I read a post by a friend Christie Aschwanden on the mundaneness of science at the Last Word on Nothing blog. Christie makes excellent points and science is slow and tedious. I will say that I don’t always enjoy the repetitive nature of data collection but I do like the end products once the data are processed and turned into information. I use the information to help understand how we can be more effective and efficient at our habitat restoration projects. I will also say that I enjoy where I do the data collection. Nevada is a lovely state full of amazing places that very few know about or will ever take the time to learn about. As an aside, some of my coworkers and friends want the tag line on the Nevada license plate to read, “The State You Know Nothing About”…or something like that.
While I was an undergrad at Colorado State University, I worked in a genetics lab and worked my way up to gene jockey, which meant I got to run the gels and stain them with some hideously nasty chemicals that really should not be spilled onto one’s skin. I did not enjoy genetics work mostly because it had little outdoor activity. In grad school I worked at Niwot Ridge, the Bathurst Inlet region of Nunavut (then the Northwest Territories), and one season in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. All are really amazing places and I was pretty fortunate to have spent lots of time in each. There was a great deal of data collection and tedious, repetitive chores at each place combined with getting very cold. I did not necessarily enjoy the data collection but I loved where I was and the end products.
Currently, I get new people each summer via the Americorps program from Great Basin Institute here in Reno and I get the privilege/chore of teaching a variety of methods and plant identification techniques the crews will use at each of the sites they visit during the field season. The methods are a combination of line-point intercept, canopy gap and density measurements taken along three 50meter transects laid out at 0, 120 and 24o degrees mostly in sagebrush and Pinyon-Juniper vegetation. I am sure that is riveting info for most everyone. In the unlikely event anyone who isn’t an ecologist wants to see what these methods look like please follow the link to the Jornada research site in New Mexico and watch the videos. What is important is that the methods I employ are done at permanent plots, easily repeatable, consistent with other entities’ sampling schemes and make sense at the scale of our questions. My questions focus on effectiveness of the various treatments we are putting on the ground across Nevada. By combining statistical rigor with scale appropriate methods I am building a program that will continue to expand and incorporate more taxa. This year we added more bird sampling by bringing the Great Basin Bird Observatory into the suite of data collection chores we are using to understand project outcomes. Next year I want to have small mammals, herps and pollinators monitored to help get at bigger questions.
An additional goal for me is to continue to bring more undergrads and grad students into this type work. I believe that ecological restoration is something worth doing. There is all sorts of philosophical debate going on at high academic levels about restoration which will be the subject of other posts. By exposing undergrads to the realities of project work and the field work that is a big part of any project, I believe some of them will get really excited about choosing this as a career path. By providing opportunities within large projects for graduate theses, science and management can be combined which is a fairly difficult thing to do.