Jabberwocky Ecology

Ode to six-legged wonder

While the Portal Project focuses primarily on rodents and plants, there is more to our ecosystem than just those taxa. This week’s Portal Project post focuses on some insect work at the site.

The Portal Project

If four legs are great, six legs are better. Right? For forty years now, the Portal Project has primarily focused on two-legged creatures trapping, studying, and sometimes cuddling small, furry four-legged creatures. But we haven’t ignored the six-legged inhabitants of our long-term research site, and I am going to tell you more about them now.

roachantmouse Which one of these is least like the other?

I am the Ernest lab entomologist, who doesn’t consider herself an entomologist. I am interested in biodiversity, community, and macroecological patterns like those studied by generations of Portal rodent researchers. I just happen to study them using bees. There are over twenty thousand species of bees in the world, and about four thousand in North America. My research so far has focused on the community ecology of native bees in a global hotspot of bee diversity in California. But as fate or luck would have it…

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The Spectabulous Spectabs of Portal

The latest installment from the Portal Project Blog on the watch for Banner-tailed Kangaroo Rats

The Portal Project

Much beloved by those who have worked at the Portal Project, the banner-tailed kangaroo rat (Dipodomys spectabilis) is one of the most charismatic rodents at the site (for us smammal lovers who think rodents can be charismatic, anyway). The fact that they have a nickname—spectabs—attests to this fondness. Look at that mighty tufted tail! Those giant, majestic furred feet! Weighing in at over 100 grams as adults, they are twice the size of our other kangaroo rat species (D. ordii and D. merriami). What’s not to love?

8067256761_6ab7d78602_zDipodomys spectabilis

As avid readers of the Portal blog might recall, the site used to be much grassier back in the day. At the start of the project in 1977, spectabs were running the show at Portal; we even had some plots that excluded only D. spectabilis because they were so dominant! For the spectabs, this was a desert…

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Portal Phenocam

How did we get those daily pics of the desert turning green in a week? Meet Portal’s new toy: the Phenocam.

The Portal Project

You may have noticed the super-cool daily images featured in last week’s post. They’re from our new network camera.

For starters, it allows us to do things like watch our desert field site turn from brown to green in no time flat (and back to brown again this winter).

But even cooler, our camera is part of the PhenoCam Network. They’re organizing a network of near-surface remote sensing images from sites all over the world. This creates a time series of images, in RGB and infrared, that can be used for phenology monitoring by the PhenoCam folks, us, or anyone who’s interested.

The PhenoCam folks make all the imagery freely available to download. From installation and configuration to image analysis, they provide awesome support. And their R package phenopix provides a quickstart to using phenocam imagery.

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How fast can a desert turn green?

Ever wondered how fast the desert can turn green when the rains get going? There’s a Portal blog post on that (with pics)!

The Portal Project

In the desert, water is life. Without it, the desert is brown and dusty. At our site, the rains come twice a year – once during the ‘winter’ (I put that in quotes for our readers where winter means snow and/or extended periods below freezing) and once during the summer. Water in the summer and water in the winter don’t have the same effect on the desert, though. Plants need both warmth and water to grow. When rain falls in the desert in the winter, growth is slow and typically waits until the warmer temperatures of spring. In the summer, though, the high temperatures and the rain from Arizona’s monsoons make for an explosive combination. How fast can the desert turn green? Here’s a series of photos from our site – one per day for a week that we think conveys this better than words. Enjoy the slide show:

You…

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Pregnancy in Kangaroo rats

A guest post from last week on the Portal Blog about studying Kangaroo rat placentas!

The Portal Project

~While everyone’s busy at ESA this week, we’d like to keep the 40th anniversary ball rolling with a guest post from a visiting researcher at Portal. Jess Dudley has been using the Portal area to compare pregnancy in kangaroo rats and Australian marsupials. We’ll be featuring other guest posts through the rest of the year. (If you’d like to do something similar, please send us your info!)~

In July 2015 I travelled the 24+ hours from Sydney, Australia to the beautiful town of Portal to research pregnancy in Kangaroo rats. To everyone’s astonishment we do not have Kangaroo rats in Australia! I am sure I don’t need to explain my fascination with Kangaroo rats with this audience but in terms of pregnancy they have some unique features which differ from most rodents. This finding by King and Tibbitts in the 1960’s led me to wonder how the placenta forms during pregnancy…

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Weecology at ESA

We have a modest sized group of current folks at ESA this week presenting on all the cool things they’ve been doing. We’re also around and always happy to try to find time to grab a coffee or just a few minutes to chat science.

Our schedule for the week is:

Monday

Get a double dose of rapid change in ecological communities from the Portal Project with Morgan Ernest and Erica Christensen.

02:50 PM – 03:10 PM in C120-121. Erica Christensen (w/Dave Harris & Morgan Ernest). Novel approach for the analysis of community dynamics: Separating rapid reorganizations from gradual trends.

03:20 PM – 03:40 PM in C120-121. Morgan Ernest (w/Erica Christensen). Do existing communities slow community reorganization in response to changes in assembly processes?

Tuesday

Find out what we can learn about how natural systems may change in response to climate from looking at large datasets with Ethan White and Kristina Riemer.

01:50 PM – 02:10 PM in D139. Kristina Riemer (w/Rob Guralnick & Ethan White). No general relationship between mass and temperature in endotherm species.

02:30 PM – 02:50 PM in Portland Blrm 256. Ethan White (w/Dave Harris & Shawn Taylor). Data-intensive approaches to forecasting biodiversity.

Thursday

Check out a new project with a new and exciting research tool for us (metabarcoding) at the poster session.

04:30 PM – 06:30 PM in the Exhibit Hall. Ellen Bledsoe (w/Sam Wisely & Morgan Ernest). DNA metabarcoding of fecal samples provides insight into desert rodent diet partitioning.

Collaborations

There are also plenty of weecology collaborations being presented this week:

We’re really looking forward to catching up with old friends and meeting new people this week.

The Portal Project 40th Anniversary

The Portal Project turns 40 this year! In celebration, we will be regularly posting about the history of the site, new things going on, natural history of the desert, and other fun things over at the Portal Blog.

The Portal Project

Funded by the National Science Foundation to study the importance of competition and granivory in desert ecosystems, the Portal Project first started collecting data in the summer of 1977. The initial grant was just for 5 years, yet 40 years later the site is still collecting data on plants, rodents, and weather.

To our friends who study paleoecology, 40 years is an eyeblink but in the span of a human life, 40 years is a long time. As you might expect, much has changed on the project. For one thing, after 40 years, the team running the site has changed. The original team of scientists, Jim Brown, Dinah Davidson, and Jim Reichman have all retired from the daily challenges of training students and writing grants, though some are still doing science. In their place, Tom Valone and I do our best to keep things running, studying the mysteries of the…

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