Ecologists frequently lament that it’s often the pretty animals that get the most conservation funding – pandas, big cats, cetaceans. And while I’m all for people helping out with causes they can identify with, there’s a lot of important ecological research that can be overshadowed by these large causes celebres. To wit: American forests have undergone a lot of changes over the past few centuries that people have barely noticed; I didn’t even know the American chestnut existed until I read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods in high school, and that’s not the only change eastern forests have experienced. The giant redwoods are an international symbol of the west coast, but the east’s white pines, which can live for similar time spans and reach huge – if not necessarily sequoian sizes – aren’t, mainly because the English chopped all the big ones down for shipbuilding. Furthermore, these changes aren’t stopping. Humans are the number one nitrogen fixers in the world (by which I mean that we take more nitrogen gas and turn into forms of nitrogen that plants can use than all the other plants and bacteria in the world combined), and all that bioavailable N is altering belowground plant-fungi partnerships. I have a compelling interest in this that I want to share, because this is my home. I want to bring the same level of interest we have in exotic places like the Amazon to our own backyard, because there’s still a lot to learn here.
My adviser suggested it to me – I have a fairly niche project that would probably get overlooked by a major granting organization, but which might be interesting for the public. I also view it as an opportunity to develop my skills in talking to people about science and communicating my ideas.
Q1: Everything? I have a hard time getting over the idea of opening myself up to public scrutiny, and (as tough as it may sound to believe), it’s possible to become acclimated to a subject that not a lot of people know about, and so I had to continually revise out jargon and tidbits that I found interesting, but others might not.
You can find Andrew’s project here.