Our Urban Homogenization group has a new paper out in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Led by Colin Polsky at Clark University, the paper shows that lawn care practices vary both among cities and among different life stages, development densities, and socio-economic groups within cities. The major conceptual contributions of the paper are to introduce the idea of scale to our previous work on homogenization, and to demonstrate that lawn care practices may be very heterogeneous, even if the biophysical structure of residential landscapes is homogenized by urbanization.
We've just heard from NSF that our proposal to study the wetlands of Big Cypress National Preserve will be funded! The Big Cypress landscape is a mosaic of isolated wetlands, grasslands, and pine forests. The core observation that motivates our proposal is that the Cypress wetlands appear to be regularly spaced. This sort of regular pattern occurs in dryland vegetation, in peatlands (including the nearby Everglades) and elsewhere, and is thought to arise from feedbacks that are spatially-dependent. Basically, organisms improve the environment in their immediate vicinity, but that has the effect of making more distant locations unsuitable. In Big Cypress, we think that cypress trees essentially capture water from the surrounding landscape by dissolving the limestone bedrock and creating wetland depressions. Pretty smart! Testing this core hypothesis, and all of its pieces, requires an interdisciplinary team. My colleagues at UF, who are going to do most of the field work, include ecohydrologists, soil scientists, and organic and inorganic geochemists. Brad Murray and I are in charge of developing a model of this landscape. It's gonna be fun.
Relationships between young scientists (undergraduate and graduate students, post-docs, even junior faculty) and their mentors are complicated and varied, in terms of how and how well they work, how influential a particular relationship is on one's career, and in countless other ways. But most of us are deeply shaped by the people who help us mature as scientists. The particular importance of one's PhD advisor is reflected in large and small ways. One example is that NSF considers students and their PhD advisors to be in life-long conflict of interest, which means that I can never review one of my advisor's or students' grants. Another indicator how important these relationships are is the interest of scientists (and other scholars) in their academic geneology, or who begat whom. I recently kick-started documentation of my own academic family, which you can see here. I am hoping that my friends and colleagues will be able to help build this into a reliable database on the academic history of limnology.
The danger of delving into academic lineages is that can (and sometimes does) reinforce insider-ism, distinguishing those with and without prominent scientists in their academic roots. One might certainly object to delving into history because of this possibility. Can't we just measure contemporary scientists by the novelty and rigor of the work they do? Vanity aside, is there a good reason to think about these things?
While it would be dishonest of me to deny any pride in my own academic heritage, which includes some very prominent scientists, I think the answer to the latter question is, Yes. Academic lineages help us remember that we are all of us standing on the shoulders of giants. They remind us that many ideas and approaches are old, and that the history of ideas, and the people who developed and evaluated them, continue to shape contemporary science. And they help us understand where whole disciplines and strains of thought arise. After all, 100 years ago ecology was barely a scientific discipline. Who were the (then mostly) men who shaped the application of scientific rigor to the study of natural history? Some lineages in ecology trace back to early physiologists, chemists, even theologians. How often do cross-overs occur in more recent times? With the present emphasis on interdisciplinarity, isn't this something we want to know more about?
So while it is crucially important to separate our assessment of scientists from assessments of their academic lineages, it is also essential to our understanding of how science and mentorship work to understand the basic facts of our own academic history.
2012 Lab Olympics
Some overdue news prior to the start of the semester:
Last year, the Bernhardt Lab initiated the greatest idea ever - Lab Olympics - and invited your humble PI to serve as assistant judge (under the mentorship of young Hannah Bernhardt). This year, we build on that storied tradition with the first ever inter-lab Lab Olympics. This year's events included the ever-popular Awkward Field Equipment Carry; Ecology Concepts Charades; and Speed Soil and Litter Sampling. Taking Tests for Fun made its debut as a full event after many years as an exhibition event. Participants were drawn from all four River Center labs (Bernhardt, Doyle, Heffernan, and McGlynn), plus the Wright Lab was invited for some reason. The Bernhardt lab played the role of Greece (founding nation) and the Wright lab starred as East Germany (Lab Olympic automatons). The Doyle and McGlynn labs were beset by injuries, pride, and holiday travel plans, so their members defected as dictated by numerical balance. I think that makes the Doyle Lab Cuba, and the McGlynn Lab might be Romania. Sadly, the Heffernan lab was cast in the role of Moldova, plagued by bitter disappoinment at the podium. Your humble PI, in particular, was even more so at the end of the day. Nonethless, a good time was had by all. Full results here.
This is the homepage of the Heffernan Lab at Duke University. Here you can find all sorts of information about our research, teaching, and outreach. If you have any questions, contact Dr. Heffernan.
Dr. Jim Heffernan
I am an Assistant Professor in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. My research is focused on the causes and consequences of major changes in ecosystem structure, mostly in streams and wetlands.
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