Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Yay for summer! I mean, um...

For weeks, I've been battling one of the seven sins...sloth. It's almost difficult to bring myself back to work, especially with the nice weather we've been having the past few weeks. However, I've finally been able to pull myself slightly back into a working mode and am now going to present to you a portion of what my ESYS paper will be talking about.

A majority of the data I've gathered for my paper is based off of work that involves bird exclosures experimentation. In the data that I gathered, they were 3 types of shrubs: exclosures, shams, and control shrubs. Another variable of this experiment was whether or not the shrubs were surrounded by low or high grasses. To better illustrate, here is a picture of an A. californica bush that Lizzie did her experiment on at Sweetwater NWR:
This is a low-grass bird exclosure shrub. Cute!
From these shrubs, Lizzie collected samples from the shrub itself and vacuumed arthropods pre- and post-experimental period. These samples are what I have been working with for the past few months (albeit slowly), and although there has not been much analysis done on the data gathered, in terms of herbivory, there is not much difference between the different treatment types (previous blog post). As for the post-experimental period samples gathered, I have noticed while sorting the arthropods that some shrubs would have a high quantity in the vacuumed samples. I'm not sure if this is due to the amount of actual foliage that was vacuumed, as some sample bags had more (or less) in terms of volume, but there should be more information about this answered as soon I'm able to enter in all the data concerning the types of arthropods I've sorted.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Questions? Comments? Concerns? ???

I have many of those, especially questions that starts out with, "What the heck am I writing and how?" In brief (and frequent) moments of confusion, I ask myself that, especially when I'm beginning to carve out my outline and tentative final paper. Like I've said in the past, I find it hard to get started until I sit down and actually force myself to think about the topic at hand...but even then, I find myself at a loss for words. So, in the best possible way, I will try to translate my mumble-jumble of thoughts and ideas and translate them to a semi-understandable and logical way. Here is my still-and-must-be-continually-edited version of an abstract/summary:
There is a top-down control on arthropod communities by bird predation which leads to trophic cascades that affect shrub biomass. In doing bird exclosure experiments, we can determine whether removing these large predators on arthropods will affect the size and quantity of arthropods present on experimental shrubs and if this in turn, affects the amount of plant biomass. We expect there to be differences throughout the three types of experimental shrubs; the control, sham, and exclosed shrubs should contain the least to the most amount of arthropods, respectively. With this expectation, we will try and predict if the following are true: (P1) California sagebrush shrubs in bird exclosures contain higher amounts of larger arthropods (past a certain size), which causes trophic cascades; (P2) there is a higher new to old growth ratio on control shrubs than on shams and exclosures due to higher amounts of arthropod predation by birds. The absence or presence of birds may be used as an indication of how temporal variations of coastal sagebrush habitat are affected by fluctuating seasonal temperatures. It is important to understand how these tertiary consumers will impact trophic scales down to the plant level to see if changes in migratory patterns of these consumers would affect consumer and producer interactions within the community.
As of this moment, I am still trying to further flesh out and rewrite my thoughts and ideas, but for the most part, this may be my writing at its most coherent. The more difficult part of writing this was trying to figure out how I can have my readers understand why they should be interested...I'm still working on trying to find the "Wow!" factor. This is a painstakingly slow work in progress, but in the end, slow and steady wins the race (at least what we're taught to believe in Aesop's fables)? Go brain, think! And go fingers go! Write!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Here comes the sun---doo do doo dooo

Welcome to spring (quarter)! This celebratory quarter is appropriately heralded by the wonderful and toasty sunny days that have finally arrived, and now we can really call this place sunny San Diego. This week has been quite hectic, with me being sick and all while volunteering for the Clinton Global Initiative University for the past two days. Former President Clinton is a great public speaker, and I greatly enjoyed being able to hear him discuss about various social justice issues and topics with the panelists.

But to get back to the blog on hand, spring quarter also means the revisiting of bioinformatics work! To start this off, Lizzie assigned me with the task of going through a list of plant species through the Kew Royal Botanical Gardens database, which I have to say, was much easier to do than going through previous data sets in the past. This database is a mix between USDA Plants and Jepson Online Interchange in that I think it is aesthetically pleasing to view and to read the information, props to you Kew Gardens webmaster. The site in general is easy to navigate, and the database is well organized, easy to read, and contains information by category type and color-coded, something that gives it a bit of character unless the viewer is color-blind, in which case the viewer may be out of luck. I was able to obtain a majority of the information for seed mass of the species listed on the data set from this site, but I may have to poke around elsewhere to obtain other information, such as seed numbers, genome size, and any other random, but relevant information.

This, by the way, is the time it takes to arrive by bike.
While going through and viewing the Kew Gardens site, I remembered what Lizzie had said about arboretums being large plant museums and thought, "Hey, maybe I should check out the one close to home...How close is it anyway?" Thanks to Google Maps, I now know that I live approximately ~10 minutes from the Los Angeles Arboretum and Botanical Gardens (and ~10 minutes east of The Huntington Library, which also contains a botanical garden). Sadly, the LA Arboretum is only 127-acre, small when compared to the 300-acre large Kew Gardens. Maybe I should visit the next time I'm in the area...or I can simply wait for the resident peacocks that wander in the park to come visit me.

::edit 4-8::
Ok, I take back a portion of what I said about this data set being "easier" to complete than the others in the past. Seed mass was easy to get, everything else however...not so much. The "everything else" includes chromosome number, ploidy level, and C-value of the plant species. This is now a familiar position that I find myself in, because searching for this information on the data base often comes up with the page that states "No rows returned by this query. Try selecting different conditions." This translates to my data set being splotchy and sporadic in the information that I can find and have input into Excel, but not to worry because the search for this information will continue!