A large wildfire south of Sundown, TX occurred on February 28, 2017. This wildfire occurred in a sand shinnery oak community comprised of shin oak, honey mesquite, blue grama grass, and western ragweed. Immediately after the fire the landscape is charred and black. Shin oak is a fire adapted plant with a vast root network, and begins to grow immediately after fire. Many of the grasses and forb plants are also fire adapted, and with adequate rain fall begin to emerge from seed or regrow from protected tissues. In the left half of the image below, taken on June 15th, we see the resprouting shin oak dominating the vegetation cover with small ragweed seedlings in the foreground. The image on the right was taken over three months later, on October 3rd, and we can see that the ragweed nearly matches the ground cover area of the shin oak with many grass species having set seed. Sand shinnery oak communities are highly adapted to fire. Even within a single season we can see the community responding to a disturbance that keeps the vegetation short; a pattern that has shaped the Southern High Plains for thousands of years.
My second summer of fieldwork and exploration in the Valles Caldera went really well. I am pleased with the efficiency of my work from dodging local weather to navigating the fallen timber in the burn zones on my way to remote points. I meet all of my goals and objectives. I am now in the analysis phase with respect to my data and look forward to seeing some results.
I've spent the past two years staring down a microscope sorting, counting and identifying ants. Currently, I oversee four undergraduates, who have been invaluable in helping me get through all the work. So far we've counted over 45,000 individual ants and have identified around 50 different species, including some rather cryptic and interesting species. I have recently finished some field work in the Valles Caldera, where I was processing logs and conducting leaf litter sampling.
My final field season wrapped up at the end of August. My technician, Scott Hill, and I were based out of the TTU Junction Center for three months where we worked on the river by day, and lab by night. It was a very successful field season for collection of Guadalupe Bass! I also had an opportunity in September to assist with the final mark-recapture event for Blue Sucker on the Colorado River, Texas. It is always an honor to work with this state threatened fish. Having worked closely with this project under PhD student Matthew Acre since it's establishment in December 2014, it was great to see the field work to it's end. Finally back in town and back to a normal schedule.