The best part of studying ecology: field work!

Spring is here and that means it’s time for field work! For the past couple weeks I have been helping out some post-docs and other grad students with neat research going on at the MSC. As an outdoorsy person, field work is my favorite part of my job. Getting out right on the shore and observing the animals in their natural habitat is really the best way to do science. While sometimes adverse weather can make field work a bit unpleasant, the past two weeks have been ideal field work weather, last week I actually got sunburn! Thank goodness I don’t have to do any today though, as it is very stormy here in Nahant – perfect blogging weather.

Sometimes you meet unexpected friends in the intertidal
Most of the field work I have been doing is helping out with the spring weeding for a long-term biodiversity manipulation that my lab has been working on for nearly two years. It examines the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functions (such as productivity, or amount of life supported by the ecosystem). The PI’s Matt Bracken and Geoff Trussell, are also interested in how this biodiversity-ecosystem function relationship might change along an environmental gradient. Therefore we have sites from Nahant to Northern Maine, which experience surprisingly different climactic extremes despite their relative proximity (~6 hour drive apart). With ~500 plots spread between three regions in the Gulf of Maine, this project requires a lot of work, and so everyone in the lab chips in with “weeding” the plots to maintain the biodiversity treatments quarterly. Don’t forget your paint scraper! (thats the best way to get those stubborn seaweeds off the rocks).
We mark our plots with a bolt and washer and use a metal detector to find them later.
This project is near and dear to my heart, because two summers ago, while working as a tech before starting my graduate work, I got to travel around the Gulf of Maine all summer, scouting for sites at which to set up the experiment. The project has shown me the beauty of rural Maine, and I have really enjoyed getting to spend so much time there.
Beautiful field site in the Boothbay region of Maine

Jumping at the chance to do more field work, I also helped a fellow grad student with some tidal elevation measurements for his project. Brendan is planning to experimentally acidify tidepools to see how biodiversity might buffer against the stressor of ocean acidification. He has a ton of tidepools all around East Point that he has been surveying for the past year to get initial data before he acidifies them. So the other day I helped him measure how high they are on the shore. For this we use a fancy laser level that projects a laser from a high point on the shore to a detector that we hold at the point which we want to measure tidal elevation. Once you know where your plots are on the shore relative to mean low water, you can use tide charts to figure out how long your plots are exposed or covered with water. Being exposed to air can be stressful for rocky shore organisms and so tidal elevation is an important factor to consider when researching these organisms.

Using the laser level to measure tidal elevation of tidepools at East Point

It was great to get an early start on field work and I can’t wait for a summer filled with lots more!!!

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