Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Notes from a goat watcher

Although my attention is usually focused on the coast, this week I'm thinking about goats. Yes, goats. They were herded onto a small, urban park on the Anacostia River to eat the tangled, thorny vine-covered vegetation dominating the Kingman and Heritage Islands Park. A company called Eco-Goats rents the goats by the herd for this purpose. With the help of some excellent Conservation Biology graduate students at UMD (Holla to Annette Spivy, Syrena Johnson, Kate Ortenzi, Liz Schotman, and Whitney Hoot!) as well as Smithsonian botanist Norm Bourg, I set up monitoring plots in the goat-grazed site and several similar control sites to see what the goats are actually eating.

Initally, the plots were dominated by a suite of invasive and noxious plants: Japanese honeysuckle, Asian porcelainberry, and poison ivy. Observations of the goats browsing showed that they will eat all of these. Stay tuned for more results. For now, here are some photos and punny observations from Whitney about the goats:

**********
Notes from a goat watcher:

- When I arrived, the goats were grazing near the fence, where their water buckets are placed. Unfortunately, this is to the west of out plot; I did not see any goats enter our plot area.

- I counted 31 goats, but that is a rough estimate. They are cute, but also creepy. I would look down to write in my notebook, look up and they'd all be staring at me. They get stuck in vines and trip sometimes. I laughed. They did not. Goats don't joke. But they do kid.

- I watched the goats for about 15 min before they all left the area for a while. They headed around the path to the southernmost tip of the island; I walked from one end of the fence to the other, but couldn't see them, so went off to flag one control plot. Came back about 30 min later; still no goats. Flagged the other control site. Came back 20 min later and the goats had returned. So, the goats do bugger off. It is possible that I disturbed them. They were definitely aware of me. But they did come back.

Whitney Hoot
M.S. Candidate in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology
M.P.P. Candidate in Environmental Policy
***********

Monday, April 8, 2013

Beyond the paper, the paper airplane gives a birds' eye view of science communication

This week in Nature, Jason Priem, the co-founder of ImpactStory ("tell the full story of the impact of your research"), describes the future of scientific publishing. He envisions a scientific publishing path wherein publication and peer review are decoupled and occur in the opposite order of the traditional model: first publication, followed by peer review by a restricted audience or even the great masses of online readers. After publication, the online community can assess and promote or demote research based on readers' opinions as well as a host of "altmetrics," measures that go way beyond citation counts to include reads, blog coverage, tweets, and mentions. Moreover, the online revolution of scientific publishing will allow scientists to communicate results at a variety of stages - raw or processed data can be posted for users without going through the work to produce a formal publication. Online tools being developed to facilitate these changes, and, indeed, many already exist (e.g. Rubriq, an independent peer review service).

These developments would provide huge benefits - increased dissemination, improvements in the publication process (e.g. greater speed of publication, reduced cost), and, most certainly, greater transparency into the scientific process. And there are very few legitimate drawbacks. To those who believe that we can't or shouldn't quantify scientific impact, employing altmetrics and a greater diversity of factors to represent impact should do a better job than simple citation counts, a metric already in wide use. These tools will break down the exclusivity of science, an outcome most will see as a positive direction.

The only major drawback that I see is one we deal with constantly in the information age, being able to manage and process the streams of information in our lives, which have magnified at an alarming rate. Priem sees the new rankings of altmetrics as the answer to this problem as well, with online tools that create a personally-tailored "journal" or RSS feed that highlights the most relevant research to your personal interests.

 I do worry about something getting lost here. How will I ever keep comprehensive track of my discipline? Whereas a few years ago, I felt as though I never missed an important publication and could confidently identify the important literature published in my field, nowadays the published and online literature has grown gangly. Also, what will become of the cross-disciplinary spark that comes from happening across a research article digressive from my own interests in a general science journal, a feeling which thrills my A.D.D. science-brain?

These concerns stem from my discomfort in confronting a new landscape, rather than any substantive impediment to online publishing. Learning the new landscape will require trial and error. It might not be painless, but at least I'll probably learn something. Overall, the development of more open, online models like the Public Library of Science is a positive development in science that will make us more effective at communicating our findings to colleagues and the public, and, in the vein of Facebook, Wikipedia, and Twitter, likely open up a host of new possibilities that I can scarcely imagine. I just worry about the eyestrain.

