As you may know, I've been doing a lot of work at the microscope these past two months. I have been taking advantage of this time to catch up on some reading I've been wanting to do. You may be thinking, "Reading? At the microscope?!" Well, yes. I have been a fan of audio books for many years and have recently listened to a couple of classics: Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and Harriet Tubman's "Uncle Tom's Cabin." I recently expanded my audio enjoyment to a few news and science podcasts to brush up on world affairs and scientific happenings. As much of the science air-space was taken up with tributes to the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission in July when I began listening, I went to some of the older material to start with. This is not to say that I dislike space science or that I have anything against that mission. I just wanted a little variety (though I admit that I did enjoy the bits I heard about human waste disposal in space).
One great thing about science podcasts is that you can start on any episode. If they do a good job of listing the topics in each, you can pick and choose anything in their archives, which is especially useful if you are caught up with all the the current offerings. Here are a few of my favorite science podcasts so far:
There is a lot of scientific work going on out there that I know nothing about. This includes work in urban streams (an area of expanding knowledge that I try to focus on), prairie restoration (an interest to me because of my work with the Missouri Botanical Garden), other biological areas of study where I have less experience (birds, microbes in the soil, mammals, genomics, the animal microbiome, etc.) and a wide array of scientific disciplines outside of biology that are too numerous to list. I am hopeful that listening to these podcasts will both inspire me to ask new questions and make me better informed about these disciplines that are complementary to my own.
If you have a favorite podcast, please tell us about it in the comments below!
In most cases, the collection of the data is the most fun part of a project, but the most satisfying part is seeing other people understand and use what was learned from the project.
This month the Knouft lab has been hosting Tony Dell, Ashley Olson, Maria Kuruvilla, and Andrew Berdahl who have been taking advantage of some of our under-utilized lab space. They represent a collaboration between NGRREC and the University of Washington (Seattle). It has been great to see the fascinating work they are doing!
These researchers are collaborating on a project to see how temperature impacts the behavior of fish that experience the appearance of an aggressor. In this case, the aggressor is a video played on a tablet. In this video, a small dot hovers in the middle of the screen. After a prescribed period of time, that dot grows larger, resembling an advancing predator. The response is video recorded, allowing the team to make very accurate measurements of parameters like time to response and distance moved.
The video below shows a demonstration of the predatory dot in action. The tablet at the top shows the dot which begins to grow at about 9 seconds into the video. See how these fish respond!
The team will be completing their work soon and will be returning to their respective homes. I have enjoyed the chance to see this study develop and will miss their enthusiasm and creativity.
Since the semester ended, I've spent a much larger portion of my time at the microscope sorting and identifying aquatic invertebrates. Here are a few photos of what I've been seeing in the microscope. With the exception on the scud (Gammarus minus), these are some of the animals I've not seen very often. Enjoy!
As the school semester winds down, lessons for the Aquatic Ecology class I've been teaching have been easier to prepare. For the past three weeks, we've been taking field trips! Field trips are so important to learning; while those experiences may not have included the most informational content, the knowledge gained was always so much more memorable. They also open opportunities for creativity and questioning that seem closed off in most students (and teachers) within the confines of a traditional classroom.
To start, we explored a park along the Meramec River in search of wetlands to delineate. This was part two for wetland ecology, as I had gone through a brief explanation of the concept of wetland delineation and how to identify soil type a few weeks ago. During the field trip, the challenge was actually more about finding areas in the park that were NOT wetlands. The river had just flooded the previous week.
Before the semester started, it hadn't crossed my mind to include a trip to a fish farm for an ecology class. Fortunately, I have Megan to toss ideas my way. She worked at the St. Louis Fish Farm while she was an undergraduate and, when I was trying to figure out what we might want to do during a lake/pond field trip, she mentioned that Mike, the owner of the fish farm, would probably be glad to host us. What a great idea!! Not only did we have a chance to explore a different ecosystem, but there were opportunities to consider the support systems are put in place at a fish farm, what ecological function these systems serve, and why the farm pond does not provide these services without human intervention.
During the visit, several students had an opportunity to try to catch a fish with the nets - each of them took several tries to catch a fish and some never did get one. I wanted to try, but made sure that all of the interested students had a shot first. I was a bit concerned that I would somehow embarrass myself - not only did I manage to catch a fish, but I got it on my first try! I was pleased to represent the Knouft Lab so successfully!
Initially, our field trip to the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center was scheduled for early April. Unfortunately, the flooding on the Mississippi River forced us to postpone the trip. On the other hand, this trip was completely worth the wait! The class split into two groups: one group toured the NGRREC research facility while the other group went out on the Mississippi in the research boat to explore monitoring methods for big rivers. It was very interesting to compare how methods change when you move from a wadeable stream to such a vast aquatic habitat.
In early March, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed - a social media platform I use almost exclusively for science communication (and occasional Blues hockey) - when I saw a Tweet from Matt Schuler about Tyson Research Station. They had reduced their use of road salt this winter by using brine.
I was so glad to read about a local organization taking advantage of brine, that I actually clicked on the article and read all about their brining system. That was when I got REALLY excited. You see, the article mentions "a Brining Workshop organized by [Washington University] and the St. Louis Higher Education Sustainability Consortium." I was one of the two speakers at that workshop! This is the first time that I can say for certain that my research and my outreach efforts have resulted in a change in how road salt is used. They report using only a fifth of the amount of salt that they would have used without their in-house brining system. And, not including the things they already had on-hand, it only cost them $100 to put together the system.
I love success stories like this! If you know of any other groups that have started using brine and are having success at cutting their salt use, please comment so we can spread the word!