Epiphanies in Ecology

For Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) research in the Seagrass Ecosystems Lab, we venture out into Florida Bay every two months to do a survey of the submerged aquatic vegetation (seagrasses and macroalgae).  As I mentioned in my last post (Florida Bay:  Beneath the Surface) Florida Bay is a honeycomb of basins, which creates different habitat types.  These different habitats, specifically the type and density of vegetation on the floor and sediment type (and many other factors that are beyond the scope of this post), attribute to the color of the water.  In a single LTER trip, we see water ranging from deep blue to teal, green, and even brown!   After 2 years of running the LTER project for our lab, I am still amazed by the dynamic nature of Florida Bay on the surface and below.

Darker blue waters as we travel to Sprigger Bank.
At Sprigger Bank:  notice the greenish patch to the left.  There is sparse shoal grass (Halodule wrightii) in that patch.  The darker areas have turtle grass (Thalassia testudinum) and manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme).
Milky teal waters of Duck Key.
Duck Key on a different day.  
Little Madiera a week after TS Isaac passed through.  Little Madiera is located near mainland Florida and receives a lot of freshwater input, especially after a major storm like Isaac.   
 During my first year as a PhD student, these LTER trips were pivotal in maintaining my sanity and reminding me of the reasons I became an ecologist.  As I have developed as a scientist, these trips have become more of a gateway for the development of research questions to test different theoretical concepts that we have studied in depth in our classes.  I’m a very visual person and being outside helps me to connect the dots between theory and the development of research questions.  I guess you could say, nature is my muse (sorry for the cliché but I really couldn't resist!).  For the most part, major discoveries in science have been made rather serendipitously.  I have come up with many research questions while being on the LTER and, needless to say, I am not the only scientist who does this.  See a great example of what may have started as an ecological epiphany in Science Magazine.  I can only hope that when I grow up my epiphanies will be published in such high-impact journals as Science or Nature!  Until then...


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