Portal: Then and Now

October 4, 2017 by

A lot can change in 40 years.  This is perhaps never more apparent than when you find a box of old photographs, and start comparing then to now.  When the Weecology lab immigrated from Utah to Florida in 2015, just such a box surfaced: a glimpse back in time to the beginning of the portal project.  I did my best to re-create some of these photographs—trying to line up horizons and mountains—to show how the site has changed over 40 years.

One thing is immediately apparent: the shrubs have grown up.  The left side of these photographs were taken in 1977 (photographer unknown), and the right side in 2015 (photographer Erica Christensen).  What happened to the rows upon rows of aluminum flashing, indicating the location of the rodent fences?  I assure you the fences are still there, they’re just obscured by the jungle.

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The fact that you used to be able to see clear across the site is shocking to the modern research assistants. These days, part of the training for new RAs taking over work at Portal is receiving a map from the previous RA with routes drawn in for the best paths between plots. Navigation is not trivial.

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Erica, circa 2012, demonstrating the problem (photographer Sarah Supp)

Other locations at the site don’t look too different from how they looked in the ‘70s. Grass cover comes and goes depending on the strength and timing of monsoon rains every year, but some plots don’t seem as affected as others by the shrub explosion.

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While shrub encroachment is an annoying obstacle to a human, it is a major ecological shift to a rodent. This was the topic of a 1997 paper by Brown, Valone, and Curtin, where they found a 3-fold increase in shrub cover between 1980 and 1995 by analyzing historical aerial photographs. The authors also noted a concurrent decline in rodent species affiliated with arid grassland (banner-tail kangaroo rat and silky pocket mouse) and an increase in species affiliated with arid shrubland (desert pocket mouse and Bailey’s pocket mouse). It looked like the grassland species were on their way out and the shrubland species were taking over. However banner-tails and silkys continue to be found at the site, despite the fact that shrub cover has increased, if anything, since 1995. They’re now quite rare; these days we pretty much only see them when the rains align just right to give us a “grassy year.”

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Nobody tell this adorable silky pocket mouse we’re a shrub habitat now

Those of us who have worked at Portal know that things are always different every time you go down, and yet some things never change. Which is why we keep going, keep collecting data: even after 40 years there is still a lot to learn.

Reference:
Brown, J.H., Valone, T.J., and Curtin, C.G. (1997). Reorganization of an arid ecosystem in response to recent climate change. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 94, 9729–9733.

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2017 Summer Plant Census

September 29, 2017 by

Twice a year the Portal crew gets a little larger, and spends a few extra days, and we count plants on all 384 quadrats. Despite some of us being in our second decade of visiting the site, and everyone on the plant crew being intimately familiar with most of the species at the site, and that the rodent RA has been watching the plants grow and giving us monthly updates, we still never really know what we’re going to find once we get out there. The desert does what it wants.

The uncertainty seems especially high for the summer plant community. Some years we arrive to an ocean of grass, waving in the breeze. Those are the years we spend a lot of ‘quality time’ with each quadrat. Other years we arrive to a dustbowl. We walk around the site laying our PVC quadrat down and picking it back up again and saying ‘zero’ 384 times. [Okay, we don’t really ever get all zeros. But it feels like that when you’re out there.] And some years we show up to find some new arrivals, species that finally decided to show up after 40 years. Then we spend less time counting individual blades of grass, and more time pouring over our regional species list and plant ID guides.

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Summer 2014, Morgan, Tom and Erica counting Aristida adscensionis and Bouteloua aristidoides, a lot of it

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Summer 2015, ‘Who are you and where did you come from?’

 

This summer was pretty good for forb diversity. Forb species like Dalea, Cassia, Kallstroemia, Ipomea and Sida were relatively abundant.
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Kallistromia

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In the summer we also measure shrub cover on the plots, so we get some bonus quality time with the plants.

 

There are lots of other bonuses to the summer plant census that make up for the brain-melting heat. As we’re walking around the plots, we get to see snakes (Mojave rattler, Common king snake, gopher snake, coachwhip, and Coral snake on this trip), horned lizards, turtles, tarantulas and exceptional insect diversity that are not out and about from October to May.

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And there’s nothing like a Portal monsoon sunset.

