Friday, January 28, 2011

Through the looking glass

On Monday, Lizzie and I worked on coming up with a procedure to determine herbivory from shrub clippings by looking at them with a microscope, which is actually harder than it sounds. Until I actually saw it in person, I had no idea how small the leaves on the Artemisia californica would be... *whew*. But to better illustrate the process in which we decided to try, here is "How to Determine Herbivory" in five easy steps:

Step 1:
Remove bagged and frozen samples from the fridge.

Step 2:
Sort through the clippings for evenly sized samples. Because not every bag has the same amount, use your eyes to visually judge the amount of foliage you believe is the best to sample (3-4 individual samples should be sufficient).

Step 3:
Take your small clipping and put it under the microscope. Carefully move it around to examine the sample for signs of herbivory (i.e. galls, nibbled ends, etc)

Step 4:
Write down results on the accompanying data sheet.

Step 5:
Repeat steps 1-4 until finished with day's worth of samples.

So far, through our initial trial, we've found that we can classify most of the plant damage into three categories: galls, side-crunch (entire sides of leaves gnawed), and nibble (small bites into leaf or at the tip). There were the occasional anomalies, such as this cotton-ball like substance I found on a few of my samples, and the waxy exterior that some of the leaves seemed to have. But in all, these discoveries were exciting to see through the microscopes since everything looked so much better magnified.

::edit 1-29::

I've found that working in the Holway Lab has its perks. For example, I was able to talk to Professor Holway about some of the observations I made, such as the cotton-ball I've been seeing on some of the samples, and he said it's most likely another type of gall (Lizzie also confirmed this after emailing and asking around for answers). I was also able to talk to one of the PhD students, James, about another observation I made later in the day. I had asked him to look at it, but he wasn't able to view it through the microscope (which by the way, is a fantastic piece of equipment). James came up with an ingenious idea of taking a picture of what I was seeing through the microscope itself, and this is what came up:

I'm not sure exactly what this is, but I have assumed that this is a may be a scale insect. Until I have further confirmation through readings (or through the power of Google search engine), I have written down these occurrences as a separate category. In the meantime, I will rest my eyes up until Monday's sample scoping adventures. New discoveries await!

Monday, January 24, 2011


Until Lizzie told me to mentally force myself to write down hypotheses for these papers I've been reading, I have to say that I definitely had too many conflicting ideas floating around in my head, literally. Floating as in, "I think this is what the authors are saying but I'm not really sure because I'm already thinking about the other two articles I just read" kind of floating.

So needless to say, actually sitting down and writing 6 different hypotheses on floral reflectance in relation to phenology and pollinators was a daunting task (I had fortified myself with two delicious Klondike ice cream bars before I started). But I believe I have come up with some hypotheses, please excuse me if they are not as original or understandable as they could possibly be:

1) Floral reflectance variability differs depending on the time of year which the plant blooms.
2) Exotic, invasive plants have higher ranges of color spectrum variability to attract native pollinators (discriminated through human vision).

Another note, I wrote out these hypotheses before I read some more papers, one of which included Flower color phenology in European grassland and woodland habitats, through the eyes of pollinators, written by Sarah E.J. Arnold, Steven C. Le Comber, and Lars Chitka. Fortunately (and somewhat unfortunately), their results showed that there was no trend in woodland flowers blooming in particular months to share the same color more often than expected by chance, "as one might predict if particular colors dominated at certain times of the year..." Their results (technically) nullified my first hypothesis since I do not know if this is true among other biomes, but it was a good discovery. The article in itself was a good find as well, since the authors included phenology tables for five habitats, and organized plants by family, genus, and species in regards to their flower colors (humans and bees). I'll be inputing this data into the known modes tab of the plant traits document I've been updating, but I think I'll save that for some time later during the day. So long for now!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hello FReD!

This week, I was given the task of doing several literature reviews on floral reflectance in respect to pollinators, one of which was called FReD: The Floral Reflectance Database-A Web Portal for Analyses of Flower Colour. This paper, which was published and can be accessed freely on PLoS ONE, can be viewed as an instructions manual of how to access and use this database for researchers to " spectral reflectance data for flower species collected from all over the world." I've included a print screen to show the data that comes up when I hit the search button:
In this screen-shot, I've categorized the entries by country of origin (where the data was collected).
I think that once this database contains more information, it will be a great key tool for researchers wanting to find out what type of color (viewed through human eyes) are most likely to attract the attention of bees. However, a few problems that I have with this at the moment is that there are only 899 records on the database, which limits the amount of information that can be gathered. Second, in relation to the work that Lizzie has assigned me, this database does not provide information on plant species in the U.S., and instead has much more floral information about plants mainly in Brazil and Germany. Lastly, this database is highly focused on bees and no other types of pollination modes by animals (i.e. hummingbirds, beetles, etc.). Despite these limitations, FReD has been set up in a very user-friendly mode that makes it easy for anyone to search up information.
The drop-box selections and check boxes allow users to control what information they wish to have presented.
Going back to this paper, however, the writers have brought up several interesting points about pollinators' sensitivity to different wavelengths of light, and in short, floral reflectance. The reason that FReD was developed is to provide access to flower colors are "...not inherently human-biased and which can be used when considering the interactions between floral appearance and the visual systems of pollinators." This brings up several other papers that Lizzie printed out for me to read, and a few that I've browsed on ISI Web of Science, but I've decided that I will save that post for a later time. Stay tuned for more information!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Happy (belated) New Year!

Hello all!

The holidays have come and passed, so now it's time to get back into the swing of things. Where we last left off, I had just finished the last of my assigned work that Lizzie gave me to do...and now, it's time to pick the pace up again. I'll be updating the ongoing master output list, which will hopefully also cut down on the amount of time and need-to-find info that I will be working on for these sites. Looking at it now, the list is larger than I last remember, but never fear! I'll be tackling this one location at a time, starting with the kochmer site and slowly making my way down the list Lizzie has posted.

Another project that will be happening this quarter involves the Sweetwater NWR area to look in on exclosures to determine the important of interactions between arthropods and birds in the area and how they affect the fauna. However, considering that southern California received copious amounts rainfall during the holiday weeks, I think that there is a high possibility that the area could either be washed out or at the very least, inundated. Lizzie on the other hand, would like to say otherwise and disagree with my prediction; we'll be able see who is right once we head out there to check out the area.

Exclosure! Or at least, half of it. This is also used to test the intelligence of birds (just kidding!)
And with this said, hopefully the next update I have will include my progress on getting information for the sites listed, and have non-weather related information.