The 2017 WA Drought

One site exactly 1 year apart (left: Sept 5, 2017, right: Sept 5, 2016).

One site exactly 1 year apart (left: Sept 5, 2017, right: Sept 5, 2016).

The 2017 drought in Western Australia was really hard on the agricultural community and also affected our work as well. We arrived at our research site in July to find that most of the plants had not even germinated and dry, bare red dirt was most prevalent. Where in June is often the wettest and most important month for precipitation in these systems, June 2017 had less than 0.6mm of rain where the long term average is around 37mm (BOM June Morawa weather).

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We had to shift many of our projects and add a watering treatment to some to assure that some plants emerged this year. After a month of watering, we did start to see some difference. And then some rain did start to fall in August and September (nearly 2 months late). 

July 22, 2017

July 22, 2017

August 20, 2017

August 20, 2017

The previous year might have biased my view of the reserve because the 2016 rain was above average and we were treated to beautiful fields of plants and wildflowers during the 2016 field season. It makes me wonder how much of a climate lag is stored within the system (e.g. does extra rain from the previous year help bummer or impede plant community recruitment/germination in the following year?). Potentially a new direction to look into with some future long term projects... 

Seeds of WA

Silene nocturna

Silene nocturna

I have been working lately with identifying and/or germinating some of the seeds from species that were present in my studies in Western Australia. Here are some pics of the seeds with all their different shapes and patterns! Sorry that my images are not very sharp; my photo-through-microscope skills are pretty terrible. NOTE: there is no relative scale; pics were cropped variously to maximise seed viewing.

Plantago debilis

Plantago debilis

Lawrencella davenportii

Lawrencella davenportii

Peterohagia dubia

Peterohagia dubia

Echium plantagineum

Echium plantagineum

Blennospora drummondii

Blennospora drummondii

Hypochaeris glabra

Hypochaeris glabra

Velleia cycnopotamica

Velleia cycnopotamica

Ceratogyne obionoides

Ceratogyne obionoides

Goodenia pusilliflora

Goodenia pusilliflora

Gilberta tenuifolia

Gilberta tenuifolia

Podolepis lessonii

Podolepis lessonii

Hyalosperma glutinosum

Hyalosperma glutinosum

Waitzia acuminata

Waitzia acuminata

Goodenia berardiana

Goodenia berardiana

Spergula arvensis

Spergula arvensis

 

 

Agricultural Fields Around WA Reserves

Hay field towards the end of the 2017 field season... love the colors!

Hay field towards the end of the 2017 field season... love the colors!

The reserves where we do our research are usually surrounded by various agricultural fields (hay, wheat, lupine, and canola). Because of this, we can ask interesting questions about fragmented landscapes and introduction of novel species interactions. Part of the research that has come out of the Mayfield lab explores these novel plant interactions and I hope to explore how exotic species could potentially affect direct and higher-order interactions.

Canola field in flower

Canola field in flower

One PhD student, Victoria Reynolds, is researching how pollinators are shared between flowering crops (e.g. canola), non-flowering crops (e.g. wheat), and the native wildflowers. She has done some awesome work collecting pollinators and pollen in Western Australia in many different reserves. She was recently awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to visit the Brosi Lab at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, USA where she will use novel genetic techniques to explore these pollinator-plant interactions. How neat!

Rainbow over a wheat field next to the reserve

Rainbow over a wheat field next to the reserve

It is very rare that we have livestock in the fields next to the reserve, but this year we had some sheep that were grazing in the paddock behind the reserve. I really enjoy working within these small reserves to answer interesting research questions that these small reserves allow us to ask.

Sheep in a hay field behind one of the reserves.

Sheep in a hay field behind one of the reserves.

Charles Darwin Nature Reserve

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Following up on a contact from the 2017 Perenjori Agricultural Fair with Bush Heritage Western Australia, a few of us visited the Charles Darwin Reserve owned by Bush Heritage. It is a 68,000 hectare reserve that use to be a pastoral lease and has been bought for conservation by Bush Heritage. I thought it would be a fantasic place to visit and also scout for potential future research sites as this reserve is not surrounded by agricultural fields (like all the other reserves we work within).

