We're an international team of ecologists studying streams in the Hengill region of Iceland. Our research is focused on understanding the effects of global warming on stream food webs and ecosystem processes.
Just recently I had the great pleasure of visiting Drs. Jill Welter and Paula Furey at St. Catherine University in the beautiful city of St. Paul, MN (not to be confused with Minneapolis, MN). On this trip (funded by the Montana Institute on Ecosystems) I received training in algal and cyanobacteria identification. With the skills I gained at St. Kate's I can now examine how temperature alters the structure of benthic communities. Below are photos of a few species that colonized the tiles in my experimental channels this past summer.
Over the past few years, we've seen post after post of glorious field work and courageous science action. There's no doubt that most of us got into this business so that we could spend long, lovely periods of time outside, observing and collecting critters. The truth, however, is that ecological science involves a little time in the field and a LOT OF TIME in the lab. Fortunately for us, lab work is just as exhilarating!. .. . .as long as you're in the zone. Here's a few shots of Montana folks in the zone.
Tanner has been busy analyzing nutrient chemistry samples from his experimental channels - and yes, his hair continues to grow! His goal is measure dissolved ammonium and phosphate in water samples to examine whether experimental warming affects rates and ratios of nitrogen and phosphorus uptake. Shouldn't be long before he can post some preliminary data!
Jim has been hard at work processing benthic samples from the landscape temperature gradient. He's finding large differences in the structure of macrophyte-algal-cyanobacteria communities, and his plan is to quantify how these differences affect pools and ratios of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus at the ecosystem-level. He may be missing a front tooth (sorry Jim), but this has not slowed progress. In the next few weeks, Jim will be packing up hundreds (thousands?) of samples for carbon and nitrogen analysis. Stay tuned for updates!
And then there's Dr. Jim Hood, our unflappable post-doc and resident R guru. Jim is deep in the midst of compiling, coding, and analyzing data from our whole-stream warming experiment. The paper resulting from these efforts is within reach, and we're getting excited about the emerging patterns. In other news, Jim just birthed a new beautiful baby girl (Lauren), who is now our lab mascot. We look forward to her help!
And last. . .there's me, Wyatt. I've been steeped in classes (teaching 3 this semester!) and making good progress on analyzing chamber metabolism data (thanks to Hood). I think I'm getting bags under my eyes. . . .oh well. .. it's worth it!
We are extremely grateful for the opportunity to work in an area as fascinating and informative as Hengill, and we hope to continue doing so for many years to come. In light of this, we try our hardest to reduce our impact on this fragile landscape. Yesterday, I raised the proverbial small army and we dismantled and removed our experimental channels from Hengill (including the 600 feet of tubing!). We transported all of the pieces back to Reykjavik, where we can safely store them over the long winter until the next field season. Many thanks to our Icelandic colleagues at the University of Iceland and the Insitute for Freshwater Fisheries!
Dissembling the heat exchangers. Strange hot pot chemistry appears to have stained our equipment orange.
Photo by J. Goldschmidt
The first of many trips.
Photo by J. Goldschmidt
Photo by J. Goldschmidt
Loading the cars at the river.
Photo by J. Goldschmidt
The former site of Lake Allison (our inlet reservoir for the channels) with natural flow conditions restored.
Our experimental channel site cleaned up for the approaching winter.
I know the team thinks I was just relaxing on the beach during my recent trip to California. Think again! I happened to catch a lecture by Dr. Geoffrey West, given for the 'Complexity Group' (http://www.stanford.edu/group/complexity/) at Stanford University. He gave a very interesting talk on metabolic scaling that was highly relevant to our research (despite the 167 slides!). He had some fascinating new nuggets about aging and companies.
When Tanner handed me a tea steeper and a piece of a plastic channel and said "connect this somehow..." I quickly harnessed my MacGyver-chi and went searching around the lab for parts to complete this engineering task. About 15 minutes of grumbling and mumbling, fumbling with rubber bands and zip-ties, I emerged from the lab with a Frankenstein-esque work of biomass-catching art. Conveniently detachable for easy removal, I might add. And the best part is, these puppies cost $0.00; all of the materials can be dismantled and put right back in the lab. Cup-holder to come on edition 2.0. We installed them the next day on Tanner's channels, and what do you know, they work!
The idea was that there was a lot of biomass being schluffed off the channels and we wanted a way to capture it as to get an accurate representation of how much of what is actually being grown/moved around the tiles. The result is this (quite colorful) hodge-podge of pencils and baskets and rubber bands.
With the 4-week and 6-week sampling under our belts, we're all feeling pretty comfortable with our methods now as we're heading in the last sampling period. Now with an added twist of trying a little side project of my own, we'll see how this next week will go. The weather hasn't been very conducive to warm, sunny summer field work, but hey- when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. This next week will consist of getting Ryan Jones' (Montana State University) samples, my side project of tile transplants (we'll be moving tiles from the +10 and +20 treatments into the +15 channel and we'll measure metabolism after 2 hours and again after 3 days of incubation), Tanner's regular metabolism data, N-up, P-up and Jill Welter's nitrogen fixation runs. We had a long day in the field last week when Jill and her crew decided to do three (yes, three) methods of nitrogen fixation in one day. It actually went relatively smoothly given that none of us had done anything quite to that scale ever, and overlapping the methods turned out to be a lot shorter of an endeavor than going out over several days.
All in all, the summer is coming to an end and there's a bitter sweet mood in the air- Iceland is just such a cool place, it definitely has brought out my inner nerd more than ever. Spending time in such a relatively new country really puts a new perspective on how you view the world and no doubt inspires a more thorough examination and interpretation of the landscapes we live in.
After one of our days in the field, we came home to a beautiful rainbow framed by the blooming lupines.
The experimental channels turn 6 weeks old and biomass is exploding in the warm treatments. We're pretty excited that the treatment effect we noticed early on is still holding strong. We just completed another full round of sampling over the past 3 days, and now we wait until our final sample event two weeks from now. What will they look like then?