Portal Plant Census and Florida Hurricanes

September 18, 2017 by

Twice each year we head out to the site to do an intensive week of field work. We catch rodents as we do every month, but we also count every plant located in the 384 different plant quadrats, located across the site (for those who want more details: 16 quadrats per plot, locations marked with rebar, each 0.25 m^2 in size). Plants have been counted on these quadrats for nearly 40 years and we have been keeping the tradition alive. These extended trips occur sometime in August/September and March/April to match up with when most plants during that season are flowering or setting seeds (or as best we can given the constraints of the school year). Since the lab moved to Florida, the August/September census has gained an added piece of excitement: hurricanes.

Hurricanes?

Yes. Hurricanes.

Last year, as the crew was preparing to set out for Arizona, Hurricane Hermine  was lining up to hit Florida. Being the lab’s first hurricane experience (and the first hurricane to hit Florida since 2005), there was a lot of anxiety as the crew packed up to head out. Would they get out ahead of the storm? What would happen while they were gone?

The storm was an exciting experience for those of us who remained in Gainesville (in the ‘uh, wow, look at all those trees down’ way, not the ‘Whoo, let’s do that again’ way). Hurricane Hermine skirted Gainesville, delivering strong winds, rain, and some downed trees.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons. Image uses background image from NASA and hurricane tracking data from NOAA. The yellowish color were it hits land indicates it was a Category 1 at landfall. The star is the approximate location of the University of Florida

Though the Portal crew was out in Arizona, they did not escape without their own hurricane experience, though! Hurricane Newton hit Baja California and then came up to the Portal area for a visit.

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Image from Wikimedia Commons. Image uses background image from NASA and hurricane tracking data from NOAA. The star is the approximate location of the Portal Project. The blue triangle indicates that Newton was a tropical depression by the time it got close to the site.

Despite my anxiety for the crew, they just got really wet.

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Ellen and Joan enjoying a tropical storm in the desert

We laughed about it and then forgot about all this until a couple of weeks ago when Hurricane Irma lined up on Florida as the Portal Plant Crew was preparing to head out to Arizona to count plants.

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Hurricane Irma track. Gainesville was luckier than other places that received visits from Irma. It was only a tropical storm when it came by. Image from NASA, track data from NOAA, obtained from Wikimedia Commons

Shawn Taylor, one of Ethan White’s graduate students and regular Portal Plant counter, remarked on his déjà vu feeling in a message to the lab:

“Interestingly this is exactly how leaving for the fall plant census was last year as Hurricane Hermine was bearing down”

Now, any good scientist knows that correlation does not mean causation. Our sample size is also very small, with only two incidences so far. I’ll just say that it’s an interesting coincidence that Florida gets hit with hurricanes when the Portal Plant crew heads to Arizona in September. No one should contact FEMA to have “keep the Portal plant crew in Florida” added to their disaster preparation list. But at the very least, we probably need to add some “in case of hurricane” items to our summer plant census check list for next year!

Ode to six-legged wonder

September 8, 2017 by

If four legs are great, six legs are better. Right? For forty years now, the Portal Project has primarily focused on two-legged creatures trapping, studying, and sometimes cuddling small, furry four-legged creatures. But we haven’t ignored the six-legged inhabitants of our long-term research site, and I am going to tell you more about them now.

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Which one of these is least like the other?

I am the Ernest lab entomologist, who doesn’t consider herself an entomologist. I am interested in biodiversity, community, and macroecological patterns like those studied by generations of Portal rodent researchers. I just happen to study them using bees. There are over twenty thousand species of bees in the world, and about four thousand in North America. My research so far has focused on the community ecology of native bees in a global hotspot of bee diversity in California. But as fate or luck would have it, another documented haven for native bees lies just down the road from our long-term rodent site in Portal. Between 2000 and 2007, bee researcher Robert Minckley documented 383 different species and 69 genera of bees from the San Bernardino Valley of Arizona and Mexico. The Smithsonian’s Southwestern Research Station, which is nestled up in the hills only a few miles from our rodent site, also celebrates the insect diversity of this area with field courses focused on bees or ants that attract dozens of eager entomologists from all around the world every summer.

