Field of Science

Field work commences

Although a stack of exams awaits, field work begins this afternoon.  The prolonged early warmth of spring 2012 has moved up our field work schedule by at least 3 weeks.  And you cannot just decide to wait until later.  In this sense field work domineers your life; your needs and wants are subordinated to those of your research organism.  The prairie lousewort is one of the 1st plants up on the prairie, seen here emerging after a burn, next to a partially melted marker, inflorescence already formed and ready to go.  Fortunately some young backs have decided to get involved in our research, and their assistance will be most welcome.  When studying rain forest trees, one of my student field assistants was afraid of heights and would not climb a ladder.  With prairie field work operating down at ground level one of the students is a pole vaulter!  As usual our first act is to find all of our research plots, and although marked by a permanent metal tag and corner spikes, and although mapped, it's amazing how tough it is to find some of them even after a vegetation clearing burn.  In full vegetation finding the plots is next to impossible.  Every now and then something pulls a tag out making things really difficult.  However, only one plot has been totally lost, misplaced if you will, since 2006, and fortunately it was a second control so we can operate without it.  In particular my collaborator has lost many pens and several pairs of sunglasses, and some of them do get found.  Last year this was quite an experience because several large Nerodia (water snakes) were emerging from dens and sunning themselves, and giving my snake nervous colleague quite a bad startle.  This will not be brought up, as bad field episodes are best forgotten.  

2 comments:

Scratch the hostile fay said...

I had some vague pun about using a "marker" for the plant rather than a tag... but wasn't sure how to phrase it....

Most landscape/home and garden supply stores have little flags you can buy, they come in different colors...that might work to mark the plants (even if the flag is gone, you still have the metal stake it was tied to)

Tell your snake-shy friend if you make lots of noise as you approach, the snakes will get scared and leave--even poisonous ones prefer to leave the scene rather than bite (and waste venom)

Aye,
Scratch

The Phytophactor said...

Scratch ... said, "Most landscape/home and garden supply stores have little flags you can buy, they come in different colors...that might work to mark the plants..."
Oh that such light weight trinkets would work but the field is a very tough place, and you end up wondering what is going on when you're not around. The missing tags are heavy 3 cm diam metal disks with numbers deeply embossed and they are attached to a heavy wire pushed 15 or so cm down into the ground. A 20 cm spike marks the actual corner. More than 15% of the tags were pulled up, one or two still MIA, but all of the plots were found! Yeah!