and I spent most of the day writing a grant proposal that, we hope, will catalyze research, scholarship and teaching in mountain systems around the world, including in the Green Mountains (get in touch if you want to know more!).
This morning, I finally got to give a guest lecture in ENVS001 – Introduction to Environmental Studies. I’m not in teaching shape (I was spent after 50 minutes of engaging with students), but it was still a blast.
We also had a new paper come out this week. I think some of you know I work on mountains and global change, but I’m also passionate about all things related to ants. Some colleagues and I worked on this project for a couple of years, and I just have to tell you about it. It’s published in an open-access journal, so all of you can read it here. But here’s the story. About a decade ago, a geologist was hiking around in the Black Forest in Germany, looking for the locations of some recent tectonic activity. In the middle of the forest, near where the tectonic activity should have occurred, he looked down at his map and thought he recognized where the fault line should be. And when he looked up from the map, he saw a row of big ant nests (these nests are made of thatch, and can be about 1 meter tall) in a perfect row, exactly where the tectonic fault should be. Sure enough, the nests were located almost perfectly on the fault line. He then had a grad student go around the Black Forest to other locations of tectonic faults, and lo and behold, she tended to find more ant nests were there was recent tectonic activity. Somehow, the ants were more common where there was activity than where there wasn’t.
As you might have noticed by now, this wasn’t a double-blind study. The grad student at the time was told to go where the tectonic faults were, then to count ant nests to see if there were more. She could’ve been biased. As a result of that, the German scientists had a hard time getting their work published. They then contacted me and my colleague Aaron Ellison from Harvard Forest. Aaron and I had the idea to conduct a double-blind study (maybe it was Aaron’s idea). So, we recruited my postdoc at the time, Israel del Toro. We told Israel to go to two regions in Denmark and count and map ant nests; one of these regions had recent activity, and the other didn’t. Israel dutifully went out to the field and collected the data, not knowing why he was doing it. When he returned to the lab, I told him what was up, we analyzed the data, and voila! The ant nests in Denmark were closer to tectonic faults than you would expect by chance alone. The distribution and abundance of these charismatic organisms wasn’t dictated by climate or competition, but seismic activity. Cool, no?
Now, that begs the question: Why in the world would ants associate with tectonic activity? Beats me. Any ideas?
Enjoy this lovely fall weather –
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