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Our first stop was to check in with the site manager, Will Hansen, who lives with his family out on the reserve. We sunscreened and watered up at the living quaters (above) which also displayed some awesome artwork for the reserve and the Blues of the Bush (which is held in the reserve every other year). We were given a map of the reserve with the walking and driving tracks on it and then we were ready to start our adventure. 

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At the start of the day, Abigail Pastore (the Mayfield Lab postdoc) and James Hagan (a visiting Masters student to the Mayfield Lab) enjoyed a bit of bird watching!

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Then we came across a large Hakea (?) bush that had many pollinators including various species of bees, wasps, flys, and beetles.

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We hopped in the car and on one of the tracks we stopped and searched for a marked gnamma hole. These are holes that were shaped and used by the traditional aboriginal land owners as watering holes on journeys. They would put sticks (such as those above) in the watering hole to provide escapes for any unsuspecting creature that fell in (so that they would not die and putrid the water.

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We saw little wildlife about other than birds. We caught a picture of this pretty lizard as well as a glimpse of a kangaroo. What I really wanted to see were wild emus... but alas I saw only some tracks (below).

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Overall this is a fantastic reserve full of cultural and ecological diversity. I was elated to get the chance to visit and I look forward to visiting again as well as potentially getting the opportunity to do some research within the reserve as well.

For more information on the reserve take a gander at this site.

EcoTas 2017 Conference

We are coming quickly up on joint conference held by the Ecological Society of Australia and the New Zealand Ecological Society, EcoTas. It is only a couple of weeks away; I am getting excited and a bit anxious (I need to clean up my presentation)!

If anyone finds they are hanging around the conference, come check out the presentations from the Mayfield, Dwyer, and Stouffer Labs!

 

Monday

Barbara Rice Memorial Poster Session, 5:45-7:30pm, The Event Centre

Gabrielle Lebbink: Factors determining the spread and impact of the exotic grass Bothriochloa pertusa (Indian couch).

 

Tuesday

Ecological Modelling (1), 11:00am-12:30pm, Sugarloaf Room

 - Bernat Bramon Mora: Detecting convergent evolution in the structure of ecological communities.

 - Matthias Dehling: Assessing the functional roles of species and their contribution to functional diversity.

 

Ecological Modelling (Plants), 1:30-3:30pm, Sugarloaf Room

 - Daniel Stouffer: The dimensionality of competition in plant communities.

 - Trace Martyn: The importance of neighbour identity in modelling higher-order interactions in annual plant communities.

 

Restoration Ecology (1), 1:30-:30pm, Bimbadeen Room

 - Timothy Staples: Acacia and Eucalyptus interactions and growth in diverse planted forests.

 - John Dwyer: Intra-specific competition slows tree growth more than low rainfall in secondary brigalow forests.

 

Wednesday

Forest Ecology (1), 11:00am-1:00pm, Bimbadeen Room

 - James McCarthy: Community composition, primary productivity and metabolic theory of ecology in Australia.

 

Invasion Ecology (Plants), 4:00-6:00pm, Cypress #2

 - Maia Raymundo: The effects of experimental water addition and dispersal exclusion on invaded annual plant community assembly. 

 - Rongini Runghen: Exploring how different types of visitors contribute to the spread of alien species.

 

Thursday

Ecological Modelling (3), 11:00am-1:00pm, Bimbadeen Room

 - Guadalupe Peralta: Revisiting the link between network structure and stability of mutualistic communities.

 

SYMPOSIUM: Changing Australia: emerging trends, trade-offs and synergies of landscape transformation in rural Australia, 11:00am-1:00pm, Wattagan Room

 - Al Healy: Mapping changes in water availability: a case study of Western Queensland.

 

I am excited to listen to all the upcoming research in ecology and get a chance to meet other researchers who are working in Australia, New Zealand, and around the world!