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Look familiar? This is the San Bernardino Valley on the border of Arizona and Mexico, just 50 miles south of our Portal research site. By BAlvarius – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11806210

A few months ago, I set out to see what kind of six-legged creatures we have scurrying around at Portal. My adventurous and ever-curious lab mates were willing to help, and (I think) even had a bit of fun learning to collect, pin, and curate bugs. During the March and May 2017 rodent censuses, we used a variety of passive (let the insects come to the trap) and active (go get ’em!) methods of insect collection to sample the local diversity on six legs:

  • Pan traps are brightly colored bowls full of soapy water that (passively) attract flying insects like bees that visit the bowls, fall into the water, and can be strained out and examined later.
  • Aerial nets (or “butterfly nets”) can be used to actively snag insects flying by or foraging on flowers, or can be used to more methodically sweep the ground to sample insects hiding in the grass or shrubs.
  • Blacklights lit underneath a white sheet at night passively bring in moths, roaches, and other nocturnal creatures that are drawn to ultraviolet wavelengths, perhaps because they confuse them with the moonlight they use to navigate, and can be scooped into collecting vials from their perches on the sheet.
  • Pitfall traps are plastic containers that are buried in the ground with their top openings flush with the ground level and covered with a coarse mesh with a hole in the center. Insects walking along the ground cross the mesh, fall into the hole, and are preserved in a small amount of ethanol at the bottom of the container. Do you think this is active or passive insect collecting? (Hint: we leave them out all day and only come back at dusk to check what is there.)
  • The crowd favorite was probably the “beat sheet,” which is simply a white sheet placed on the ground underneath an intriguing shrub, which is then vigorously beat with a piece of PVC pipe, a shovel, a hockey stick — really any bludgeoning tool will work. Insects that fall onto the sheet are then sucked up into an aspirator device — like a tiny, scientific, human-powered vacuum — and transferred into a collecting vial. This method of collecting is pretty active!

The spoils of our collecting efforts were creepy, crawly, and diverse.  The field crew had fun learning to pin them using the cooler and truck tailgate as our insect lab. Then I mailed them back to the lab and have been working on labeling, curating, and identifying our new Portal insect collection.

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Then just last week I took them to campus for a photo glam session with the fancy microscope camera. Take a look:

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I’m certainly not the only one who has been interested in the insect fauna in and around the rodent plots at Portal. Ants were actually a big part of the original research design. Between 1977 and 2009, ant colonies were censused once a year at every stake on all the plots, and between 1988 and 2009 ants were also baited (with Pecan Sandies!) and counted at 25 stakes in the thirteen unmanipulated plots. Research papers using this data, which is available to the public on the Weecology GitHub PortalData repository, have been authored by Tom Valone, Mike Kaspari, and more. Other brilliant ecologists like Deborah Gordon and Nate Sanders have also studied ant diversity, behavior, and community composition in the valley around our research site. I was actually following some of these researchers’ work long ago when I was first looking for graduate advisers and nerding out over my giant book about ants. And now here I am, working with the rodent branch of the legendary Portal Project while focusing on bees for my own work. It’s a small world after all, full of small six-legged wonder.

 

Learn more by checking out some of the published science on the ecological entomology around Portal:

Gordon, Deborah M. 1999. Ants at work: how an insect society is organized. Simon and Schuster.

Davidson, D.W., Inouye, R.S., Brown, J.H. 1984. Granivory in a Desert Ecosystem: Experimental Evidence for Indirect Facilitation of Ants by Rodents. Ecology, 65(6), 1780-1786.

Kaspari, M., & Valone, T. J. 2002. On ectotherm abundance in a seasonal environment—studies of a desert ant assemblage. Ecology, 83(11), 2991-2996.

Minckley, R. 2008. Faunal composition and species richness differences of bees (Hymenoptera: Apiformes) from two north American regions. Apidologie. 39: 176–188.

Sanders, Nathan J., and Deborah M. Gordon. 2003. Resource‐dependent interactions and the organization of desert ant communities.” Ecology 84.4: 1024-1031.
Sanders, N. J., & Gordon, D. M. 2000. The effects of interspecific interactions on resource use and behavior in a desert ant. Oecologia, 125(3), 436-443.
Valone, T. J., & Kaspari, M. 2005. Interactions between granivorous and omnivorous ants in a desert grassland: results from a long‐term experiment. Ecological Entomology, 30(1), 116-121.

 

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This four-legged creature thinks Portal is just the best place she’s ever been.

 

 

The Spectabulous Spectabs of Portal

September 1, 2017 by

Much beloved by those who have worked at the Portal Project, the banner-tailed kangaroo rat (Dipodomys spectabilis) is one of the most charismatic rodents at the site (for us smammal lovers who think rodents can be charismatic, anyway). The fact that they have a nickname—spectabs—attests to this fondness. Look at that mighty tufted tail! Those giant, majestic furred feet! Weighing in at over 100 grams as adults, they are twice the size of our other kangaroo rat species (D. ordii and D. merriami). What’s not to love?

