Monday, March 31, 2014

Burn season continues!

March has been a fire-filled month in the lab.  We have assisted on several prescribed burns in the Texas Panhandle with a variety of agencies.  In particular, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Lubbock Lake Landmark, and several fire departments have been gracious teachers, strong leaders, and great examples for the students.  These professionals probably don't realize the huge impact that they make when they take the time to teach, train, and educate my students.

We've burned about 1500 acres since I last posted, so here are a few more photos from the season:

A 900 acre prescribed burn at the Matador WMA as seen from space (Photo courtesy of Derrick Holdstock and the National Weather Service)

Juniper bush torching near the fire line on a 300 acre prescribed burn at the Matador WMA

Cameron Ward, Colton Laws, Ryan Tedford, Heather Williams, and Kristen Linnier getting ready to head out to a 40 acre prescribed burn at the Matador WMA

Tumbleweeds ignite on a 95 acre prescribed fire at Lubbock Lake Landmark.  This property is within Lubbock city limits and posed unique challenges as a result.

Flowers completely unburned during a prescribed burn at the Matador WMA.  This never ceases to amaze me.

Smoked in on the south line at the OX Pasture Burn

Greg Pavur lights strips of fire at Lubbock Lake Landmark.  Photo credit:  Anton Gereau

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Prescribed Burn at the Matador WMA

This semester, I have been teaching Prescribed Burning to thirty enthusiastic and wonderful students. They have been completing training in line with NWCG Type 2 Wildland Firefighter standards, pack testing, and doing field exercises to prepare for future careers in fire.

Derrick Holdstock, Texas Parks and Wildlife Region 1 Fire Coordinator, invited us to attend a prescribed burn at the Matador WMA near Paducah, TX last week.  We burned two forty acre research plots in beautiful weather.

Needless to say, the students were thrilled with this opportunity and obviously took away lots of lessons and invaluable experience.  Below are a few photos from the day's events:

Anton Gereau, Preston Kleman, Neil Estes, Heather Williams, William Knox, Glenn Greanya, and Brad Barker

TPWD employee building black on the back fire line

Neil Estes surveys the fire

Heather Williams prepares for ignition operations

Head fire 

Post burn

Neil Estes and Heather Williams mop-up a smoking tree

Thursday, February 27, 2014

February Update

It has been a while since I have written a lab update.

The Spring 2014 semester has been hectic!  I am teaching the Prescribed Burning course and Environmental Science as a Social Pursuit course, both for the first time.  Prescribed Burning has been a real joy to teach-- I have a wonderful class of curious and enthusiastic students.  Hopefully, I'll be able to report on the burn season soon (if the weather behaves!).

Tabea and Clara both defended their thesis proposals this winter and are gearing up for their spring and summer field seasons.  Congratulations to both!

We've had lots of recent and upcoming conference travel, as well:

I just got back from the Entomological Society of America Southwest Branch meeting in San Antonio where I presented in the Ants of Texas Symposium.  The Ants of Texas working group includes eight super cool ant biologists and myself.  Our eventual goal is a catalog of Texas ants.  I also met some up and coming graduate students doing some really great work!  You can read more about the symposium on my other blog, here.

This spring, I am heading back to San Antonio to give a lecture to the Southwest Cattle Raisers Association about prescribed burning safety and fire ecology.

Nick Goforth and I will also be heading to the Valles Caldera National Preserve for their "All Hands" meeting to prepare for his summer field season.  Nick will be presenting his bat research at this meeting.

Vidhur Sohini and Cody Fell were both awarded CALUE travel grants from Texas Tech University, so they will be heading to the Southwestern Association of Naturalists meeting in Stillwater in April to present their poster on ant limb length and thermal physiology.

All for now, but check back soon for more exciting updates!!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Joys and Challenges of Fieldwork

The following is a guest blog by Nick Goforth.  Nick is an MS student in the Verble Fire Ecology Lab.  You can also read more about his work on his blog, here.

This past summer I was able to spend 5 months in beautiful New Mexico conducting research at the Valles Caldera National Preserve on the effects of wildfires on bats.  This experience was one of my most exciting and amazing adventures, but did not come without its challenges and obstacles.  From the Thompson Ridge wildfire starting within a few hours of my arrival, prompting a redesign of my study and a temporary loss of access to study sites,

to impassable roads caused by washouts and mud/rock slides as a result of the fire scarred landscape and ‘monsoon’ season, difficult daily hikes to survey sites, plenty of flat tires, and an eye injury while conducting vegetation surveys made for an eventful field season.

These hurdles failed, however, in comparison to the time I got to spend and the sights I got to see in this beautiful area, the amazing people I met, and the wildlife I saw and interacted with.

Crawfish boil © Aviv Karasov-Olson 2013

In terms of data collection, this field season was very successful.  Over approximately 75 nights, roughly 29,932 files containing bat calls were recorded.  Therefore, a large portion of my life over the next semester will be dedicated to identifying these recordings to down to species or phonic group, if possible.  Below is a graph illustrating the number of recorded files containing bat calls that were recorded per night during 2013.  Once the recordings are identified down to species or phonic group statistical analyses will be performed to determine if significant differences exist between treatments.

LC = Las Conchas wildfire, TR = Thompson Ridge wildfire, UC = unchanged © Nick Goforth 2014
For next field season, I plan to return to the Valles Caldera to continue collecting bat acoustic data, re-conduct vegetation surveys, and to mist net bats to add calls to my call reference library to assist me in identifying the bat species recorded.  Again, I would like to thank Dr. Robin Verble-Pearson for this opportunity and Joseph Powell and Amanda Winters for their assistance in the field.  I hope that they will be able to join me again in the field next season.  

