First – entropy of our lab continues. It was so clean on that first morning. Oh well.
Second – we estimate that we have spent a cumulative 37 hours clipping PoD (“Potential of Diversity”… a metric we invented… sorry, ecololgists!) toothbrush bristles into sterile bags, and from there emptying bristles into sterile 1.5 uL microtubes. Sometimes it is best not to think about how those hours could have instead been used (note: this doesn’t include an estimated 50 hours we have spent collecting these samples in the first place, in the field).
Over just a few field days, James and I have already collected a thousand new voucher specimens (as in, actual museum vouchers… not dust/propagules on toothbrushes!). We have returned some great stuff – and there is plenty more to come!
Amongst the photos: a Thin Layer Chromatography plate showing chemistry of 25 of my collections…. lichen compounds are needed to identify these organisms to species; an ascus (with 8 spores; can’t remember why? google meiosis!) of Pertusaria propinqua… taken thru my microscope; toothbrushes covered in lichen propagules, in ziplocs/bondage; frozen leaves of Rhododendron catawbiense on the frozen summit of Blood Mtn, where I wanted to die on account of numbness and for lack of any finger mobility whatsoever (you know it is BAD NEWS when Rhodo leaves fold like that!); Parmotrema mellissii under UV light, showing a UV+ reaction indicative of the presence of alectoronic acid; some paper bags of a couple of our plots, showing the raw locality data; the DINGO (aka: PoD window); James and Erin having a field day!
Colleague James Lendemer and I landed in the mtns of north Georgia late last night – 3 January 2019. Today, the 4th, despite torrential rains throughout the day today, we managed to finish “Master Plot 105”… that marks our 105th 1-hectare lichen inventory plot on this NSF-funded “Dimensions of Biodiversity” research grant that seeks to understand the causes and correlates of abiotic and biotic factors that limit (or facilitate… are you an optimist? I mean, why not be?) the distributions of biodiversity. We feel we are making good progress… standby for results!
What are we doing with those sterile (kosher!) toothbrushes and 4×4 teal windows (affectionately, our “dingo”)? Scrubbing rocks and trees and sampling their ‘dust’, effectively capturing lichen spores/propagules present in the environment, sequencing these samples, and attempting to thereby detect the presence or absence of all the symbionts in a given 1-ha plot. In other words: if lichen species A isn’t present at a site, is it because the site is lacking one or more of its obligate symbiotic partners? Hence the biotic constraints that limit (or facilitate) the distributions of biodiversity…
Need to see a titillating video of how these samples get processed? https://youtu.be/vpoEc0unBBM
(Our ever present traveling laboratory prior to the processing of our first collection…. up early at 3:30am to get started… look how clean it is!! … not for long!)
In the Jocassee Gorges to our east, Whitewater Gorge specifically received an excess of 130 inches of rain as of the closing of 2018. Those gorges are home to more populations of filmy ferns than all other counties in the USA combined. And people question the legitimacy of the southern Apps as a temperate rainforest! Lucy Braun dubbed these forests the climax of the eastern temperate hardwood forest for a reason.
We concur. And marvel at the many unknowns… the many mysteries… still to discover in this temperate wonderland..