The 2019 Field Season

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And we may have gotten a quick chance to visit Rottnest Island to visit some quokkas (pictured Dr. Natalie Jones)

And we may have gotten a quick chance to visit Rottnest Island to visit some quokkas (pictured Dr. Natalie Jones)

In the midst of wrapping up my PhD at University of Queensland, I got the chance to help two new members of the Mayfield Lab set-up experiments and site select.

I first headed out with Dr. Natalie Jones, a postdoc in the Mayfield Lab. We were scouting for sites and setting out some weed-cloth to make a blank-slate on the ground for us to add seed later in the season. Most of the plants were very tiny and therefore hard to ID but we smashed out all of the sites!

Natalie left back to Brisbane to prepare for ESA America 2019 Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, and I met up with Grace Leung, a new PhD student in the Mayfield Lab. We traversed much of the northern/central Western Australian Wheatbelt scouting for sites.

Grace and I at one of the rare blooming sites we found further up north!

Grace and I at one of the rare blooming sites we found further up north!

All those points between Cervantes and Geraldton… site we visited AND found either canola or lupin next to bushland.

All those points between Cervantes and Geraldton… site we visited AND found either canola or lupin next to bushland.

Site selection was a bit tricky as Grace’s research is primarily focused around co-flowering wildflowers and mass-flowering crops. Therefore, we were on a trek to find canola or lupin adjacent to nature reserves or bushland remnants. We found a few potentials, but because the rains were late and of small amount for the season, Grace may have to wait a while to pick her final sites. We at least found one fallow canola paddock where Grace is working on implementing a pilot project until the rest of the crop catches up!

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The 2018 Field Season

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Because I am in the last year of PhD program, I was unable to go to Western Australia for the whole field season. But I did get the chance to head to the field site in WA for a couple of short stays. I helped at the beginning of the season to move around equipment and to install some PRS probes for a side project. 

PRS Probes in the ground surrounding a plot with focal indidividuals marked with toothpicks and yarn.

PRS Probes in the ground surrounding a plot with focal indidividuals marked with toothpicks and yarn.

Then I came back in late August to collect species composition data and to help set up some other experiments that the 2018 field crew are working on. 

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I was a bit worried this year about the rains - April got 0.0mm and May got less than average. I was crossing my fingers that we would not have a drought again this year... AND June, July & August all got close to double the long-term average amount of rainfall for each month - What a relief! Upon my second visit to the field, I saw carpets of pink, white, and yellow flowers about - certainly not like last year during the drought. 

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I even went back to my old haunting ground to grab a picture from the same place I had 2 years before (L to R; 2018, 2017, 2016 pictures). The 2018 picture was not exactly 1 year apart from the 2017/2016 pictures (I was short 2 weeks) but you can already tell it is quite green and flowers are starting to pop out! 

Data processing complete!

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Phew... it has been a long ride (>560 days) but my data processing is finally complete!

During my 3 month field season in 2016, I mapped 100 vegetation plots and collected seed from as many of the plants in those plots as I could grab (nearly 12,000 samples). I then brought those samples back to the lab and counted the seeds from each of those samples (with lots of help from others). We had to count most samples by hand because of the level of detail of the seed count - seed per pod/head - negated the usage of digital methods (e.g. taking a picture and using imageJ would probably take just as long or longer given the few number of seeds per sample for most samples). For some samples with really tiny seeds, we used a mass-count method, weighing a set number of seeds to estimate the number of seeds for that plant. In other instances, such as for grasses, we counted bracts of the culm/panicle and multiplied it by the number of seeds held in the bract.

The final seed tally is 864,748 from 12,139 samples.

Then I went through the maps to include any information for individual plants that I wrote on the map and did not collect a sample (e.g. a note of '0 seeds' on the map in the field instead of making an empty envelope). While mapping I recorded information on number of flowers/seed heads not collected (due to time constraints) by making a note next to the point, or grouping individuals into a contour on the map, or by jotting notes in the map legend. These all are varying levels of seed count quality (with the best being actually counted and the worse being a note in the legend) but this also provides more potential information for future analyses instead of just 'NA'.

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Using these map notes, we can add 4,824 individuals to the seed count dataset (considering the point and contour notes).

While counting, we also made note of any seed pods that were collected to early or after dispersal (resulting in no seeds) as well as seed pods that were open ( indicating the potential for missing seed). We also had counts of number of flowers and buds still remaining on the sample. Using this data, we can estimate the number of seeds per head/pod/stem and calculate a 'corrected' seed count to use in my analyses.

So an updated count is 941,674 seeds from 13,551 individual plants (corrected for lost seed and lost potential seed - e.g. a flower still on the sample). Compared to a total of 28,579 individuals mapped across 100 plots (max=965 plants in one 50 X 50 cm plot, min=53 plants/plot, median=231 plants/plot), that is about a 47% fecundity data sampling success across the plots - not too shabby...

Now onto my analyses... 

 

Recap of Peru

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Peru was AMAZING!

I arrived at the beginning of March and had a couple of days to acclimate to the altitude of Cusco (~3900m). I enjoyed walking around town and visiting local markets and the Spanish churches and Incan temples. 

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The city of Cusco was beautiful - you could almost feel the history from the 17th century churches to the 12th century temples/ruins to even the cobbles of the streets! 

During the course we spent 3 days in Cusco having lectures on plant ecology, ecosystem ecology, fire ecology... many ecologies... We also got the chance to survey some of the residents of Cusco about their views of climate change. 

Photo by Erik Kusch.

Photo by Erik Kusch.

 Then we headed to the Wayqecha Research Station in the Andes. 

Photo by Erik Kusch.

Photo by Erik Kusch.

The station was beautiful - nestled on a mountain side with a view straight down onto the (often cloudy) Amazon. There was an amazing collection of orchids at the location and a number of inquisitive (and hungry) hummingbirds (Photos by Erik Kusch). 

We then spent about 10 days collecting plant samples in the Puna grasslands of the Andes.

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There were such beautiful views from our field sites that they were quite distracting (when not covered in clouds and not raining/hailing on us).

(Click through the gallery below for some pictures from our adventures on the course. Photos by Brian Enquist)

After our sample collection and processing, the course travelled to Pisac where we presented short summaries of the data and proposed potential research questions that we intend to follow up on. I did not do any heavy data processing (due to lack of time) but my tablet was sufficient to help with the data cleaning and small data processing tasks. We also got a chance to visit the ruins above Pisac which were quite spectacular.

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After the course many of the students spent a few days travelling around the area. I took a short trip to Machu Picchu. Then I spent my last couple of days back in Cusco collecting souvenirs and gifts for family and friends. 

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I then returned to NY to visit family before heading back to Brisbane! 

Photo by Erik Kusch.

Photo by Erik Kusch.

It was a fantastic visit to Peru and a great course! I met a lot of amazing people and had the opportunity to learn some of the plants of Peru and, of course, collect some traits as well!

Photo by Erik Kusch.

Photo by Erik Kusch.

Plant Functional Trait Course, Peru

This is not Peru... but I am missing the weather in Australia... New York is cold!

This is not Peru... but I am missing the weather in Australia... New York is cold!

Hi all! 

I will be shortly heading to the 2018 Plant Functional Trait Course in Cusco, Peru. Students in the course have been working on small assignments and reading some background literature to prepare for the 3-week field component. One such assignment has been to publish two blog posts (one pre- and one post-course). Check out the blog posts from all the attendees, here! I am very excited for the opportunity to attend the course and the chance to experience the natures and culture of Peru. Look for some pictures in the near future!