Read the story: Scholarship: Beyond the paper

Monday, December 26, 2011

Badass Census Bureau

It's not my usual maritima fare, but in the spirit of the holidays, a little something to make you smile on another topic of interest - the U.S. Census Bureau and its fearless employees, who will risk it all just to count you and your housemates.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gulf of Mexico Restoration Task Force

The Gulf of Mexico Restoration Task Force Strategy (preliminary draft) is open for public comment for one more day. Get your comments in by Wednesday, Oct. 26 11:59 PM EST. Find the report and the comment submission form here: http://www.epa.gov/gulfcoasttaskforce/
My comment is below:

**************************************************************

To the Gulf of Mexico Restoration Task Force:

I commend you on the preliminary Restoration Strategy. Scientists have recognized the decline in coastal and riverine ecosystem health in the Gulf of Mexico states for far too long without any change in practices. A core concept of the plan, to put science and restoration on the same footing with industry, politics, and economics, is outstanding.

As most of the Task Force would no doubt agree, making a good plan is far easier than putting it into action. Too many decisions, for example the locations, priorities, and specific goals for restoration projects, have been left to the states and private and public partners. I worry that when the funding sources come online, they will be diverted from the focal aims of the Strategy. The Task Force should appoint a Science Advisory Commission to oversee and distribute funds for ecological restoration.

Your stated aim of doing restorations within an adaptive management framework is excellent. A substantial portion of funding must be devoted to the effort of adaptive management to support the equipment and labor required for proper monitoring and decision-making. Do not let this issue get sidelined or allow the funding for this to be trivialized. The Task Force should suggest the amount or proportion of resources that are required to be devoted to this pursuit. Please include this revision in the final draft of the Strategy.

Restoration on a scale as large as the Gulf of Mexico has rarely been attempted. Despite the substantial environmental challenges faced by these coastal states, many other regions face similarly daunting environmental degradation. Please ensure that, as the Strategy moves forward, information is collected and made available to scientists and the public so we may learn from this example to improve future large-scale restoration practices. The final draft should include a plan for the release of information on restoration progress and costs.

Thank you for your commendable efforts for restoring the Gulf of Mexico.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Salpy water

On a weekend trip to Long Beach Island, NJ, I was surprised to find the beach littered with salps. However, I was not put off by their abundance as many of the beachgoers and bathers who figured the small, glittering gelatinous animals to be jellyfish.

I myself was not sure what to make of them - I've never previously seen or heard about salp blooms. However, field biologist Gregg Sakowicz from the nearby Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve (JCNERR) informed me that they are a common seasonal phenomenon there. I'm not sure what species it was; they had a bit of blue coloration.

Salps are taxanomically unrelated to jellyfish and do not sting. Rather, they are filter feeders that are relatively closely related to vertebrates for an invertebrate. They possess a spinal cord predecessor (notochord) in their larval stage and have a central nervous system. Read more about salp biology on the jellieszone.com.

I made a short video -


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lionfish nuggets

While in Belize, my islandmates Pete Gawne and Jay Dimond speared several lionfish, a predatory invasive fish that is wreaking havoc on coral reef food webs. Then, my friend Randi Rotjan carefully filleted them (photos below), first removing their venomous spines with thickly gloved hands, and then checking out their gut contents for fun (yes, that is the kind of fun scientists have on isolated tropical islands). The lionfish was served as nuggets, fried in seasoned breadcrumbs, with Marie Sharps hot sauce, and it was quite delicious.

Fishing the lionfish, for food and sport, is being used as an invasive control and eradication approach. You too can learn to fillet a lionfish in this instructional video, and then enjoy a great meal and contribute to the cause. Interestingly, others are attempting to train sharks to eat the lionfish, and report visual confirmation of sharks consuming lionfish, albeit in a somewhat engineered scenario.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Global Explorers guest blog

I was in Belize last week at the Smithsonian's Carrie Bow Cay research station, and wrote a guest blog for the New England Aquarium's Explorers Blog with co-authors Dr. Denise Breitburg and Becca Burrell (in the photo below) about our new research in mangrove ponds.
Read our post: "What the floc?!"