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Dipodomys spectabilis

As avid readers of the Portal blog might recall, the site used to be much grassier back in the day. At the start of the project in 1977, spectabs were running the show at Portal; we even had some plots that excluded only D. spectabilis because they were so dominant! For the spectabs, this was a desert paradise, as they tend to prefer grassier habitats. As the site became shrubbier, however, the reign of the spectabs came to a slow end in the 1990’s. Since then, a few individuals have popped up here and there but haven’t stuck around, often heading for greener (grassier?) pastures.

For me, experiencing Portal for the first time in the summer of 2015, D. spectabilis seemed more like a mythical creature than a real species. I resigned myself to the probability that I would never actually get to see this massive kangaroo rat species and would have to be content with its smaller (and equally adorable, mind you) congenerics.

Then Stephanie showed up.

Of course, rodents don’t arrive at the site wearing name tags; names have to be earned. In April of 2016, Erica excitedly reported back from the field that she had caught—you guessed it—a spectab. This young female, weighing only 70 grams, was the first spectab caught at the site since a quick resurgence lasting from 2008-2010.

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We assumed she was just passing through. Yet May arrived, and there she was. I finally went out in June, trying desperately not to get my hopes of finally seeing a spectab too high. Over to plot 11 I went, my heart was pounding a little faster than usual. One of the first traps I picked up was very heavy! I’d caught my first spectab! I made my volunteer take a picture of me with Stephanie. You can’t quite tell, but I was teary-eyed with happiness; that might sound a little embarrassing, but I don’t mind admitting it. I was so excited! It felt like I’d completed some type of Portal rite of passage.

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Ellen (that’s me!) with Stephanie, who is far less excited about this picture than I am.

I’m not sure when I decided that our new resident spectab needed a name, but I unilaterally decided on Stephanie and, somehow, it stuck. Most of us assumed she’d disappear pretty quickly; since the 90s, most of the spectabs that have been caught have quickly moved on. And especially since she was young, we figured she was just on some rodent version of rumspringa. But month after month, there she was. Same plot, nearly the same stake every time. Spectabs are known for their well-kept, cultivated mounds, and Stephanie’s was shaping up over in the northwestern corner of Plot 11.

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A typical spectab mound: raised, multiple holes, and well-manicured.

Soon there was talk of whether Stephanie would get a “boyfriend” or not, which rapidly devolved into thoughts of setting up a twitter account for her or making her a profile on that new-fangled dating app, Granvr: the Dating App for Modern Granivores. Stephanie continued to grow, and we started wondering if she would be the exception to the 21st-century spectab rule and actually stay around. In the end, she stuck around for nearly a year; February was the last time we saw her.

Or was it?

In June, our newest Portal RA, Renata, was in her second month of training. We arrived at Plot 11, and what came out of her trap but a spectab! In shock and excitement, I lurched forward and grabbed the bag with the discombobulated rodent out of her hands without thinking or asking (not my best moment, I admit…). Stephanie was back! Or so we thought. Our volunteer managed to capture a dynamic set of pictures that explains the series of events better than any prose can:

Image uploaded from iOS

“Stephanie!!!?!”

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“Oh…hmmmmm.”

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“That is definitely not Stephanie…”

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“I shall name him Stephen!”

That’s right. I was holding a very scrotal male…definitely not Stephanie. Stephen hasn’t shown up again, and we assume he’s gone on his way.

Even though we have 40 years of data, the site is still reminding us that we have many unanswered questions. Where are these spectabs coming from? Where are they going? Why now? Will there be more? We sure hope so! And rest assured, we’ll report about them right here.

Portal Phenocam

August 25, 2017 by

You may have noticed the super-cool daily images featured in last week’s post. They’re from our new network camera.

For starters, it allows us to do things like watch our desert field site turn from brown to green in no time flat (and back to brown again this winter).

 

 

 

 

But even cooler, our camera is part of the PhenoCam Network. They’re organizing a network of near-surface remote sensing images from sites all over the world. This creates a time series of images, in RGB and infrared, that can be used for phenology monitoring by the PhenoCam folks, us, or anyone who’s interested.

 

 

 

 

The PhenoCam folks make all the imagery freely available to download. From installation and configuration to image analysis, they provide awesome support. And their R package phenopix provides a quickstart to using phenocam imagery.

How fast can a desert turn green?

