Monday, November 1, 2010

Aberrant phenologies

This weekend I got bonked on the nose by a foam surfboard while paddling out over a crazy wave -- it was that 'thhwwwamp' part where, if you're lucky, you've slammed down on the other side of the wave with most of your body still on the board. If you're less lucky, like me, you're halfway off your board and scrambling back on before the next thwampy wave, and your poor friend has lost total control of her board and it's careening quietly towards your nose.

But of course the exciting part of my week was the previous 5 days which I spent in a conference room in Tucson. Working with the USA National Phenology Network, a couple folks and I were hammering out how plants respond to climate across sites and how constrained by evolution phenology may be. The short story is flowering time is ridiculously constrained by phylogeny and responses to climate are not -- we're working on that latter bit now. I am cleaning up code: it gets so messy written on the fly. On the way to these exciting findings we made predictions about latitudinal gradients and invented the new Whittaker plot for phenology (see picture).

The new Whittaker Biome Plot! It took three PhDs two hours or so to come up with this work of clear genius. We're obviously taking it up a notch by adding the Atacoma desert to the plot.

I also got out to see some aberrant phenology research in action! On Friday, Jake Weltzin, Director of the USA National Phenology network took one colleague and I out to see something other than the construction zone of Tucson (which seemed to be the part of Tucson our morning walk from hotel to office was based). 

Jake let us see some of the plants he's monitoring as part of the USA National Phenology Network's Nature's Notebook program ( a couple buffel grass (a non-native with a uncommon phenology), a barrel cactus and two totally freak saguaros: one was moving beyond some disease or such; I forget what he called it but it definitely should be 'headdress saguaro.' The other one has freak buds and is named by Jake 'baby saguaro.'

Jake explained the current phenological state of one of the 3 buffel grasses he's monitoring. His buffel grasses seem normal but check out the crazy saguaro behind him (upper left) -- I call it 'headdress saguaro,' and he's monitoring it too.

Of course when you're trying to use a network of people to get at mean phenological trends for different species observing the most aberrant individuals is a special approach. But you have to spice up life a little: I think that's why I like to thwamped by waves and Jake likes to monitor an adorable cactus that seems to be developing alien buds.
Jake with another saguaro he's monitoring. He calls this one 'baby saguaro' because of its freak buds (top).

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