Blogs

Monday, November 17, 2014

Getting Ready

What most people don’t realize is how much work and preparation it takes to get ready for the field, particularly if that field is Antarctica. For me, getting ready to go to Antarctica is a bit different than doing fieldwork anywhere else in the world.   Like most funded projects, the scientists are assembled in advance; however, unlike other fieldwork I’ve done, the group was determined and set in stone by March, but we didn’t leave until November.

In February I was invited to join my good friend Erik Gulbranson on a project he was co-leading this November to go to New Zealand and Antarctica.  I am not one to ever say no to great scientific questions and awesome field work with friends.  Our field crew was solidified between February and March, and then the paperwork started coming in from the government.  This research (like most research down there) is funded by grants from the National Science Foundation. The U.S. government regulates everyone going to Antarctica.  

Sometime in July I went to my doctor and dentist and got poked, prodded, vaccines checked, and had to pass a battery of tests to make sure I was fit enough to go to Antarctica.  

packing gearNext, in July and August, packages of extreme cold weathering clothing and technical gear were purchased and often times mailed to me. Like other fieldwork, there is a lot of technical clothing and gear I need to do my work.  However, unlike other projects, the government can outfit me with everything I need.  Any gear that was purchased on my behalf or by me was purchased in July when it was 100 degrees out — nothing says field work like down jackets in the Dallas summer! I’m a 5’4” woman, and while the government outfits all polar scientists with clothing, most of what they make won’t really fit me.  Luckily, grant money helped outfit me to make sure I am safe and warm.  The last piece of clothing will come tomorrow here where we are in Christchurch, New Zealand, when we get big red parkas and any remaining clothing we don’t own. Then I’ll be ready (well, clothing wise) for what will be the most extreme cold I’ve ever known.  It’s crazy to me to think it takes almost a year though to prepare for 4 weeks of work.  I hope it was enough time!

Once the team was assembled, gear was purchased, dental and medical records were passed, then it was just a matter of getting there. That was a two-ish-day-long trip from wherever we started (the University of Kansas, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Perot Museum of Nature and Science) to Dallas-Fort Worth airport.  Then Rudy Serbet from KU, Erik and I traveled from Dallas Fort-Worth to Los Angeles to Sydney.  We had a long layover (9ish hours) where we left the airport and got to be tourists.  Then our final leg: Sydney to Christchurch.  That’s where we are now -- arriving from all over, getting to know each other (it’s my first time down here!) and tomorrow getting outfitted with clothing before our next leg to McMurdo Research Station, where we’ll getcloser to the deep field and fossil plants.  
- Lauren A. Michel, Ph.D., King Family Fellow with the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas

 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

At the iDigBio Summit IV, Gainsville, Florida

Rafe, Robin and Matt at iDigBio Summit 

The Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio; https://www.idigbio.org/) is the national resource for digitization of vouchered natural history collections and was established by the community strategic plan for the Network Integrated Biocollections Alliance (NIBA). iDigBio is supported through funds from the NSF’s Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections (ADBC) program. The vision of the ADBC is a permanent database of digitized information from all biological collections in the United States. It is anticipated that this effort will lead to new discoveries through research, a better understanding and appreciation of biodiversity through improved education and outreach, and subsequent improved environmental and economic policies. Key partners in this effort are the Thematic Collections Networks (TCNs), which form a national grid of institutions that are digitizing specimens and associated resources. Within this context, animal vocalizations (like that of birds and anurans) and electrical signals (such as by fishes), which also form vital specimen-associated resources for research, are currently being digitized and archived by the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (http://macaulaylibrary.org/) and other institutions around the country. Avian and anuran calls recorded by researchers at KU have been being digitized and contributed to this repository, with a substantial part of the collection already accessible to the public. 

Exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History

The 2 day iDigBio IV summit, which was held in Gainsville between October 27–28, 2014 saw Rafe and I, along with Matthew Medler (who represented Mike Webster, Director of the Macaulay Library) as the attending members of the fledgling TCN devoted to digitizing animal vocalizations and electric signals. Eighty-four on-site attendees and nine remote attendees from TCNs, iDigBio, NSF, USGS and other biodiversity informatics initiatives convened for the summit. A series of brief presentations and demonstrations were made by representatives of the various TCNs and Matthew made a presentation of the basic components of our TCN and the progress made so far. One of the more inspired demonstrations was that of John La Salle, who showcased the Atlas of Living Australia portal (http://www.ala.org.au/), which was supported by a $45 million investment by the Australian Government. I guess I would be very inspired too, had I had that kind of money backing me. Another interesting demo was that of augmented reality for public outreach, education and research purposes, where digitized 3D images of specimens can be viewed through a device such as a mobile phone, iPad, or a desktop webcam; the following video illustrates the point: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STc8Nsx36MI. Following the talks and demos, we then spread out between a set of four breakout discussion groups. The afternoon saw a poster session that was offered in a unique format, where posters were displayed on 55-inch high-definition flat screen televisions instead of the traditional posters printed on paper. The day culminated in a reception at the Florida Museum of Natural History at Powell Hall on the University of Florida campus, where a sensational Megalodon exhibition had just opened to the public. Overall, the Summit offered valuable insight into the ongoing multi-dimensional digitization and archival processes and the efforts to make them openly accessible, along with networking opportunities in this respect.

A few interesting webpages that were highlighted at the Summit:

  1. The Society For The Preservation of Natural History Collections: http://www.spnhc.org/
  2.  Digital Morphology library: http://www.digimorph.org/
  3.  Photosynth, a software application that analyzes digital photographs and generates a three-dimensional model of the photos and a point cloud of a photographed object: https://photosynth.net/preview/

 

 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Antarctica Research Team Heads to the Ice

Although most people think of Antarctica as a barren, cold environment, 200 million years ago it was a lush forest – a forest that now permineralized can yield clues to the climate change of the past, and how plants today may react to current climate change as well.

An international research team headed by KU scientists will head to Antarctica this week as part of a project aimed at understanding floral changes during the Jurassic in the Transantarctic Mountains of Antarctica. The group, departing on Tuesday, Nov. 11, will be on the ground for about one month and plans to blog and post to social media about the experience. The public is invited to follow the team’s work through the Biodiversity Institute blog

As part of this research, the group will examine the Early Jurassic fossil flora and the corresponding paleoenvironments from southern Victoria Land using a combination of geology, geochemistry and paleobotany. Learn more about the research on our news page.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Is This Treefrog a Long Way from Home?

Treefrog found on a farm in eastern Kansas.

We recently received the photograph above from Steven Hallstrom, who owns and operates a sustainable farm just north of Tonganoxie. These photographs are of a frog that Steven observed in abundance earlier this season. Steven notes this frogs apparent similarity with the Pine Barrens Treefrog (Hyla andersonii) and is wondering if this identification could be correct given that this species isn't known from anywhere even close to Kansas (it occurs only in a few isolated patches of pine barren habitat along the Gulf and eastern coasts of the United States). 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Visit from Brant Faircloth

Herpetologists and ornithologists unite
over beers at a reception for
visiting LSU professor Brant Faircloth.

Brant Faircloth, LSU Professor and co-inventor of the protocol for sequencing ultraconserved elements that is now widely used by KU researchers, is in town this week for a seminar and workshop. This afternoon (Wednesday, Oct. 22nd) at 4PM, Rob Moyle will be hosting a workshop by Brant on UCE probe set design. This workshop will be held in the 7th floor conference room of Dyche Hall. If you don't have access to the 7th floor of Dyche Hall, please contact someone in the BI for assistance or meet on the steps to the 7th floor at 4PM.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

BI Grad Student Published Mycetoma Risk Maps

Doctoral student Abdallah M. Samy has just published a paper entitled Mapping the Potential Risk of Mycetoma Infection in Sudan and South Sudan Using Ecological Niche Modeling in the prestigious open access journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. Mycetoma is a fungal pathogen that infects and cripples far too many people worldwide. This paper represents one of the very few attempts to produce risk maps for this disease, which remains mostly unknown, in terms of geographic distribution, modes of infection, and many other crucial details. Abdallah assembled 4-country, 3-continent team to carry off these analyses, and the paper appears poised to lead to a number of follow-up analyses, the ultimate goal of which is a global risk map for the disease. The paper can be accessed at http://goo.gl/nxwtcl.