by Samantha Oliver
Around the world, more and more scientists are working together to answer some of our biggest biological and ecological questions. Science is often seen as a private enterprise carried out in an individual’s lab. But, today, especially in ecological circles, it involves gigantic datasets from far-flung locations and a dedicated team of researchers from different disciplines.
So what does a group of twenty-one collaborators dispersed over two continents and seven different institutions need to be a productive science team? It’s hard to single out a key ingredient, but it turns out that face time can go a long way. In fact, new research by Cheruvilill et al. suggests that in-person meetings at inspiring locations can be particularly useful for building trust and shared vision among scientists.
Add another data point to support that claim. Despite nearly two-dozen busy and conflicting schedules, a group of scientists in the CSI Limnology group traveled to the Archbold Biological Station in Venus, Florida early this year to work toward their goals at the annual CSI Limnology workshop. CSI stands for “cross-scale interactions” which is scientific jargon for “looking at different ecosystems across large regions or even across continents.” It is funded by a Macrosystems Biology grant from the National Science Foundation.
The group was quick to realize that Archbold reflects many of its own goals. Archbold has been collecting monthly data on Lake Annie since 1982 and since it acquired an instrumented buoy in 2008, daily readings on the lake. Researchers at the station use that data to answer modern environmental questions – a diverse array of scientific topics, from drivers of lake browning (Gaiser et al., 2009) to gas exchange dynamics (Read et al., 2012).
Beyond collecting the data, Archbold maintains their data and makes them available to present and future scientists, an ongoing goal and challenge for both the CSI Limnology team and the field of ecology in this era of “big data.” (Hampton et al., 2013).
The CSI Limnology team is working to collect lake water chemistry over a large geographic area to explore interactions between different drivers at many scales. For example, how does a regional human disturbance like agriculture interact with local landscape features like wetlands and drive water quality indicators like phosphorus concentration?
Understanding questions like these requires collecting lots of data and the scientific expertise necessary to examine it. Seeing these goals in action at Archibold Biological Station was inspiring and an important step in the evolution of the CSI Limnology team.