Time for everything to begin

Well it happened. Last Wednesday class officially kicked off at TAMUCC. It’s an interesting time here, just like every other university I’m sure, where the population in the parking lots around campus seems to grow exponentially to include what appears to be the entire city! This semester I’m in a total of 4 classes (somewhat more than future semesters), and TAing 2 undergraduate labs (one intro bio and one microbio). It looks like it will be a good, yet extraordinarily busy semester and it definitely feels a bit like I’ve been thrown in the deep end with the labs, but learning on the job is the best way to learn anything so bring it on!

As far as the research goes I just had a poster accepted to the GCFI conference to be held in Corpus Christi in November presenting some of the work we did in Belize.We’re also starting to do some practice DNA extractions, of the lionfish we collected, to iron out any kinks in the process before going full tilt with 96 well plates. I also very recently finished up data collection from a project I’ve been working on since I was in The Bahamas (over 2 years ago now) so soon I’ll be able to start analysing that data as well (more on the project in another post). So yes very busy lately so sorry for the short post but everything is happily moving along.


Data data everywhere

So now that we’re back from the field what to do with all the data that we collected. Well the first obvious step is to transfer the data from the many data sheets we used in the field to spreadsheets so we can actually use that data in our future analyses. But that’s not terribly exciting so lets just leave it at this: after a couple of days of tirelessly entering data into excel sheets we finished and now its time to start analysing it!

The first thing we decided to look at is changes in recruitment. As you might remember from my last post recruitment is when a fish metamorphoses from its larval phase (usually floating around on the ocean currents) to a recognizable juvenile form on the reef. Our dataset now includes 2002-2004 (pre-lionfish) and 2013 (post-lionfish). So while we won’t be able to say with absolute certainty that any changes we observe are due to lionfish; we can say that lionfish are a prime candidate for any shifts in the fish community structure. Other potential candidates are things like hurricanes and coastal development. To my mind lionfish are really the number one candidate because the time post hurricane before the 2002 surveys is about the same as the time post hurricane before this years surveys so you would expect the populations to have changed in a similar manner. Coastal development is unlikely to be much of a factor because Turneffe is still for the most part undeveloped. There have been a couple additions (a Coast Guard base next to the field station for one) but for the most part from what I’ve heard not much has changed, its not like a big town or resort complex suddenly showed up.

So without further ado here is a very rough graph of what our data looks like!

Fish community plot

I know its pretty rough and complicated (I’m just learning how to code in R and haven’t really figured it out enough to make it do what I want completely!) but still you can get some pretty cool info out of it. Basically the the circles represent where all of the different survey years cluster towards as far as species composition (the purple four letter codes represent species so HAGA = Halachoeres garnoti or the Yellowhead wrasse). The small circles are each individual site coloured to match the year. So looking at this you can see that CHCY, the fish formerly known as the Blue Chromis, is negatively correlated with the 2013 data since its very far away from that circle. HAGA on the other hand is positively correlated to the 2013 data etc. So looking at this we can see that the three survey years before the lionfish invasion (black, red and green for 2002, 2003 and 2004 respectively) all have very similar fish community structure where as the new 2013 data has a somewhat different community structure.

So yeah cool stuff right! I haven’t even begun to figure out what all of that could mean in terms of what’s going on with the fish communities, or why some fish are positively and other negatively correlated to lionfish. But this is definitely a cool start to what will continue to be an interesting story to pull apart in the future.

Mini Field Season Go!

Today has been an exciting and eventful day. It started extraordinarily early at 3 am! When I left with my advisor and co-student to get on a plane headed for the first mini-field season in Belize. It’s going to be a super exciting trip to feel out potential projects and gather some data as a continuation of my advisor’s Ph.D. research. The general idea will be to look at the effects of lionfish on the native fish populations and look at the connectedness of those species.

The excitement started when we got to the airport 2 hours before the flight and an hour or so before it opened. Then the TSA decided that the 1 gallon of 70% ethanol we were bringing on the plane to preserve samples might be an issue. Confusion ensued leading to 3 supervisors being called who in the end agreed that the TSA is ok with it but the airline might have a problem. So then they called the hazardous substances representative from the airline who decided that it wasn’t ok despite the airline having the same rules as the TSA on their website (1.3 gallons of 70% ethanol so Bacardi 151 isn’t ok).

At this point our plane had started boarding and long story short we managed to turn arriving 2 hours early into sprinting to get on the plane! But we made it so everything is good.

Tomorrow we’ll be buying supplies and designing a mechanism for storing captured lionfish mid-dive to avoid stings (fingers crossed!) and then the next day its off to Turneffe Atoll. Its unlikely that I’ll make many/any posts while I’m here but stay tuned for pictures and more posts when I get back. Calabash Cay here I come!

Here’s a picture of the atoll from the internet for you in the meantime.

Turneffe Atoll

Hello World

About a month or two ago I took the SciFund online course. It’s a course designed to teach scientist how to do outreach with a specific focus on doing online outreach. It was fantastic! For me I applied because I figured it would be interesting to learn a bit about that side of science, I already write a couple blogs a month for Speak Up for Blue, an ocean conservation focused blog, and I wanted to learn more about how I could incorporate a blog into my master’s degree program (I start in September with my first trip to the field in July). What I didn’t expect to find was a fantastic community of people interested in doing outreach of all kinds. It was an amazing experience to talk to other scientists working in fields as varied as developing techniques to eliminate methane emissions from natural gas powered cars to researching the use of placebos in medical therapy. Through this course I learned and started to use twitter (@JasonSelwyn) which I’d previously been intimidated by as a strange, bizarre form of communication that I have now learned about how it can be used for effective scientific outreach (there’s even a paper about it!).

At the end of the course we all had to make a commitment of some kind to continuing doing scientific outreach. Here is mine: “My plan is to use twitter to support and grow an audience and either join a group blog or create my own. I also want to participate in #SciStuChat, it sounds really cool what’s going on.”

So there you have it that statement is a plan for the purpose of the blog. I’m going to incorporate blogging as I start my master’s program and field research to blog about A) my research, why it’s important, and why I think it’s cool/exciting and B) my graduate school experience (through being a teaching assistant, to navigating a completely new school, state, and culture in general (I’m going to school in Texas and am from Massachusetts).

So there you have it and welcome to my blog!