I was also fortunate enough to be able to travel to San Jose, Costa Rica in August to attend the 2013 joint meeting of the International Bat Research Conference (IBRC) and the North American Symposium on Bat Research (NASBR).  This conference was the largest bat conference to date with approximately 650 attendees from 50 different countries.  While at this conference I was able to enjoy several presentations on bat research being conducted around the globe, meet many bat scientists from around the world, and go on a rainforest tour at Tirimbina Biological Reserve, where I was able to see some amazing flora and fauna, including two tent-roosting bat species.

Several people from Texas Tech University in attendance at IBRC/NASBR ©

I look forward to the North American Symposium on Bat Research (NASBR) next year in Albany, NY.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology Meeting

Guest blogger, Rachel Granberg, an M.S. student in the Verble Fire Ecology Lab, discusses her recent experiences at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting below.

The Society for Integrated and Comparative Biology’s annual meeting was January 3-7 this year in Austin, Texas.  Dr. Verble and I were able to attend this year.  This is a particularly interesting conference because of the variety of research presented.  The study organisms represented range from horseshoe crabs to koalas with the scale of research from a cellular level to entire ecosystems.

Austin, Texas © R.M. Verble-Pearson 2014

I gave my first oral presentation at SICB on the Survival of the Texas horned lizard as a function of physical environment.  It was a terrifying, but rewarding experience.  My talk immediately followed a talk by Dr. Ray Huey, who I cited several times in my project proposal.  The range of scientists presenting their work was impressive; there were many well-known scientists, but students still got the chance to present their work.

Title slide for my presentation © R.M. Verble-Pearson 2014
Fire ecology was something that was largely absent from the conference.  I relished the opportunity to explain some concepts about prescribed burning and how it affects habitat in central Texas.  I am certain it was the first time some of the audience members had really thought about how fire affects habitat and wildlife in positive ways.

My advisor and I in front of my presentation

Overall, it was a very rewarding experience.  I met some inspiring scientists and got some great feedback on my research.  Attending conferences has been the most beneficial way for me to grow as a scientist.  Not only do I make new connections, but I see how others design their studies and become inspired by others’ work.  SICB gave me a whole list of new concepts to explore for 2014.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Taking Research Opportunities

This is a guest blog written by M.S. student, Anna Meyer.  Anna is working on harvester ant abundance, density, and nutritional quality for her thesis.  She also has taken advantage of numerous other opportunities to advance her career at Texas Tech.  Below, she profiles one such opportunity.

The island © Anna Meyer 2013

Another shot of the island © Anna Meyer 2013

Our fearless crew © Anna Meyer 2013
            In October, I had the good fortune to go to the British Virgin Islands to join six other graduate students.  We visited a private island that is mostly forested and which boasts a wide variety of local fauna.  We stayed on the island for roughly two weeks, conducting a small observational study on epiphytic plants (specifically Tillandsia utriculata).  We encountered whip scorpions, Bridled Quail-doves, stout iguanas, bananaquits, and fishing bats.  During our mornings and evenings we met a mixture of scientists and ecologists directing a wide variety of research, as well as directors, managers, and locals.  The island itself was a paradise, so serene that the greatest danger I faced during the trip was possibility of being stranded in an airport in Puerto Rico.

A nest of local paper wasps, aka "Jack Spaniards" © Anna Meyer 2013

One of the thousands of hermit crabs on the island © Anna Meyer 2013
         Once our research was complete, our little group visited Roadtown, on Tortola. During our trip, we visited Sage Mountain National Park (also called Mount Sage National Park).  While hiking the park we discussed the viability of wildlife management in a small and somewhat unknown area.  Sage Mountain is a combination of old growth forest surrounded by agricultural growth and old plantations.  Much of the area was cut for mahogany plantations in the past, and is now secondary growth.  Now, some of the endemic trees (such as the bulletwood tree) are rare, and the park is too small to support many non-edge species. How do you increase the effectiveness of a management area that is too small for it to encompass multiple habitat types or contain a variety of wildlife? How do you encourage people to visit without damaging the integrity of the park? 

Tillandsia utriculata © Anna Meyer 2013
Our visit to Sage Mountain and our experience on the island were an incredibly enlightening experience.  Despite my initial concerns about missing classes and disrupting my research, this chance was one I wouldn’t miss.  Opportunities for international research and travel have been rare in the current economic climate, but any potential ventures should be taken whenever possible, despite additional work and time investment. This trip was an eye opener on the pros and cons of doing research as a group, the potential hazards of international travel, and the joys of doing fieldwork in a completely different ecosystem.

A bridled quail-dove!  A fairly inconspicuous, but fascinating bird! © Anna Meyer 2013

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

December Lab Update

I'll skip the part about how fast this month has flown by this time around.

Here are the highlights from the last month:

Finals are finished.  Grades are submitted.  Everyone survived the fall semester enact.

Exciting news!  Dr. Robin Verble and Dr. Gad Perry were recently awarded a Texas Horned Lizard License Plate fund grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to fund their work on habitat suitability mapping for Texas horned lizards.

Nick Goforth completed his MS proposal defense and is on to the next stages of his degree.

Clara Frasconi-Wendt and Tabea Malinowski both have proposals ready to send to their committees.  This represents a semester of research, experimental design, and hard work on their parts, and we are excited to get started on data collection next spring.

We wish each of you a very happy holiday season and safe travels as you visit family and friends!