In the Field

The semester is over! Tralalalalalalaaaaaa!!

Hey, I love teaching. And there are parts of my job that I love. But most of those parts are concentrated in the few days a year when I’m working, but not in my building. Right now none of my projects are in active need of field sampling or monitoring or measuring anything, so I am living vicariously through my students. Christine led an expedition out to Sapelo last week, where the UGA Marine Institute put us up in a house on the marsh for 5 days of finding horseshoe crabs (for their Chelonibia epibionts - Christine’s dissertation beast), exploring the marsh, teaching my 8-year-old the taxonomy of fiddler crabs, a little beach time, and a lot of writing and excellent together time, all of it much needed.


It goes without saying I have about 200 more pictures as good as those or better. We got our quarry, maybe 1-2 more field trips for Christine on her way to doctorhood! We were all sad to leave Sapelo (the loss of a day in cleaning, driving, unpacking, exhaustion, back to building), but quickly got to look forward to the next trip - south central Georgia for a day on a river with Katie Bockrath and Mary Freeman’s fish crew, who helped get us a second round of mussel hosts collected on a beautiful day before a big storm. The timing is everything - water temperature, how high the stream is running, whether it is storming of course, whether we can round up a truck on short notice (not to mention a crew) - and this was almost effortless for once!


Thanks to everybody in the lab and otherwise who helped on these trips, in any way - these are the days I most feel like a biologist.

Dirty Water

It is gratifying and anxiety-provoking that my research is becoming more relevant than ever before to climate change, human health, and biodiversity. While many things I’ve done before have touched on these topics, there are more clear avenues for the current projects (mapping cell positions and interactions in the thymus with Nancy Manley, looking at the intraspecific diversity of threatened mussels and introduced polychaetes, and studying the holobiome of endangered corals) to interface with the news. And right now, the news is not good when it comes to our recently-funded project to study the microbial diversity living on/in corals in the Florida Keys.

Obviously I’m talking about the environmental catastrophe that British Petroleum allowed to happen. I don’t think I’m the only one of the opinion that not enough safeguards were in place given the known and documented risks of the well that is currently dumping more than a half-million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico every day, for more than a month now. The spill is ruining the marshes of the Gulf Coast (a disaster for so many people, including scientists studying these habitats), and may now be encroaching on the Florida Keys. There are other UGA marine scientists studying where the oil is going (link to Mandy Joye’s blog, and now interview on NPR), and so we are starting to get a clearer picture of just how broad are the effects of the oil spill and subsequent use of hazardous dispersants.

What will this mean for our own project on the microbes living in the Keys? Will the white pox epidemic even matter? These are questions that I guess we are poised to figure out. Hopefully we can get some of our sampling done soon down there, and then use available resources (including research funding being released from BP?) to sample again after the oil and dispersants have washed through. We all need to be documenting what is going on so this information can be used to prevent it from happening again.

It all makes me sick.