ESA 2009: Sweater by grandma; gut flora by mom

ESA 2009: Sweater by grandma; gut flora by mom

A session this morning took on one intimate intersection between ecology and medicine. As Brendan Bohannan put it, “Some of the most exciting and interesting communities to study have been right under our noses all this time. In fact, they have been in our noses, and our guts, and the rest of our bodies.” The microbes of the human biology form diverse communities, and each is a miniature ecosystem, presumably following all the same basic rules as the large ecosystems outside our windows. These communities do much more than merely hitch a ride. They help train human immune systems, help  … Read more

ESA 2009: Where you at, bee?

ESA 2009: Where you at, bee?

How many bee species do you think live in New York City? Would you believe 227? You would if you heard Kevin Matteson of Fordham University give his talk on urban pollination in the Big Apple. Most of those bees, he admits, are rare, or live in parks. But a surprisingly tough cohort of bees, wasps and flies do make their living buzzing around the flowers planted in postage-stamp gardens in Brooklyn or window boxes on cafes in Manhattan. Matteson found, though, that 40% of the flowers they are visiting are the kind you buy at a big hardware store  … Read more

ESA 2009: The ecological lessons of the Cerro Grande fire

ESA 2009: The ecological lessons of the Cerro Grande fire

On Friday, before the meeting properly started, I went along on a field trip to Los Alamos, New Mexico. If the name rings a bell, it is probably because the town was once a secret government enclave, r&d hub of the Manhattan project, and so the intellectual home of the atomic bomb.  Read more

ESA 2009: The convention ecosystem

ESA 2009: The convention ecosystem

http://www.flickr.com/photos/ephotion/ / CC BY 2.0 Looking about me with ecologist’s eyes, I begin to see the convention center and the surrounding infrastructure as a thriving ecosystem. In the morning, ecologists disperse to the convention center site in pulses via shuttle busses and more gradually by walking. This movement could be viewed as diurnal migration, a common feature of many animals. Although one could follow a food chain in the traditional sense, it would be fairly dull. In essence, the Starbucks at the Hyatt concentrates various energy-rich products of photosynthesis, and the ecologists graze thereupon, until there are no more strawberry-banana  … Read more

ESA: Saying goodbye in the streets of old Milwaukee

ESA: Saying goodbye in the streets of old Milwaukee

So, the ESA is coming to a close. This was my first time attending, and I was very impressed with the science. There were not, however, enough parties. Here are a couple of shots from last night’s shindig at the Milwaukee Public Museum, an old fashioned collection of skeletons, butterflies in cases, and lots of dioramas peopled with mannequins. Food was served in a little mannequin-peopled village called “The Streets of Old Milwaukee”, and the consensus was that it would not do to be there alone at night. Various food was served. I had the German platter, with potato pancakes.  Read more

ESA: Seeds without wings

ESA: Seeds without wings

US military cargo ships from the Admiralty Islands brought the brown tree snake to Guam. It ate 10 forest bird species to extinction; the last two native species are clinging to life. “What we have is an island with no birds,” says Haldre Rogers of the University of Washington in Seattle. “I found an conservationists nightmare, but an ecologist’s dream.” Rogers was able to imagine a world without birds, “the fate of a silent forest” without birds to eat bugs and disperse seeds. Looking at seed dispersal, Rogers reckoned that seeds and seedlings would no longer be found far from  … Read more

ESA: As dull as ditch water?

ESA: As dull as ditch water?

Jane Kavanagh of University College Cork wins a prize for most self-deprecating talk title, with “As dull as ditch water? Elevating the status of the undervalued drainage ditch” Kavanagh studied a network of ditches draining several farms in County Cork, Ireland. As you can see from the photo to the right, which she kindly supplied, her ditches are lush and attractive. Her sampling of macro-invertebrates revealed that they also like streams in that they harbor quite a bit of diversity, with communities dependent on variables like nutrient composition and water flow. “These are marginal habitats that are largely ignored,” says  … Read more

ESA: From the bright green soy field to the rolling blacktop…this land was made for you and me

ESA: From the bright green soy field to the rolling blacktop…this land was made for you and me

What is the typical landscape of the United States? Jeffrey Cardille, of the University of Montreal wondered the same thing. He may be in Montreal now, but he’s from the US of A, and a big Woody Guthrie fan. Guthrie, in his alternative national anthem “This Land is Your Land” invoked the “redwood forests,” the “gulf stream waters” and so on. But could it be that the archetypal US landscape these days is rather a cornfield or a brand new subdivision? To find out, Cardille used an algorithm called “affinity propagation”, made famous in this Science paper by Frey and  … Read more

ESA: Ecosystem on a leaf

ESA: Ecosystem on a leaf

Ecologists often study succession in communities. That is, after a disturbance like a fire or windstorm or, indeed, even volcanic eruption, plants and animals re-colonize the site in predictable patterns. But why wait for a fire, when you can just wash your hands or wait for a brand new leaf to emerge from a tree? Voila, a blank slate for microbes of various kinds to colonize—and quickly. “There has been a huge amount of work on plant community succession studied from an ecological perspective,” says Noah Fierer. “And food scientists have studied how food rots, but that’s it.” Until now.  Read more