Monday, November 12, 2007

Schmoozing in Ventura Beach

I just got back from the annual meeting of the Western Society of Naturalists. It was in Ventura Beach, California - How cool is that?

Any type of nature research is welcome at WSN, but the meeting has a strong, de facto bias towards marine biology. Likewise, studies from all over the world are welcome, but most presenters come from California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, or Hawaii. There were a few folks from the East Coast there, but Matt Whalen (pictured) and I were the only reprentatives from VIMS**.

Matt came to give a poster presentation (picture) and to check out grad schools, and I came to to give a talk and check out post-docs. So we were on, like, parallel missions. To convey the gist of what kind of science we were talking about, here are the titles and abstracts our presentations:

DIAGNOSING A DECLINING ECOSYSTEM: SURVIVAL OF THE LAST CHESAPEAKE BAY EELGRASS BEDS DEPENDS ON A TENUOUS BALANCE OF BIOTIC AND ABIOTIC FORCES. By James G. Douglass and J. Emmett Duffy. "Burgeoning nutrient and sediment inputs from development, in concert with diminution of filter-feeding oysters, have severely reduced water quality in Chesapeake Bay. Apparently in response, formerly extensive eelgrass (Zostera marina) beds have shrunken to low levels. The remnant beds may now be vulnerable to other negative influences, including climate change and food web alteration. We examine eight years of field monitoring data from a surviving eelgrass bed to determine if the dynamics of the community are consistent with hypothesized modes of top-down and bottom-up control. We show evidence of top-down control of invertebrate grazers by predators, which could link eelgrass health with fisheries activity. However, we also find that every part of the biological community in the eelgrass bed has close, direct links with seasonal and interannual changed in the abiotic environment, suggesting that climate change could have an even stronger influence on the ultimate persistence or extirpation of eelgrass in Chesapeake Bay."

MANGLED MUTALISM: INTERPRETING DIRECT CONSUMPTION OF EELGRASS BY MESOGRAZERS IN CHESAPEAKE BAY. By Matt A. Whalen, James G. Douglass, and J. Emmett Duffy. "Eelgrass (Zostera marina) provides structural habitat for taxa ranging from small fouling organisms to economically important crabs and fish. However, eelgrass beds in the Chesapeake Bay are declining, along with the important ecosystem services they provide. Mesograzers, small crustaceans that consume epiphytes, are believed to be critical to eelgrass health by preventing algal overgrowth. Despite the putative benefit of mesograzers to eelgrass, evidence from both field monitoring and mesocosm experiments suggests that, under some conditions, mesograzers harm eelgrass by grazing directly on shoots. We examine the effect of season and the abundance of particular mesograzer species on the degree of direct grazing on eelgrass, and evaluate the potential relationship between overgrazing and eelgrass dieback events."

Matt and I were helped by our friend Lindsey who used to work at VIMS and who is now a grad student at UC Santa Barbara. Lindsey selflessly shouldered the challenging role of coordinating our professional connections, as well as our local transportation and entertainment.

I have to say, marine biology may not be the most lucrative vocation, but darn if we scientists don't know how to have a good time. Three straight days of lectures and presentations sounds boring, but being surrounded by hundreds of sparkling, soulful people who really care about this blue planet made it wonderful. Also, there were some mind-altering substances involved; Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Starbucks Coffee, and fast food from the In-N-Out Burger across the street. My pal Pablo Munguia somehow found time between the meetings to create a mini-documentary dramatizing his labmates' search for a west-coast starfish called Pisaster (below).

Oh... and as a bonus while I was in California I got to catch up with Joachim Pfieffer, a Virginia windsurfing buddy who just happened to be on an extended business trip in Santa Barbara. I love those small-world moments.

**Not counting VIMS alumnus and uncanny Will Farrell look-alike Dr. Kevin Hovel, now ensconced at San Diego State University. Who is who?


eliza said...

HEY! So a labmate just emailed me this...First, FANTASTIC Kevin Hovel/Will Ferrell post. He gets comments on evaluation forms like "I liked this class, the professor was alright. I preferred him in "Elf"". Hahah and 2nd of all, I didn't know you had a blog. I'm gonna start perusing...Nice work. :) Hope all is well!

James Douglass said...

Hey Eliza,

Thanks for finding my blog. :) How are things going with you? Are you going to be at the next WSN in Monterrey?