The Portal Project is Dead, Long Live the Portal Project

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As some of the people who read this blog are aware, Portal has been having trouble getting refunded. We are sad to announce that our most recent attempt at NSF LTREB funding was declined. These are difficult funding times for many of us and we know many people are experiencing similar difficulties to those we are currently facing. What this means for us is that Portal is now completely unfunded and thus the study will enter a new phase of existence. We’re still trying to figure out what this means for the project in a big picture sense. What is easier to answer is: What does this mean for the continued collection of the data? Morgan is committed to maintaining some level of data collection on the rodent community, but does not have the funds to do so on the monthly basis conducted for the past 30+ years. While we are still working out what is possible given our resources, for the next year we will probably start collecting data every 3-4 months and depend entirely on volunteer labor (we have depended on graduate RAs for data collection in the past). This means that at least some of the valuable information available from the time-series will continue to be maintained.

However, the maintenance of the experimental plots is dependent on monthly trips to trap out the exclosures and maintain the fences. Rodents are tenacious creatures and the desert is a harsh environment on man-made structures. Without this constant attention rodents will invade the exclosures. Since we have never had a 3-4 month gap in trapping before, we don’t know what effect this will have on the integrity of the experimental manipulations, but we doubt it will be “good”. At this time, there are no resources to continue data collection for the plants and ants. Obviously, in a big picture sense, this means big changes to the study.

We appreciate the support many of you have given us while we have been struggling over the future of the study. Suggestions such as renaming the Portal Project the “Bill Gates the Beneficent Long-term Desert Ecology site” in the hopes of attracting a patron have been much appreciated.

We have some future posts planned highlighting Portal papers that will be coming out this year and an update on what’s been going on at the site as of the May census, but I’d like to leave this post with the two reasons I think Portal is so wonderful and why I am so saddened by the choices we are facing:

1) Portals Contributions to Ecology.

  • Number of Papers/Books using data collected at the site to date: at least 112 and still counting (because so many people have worked at the site in so many capacities we have probably missed some; this number includes 28 papers in Ecology, 8 in American Naturalist, 4 in Ecology Letters, 3 in PNAS and 7 in Science).
  • Number of Graduate Students trained by the project: 20 (many of whom are currently faculty or government scientists).
  • Number of volunteers who have helped with data collection: Too many to count. Over the course of just the recently expired grant, over 60 people volunteered their time to assist with data collection at the site. These people included graduate students (both in ecology and in unrelated areas such as history and chemistry), undergraduates interesting in gaining field experience (including a wonderful young man who had never been out of Utah, never seen a palm tree before, definitely never been anywhere as hot as Portal, never seen a rodent outside of a pet store and never had an avocado before… he had the time of his life), postdocs and faculty interested in seeing a field site they had read so much about, and nonacademics ranging from school teachers to physical therapists to artists to lawyers who came for a wide range reasons, saw a little ecology in action, and spent the night under the most glorious view of the Milky Way.

2) Which brings me to the second reason Portal is so wonderful. Unfortunately, there are no words adequate for this, so I’ll let Portal speak for itself:

image

If you’re interested in helping with the site or just want to see some of our less… conventional… ideas for keeping the site going, please visit SavePortal.org or email Morgan at: Morgan.ernest@usu.edu.

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