August 18, 2017 by

In the desert, water is life. Without it, the desert is brown and dusty. At our site, the rains come twice a year – once during the ‘winter’ (I put that in quotes for our readers where winter means snow and/or extended periods below freezing) and once during the summer. Water in the summer and water in the winter don’t have the same effect on the desert, though. Plants need both warmth and water to grow. When rain falls in the desert in the winter, growth is slow and typically waits until the warmer temperatures of spring. In the summer, though, the high temperatures and the rain from Arizona’s monsoons make for an explosive combination. How fast can the desert turn green? Here’s a series of photos from our site – one per day for a week that we think conveys this better than words. Enjoy the slide show:

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You might be wondering if that was it. Was that as green as the desert got? Here it is, as of yesterday, 3 and a half weeks after that first brown picture: August 1st was definitely not peak green:

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The grasses are greening up nicely and there is no bareground to be seen in the foreground.Water, heat, and sunshine – a very powerful combo indeed!

 

 

Pregnancy in Kangaroo rats

August 9, 2017 by

~While everyone’s busy at ESA this week, we’d like to keep the 40th anniversary ball rolling with a guest post from a visiting researcher at Portal. Jess Dudley has been using the Portal area to compare pregnancy in kangaroo rats and Australian marsupials. We’ll be featuring other guest posts through the rest of the year. (If you’d like to do something similar, please send us your info!)~

 

In July 2015 I travelled the 24+ hours from Sydney, Australia to the beautiful town of Portal to research pregnancy in Kangaroo rats. To everyone’s astonishment we do not have Kangaroo rats in Australia! I am sure I don’t need to explain my fascination with Kangaroo rats with this audience but in terms of pregnancy they have some unique features which differ from most rodents. This finding by King and Tibbitts in the 1960’s led me to wonder how the placenta forms during pregnancy in these resilient animals. To answer these questions I was lucky enough to visit Portal twice in the summers of 2015 and 2017 to trap Kangaroo rats and collect tissue from the females. I have completed Transmission and Scanning Electron Microscopy as well as Western blotting and Immunofluorescence microscopy on the uterine samples from pregnant Merrriam’s kangaroo rats to determine what structural and molecular changes are needed for implantation of the early embryo and ultimately a successful pregnancy.

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Fat tailed dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata) (https://museumvictoria.com.au)

 

My initial research into the molecular mechanisms of implantation and pregnancy began in an Australian marsupial species the Fat tailed dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata) which has the same partly invasive placenta as the Kangaroo rat.

Fat tailed dunnart (Sminthopsis crassicaudata) (https://museumvictoria.com.au) range. IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) 2016.

 

Through these comparative studies we have found that the molecular mechanisms allowing for successful pregnancy are conserved among eutherian and marsupial mammals during the early stages of pregnancy regardless of how invasive their placenta becomes.

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An Immunofluorescence image showing localization of adhesion molecules in green and cell nuclei in blue from a non-pregnant Merriams’ Kangaroo rat. Uterine Epithelial Cells = UEC. Lumen = L.

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Transmission Electron Microscopy image of uterine epithelial cells from a Merriams’ Kangaroo rat in the
early stages of pregnancy.

It has been an amazing experience to work in the Chihuahuan Desert. I was introduced to animals that I had never heard of and witnessed countless stunning sunrises and sunsets as well as beautiful starry night skies. It was an experience I will never forget. I would like to thank Glenda Yenni, Leigh Nicholson and all of the wonderful people at the Southwestern Research Station for their assistance and advice during the completion of this project.

nullA male K-rat hiding behind a SWRS intern (©Leigh Nicholson)

 

Jessica S. Dudley | PhD candidate
The University of Sydney

Portal at the Ecological Society of America Meeting

August 2, 2017 by

Every year ecologists from across the U.S. descend upon a city to share their most recent findings with each other at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting. Normally, the locals are a little befuddled by the sudden influx of people wearing Tevas and Chacos and wearing clothing from various outdoor gear companies, but this year the meeting is being held in Portland, Oregon!

This year there are several presentations featuring data from the Portal Project, ranging from a poster to talks to a workshop. If you are going to be at the meeting and are interested in hearing about the site, learning more about the data, or taking a Data Carpentry that uses a teaching version of our data, check out the events listed below. These are just the things we happen to know about. If your talk uses data from Portal (either focused on the site or as part of a bigger meta-analysis / macroecological study), let us know in the comments and we’ll add you to the list!

Saturday, August 5th

8:00 AM-5:00 PM A105, Oregon Convention Center

Data Carpentry in Ecology Workshop

Organizers: Monica Granados, University of Guelph and Auriel M.V. Fournier, University of Arkansas – Fayetteville

(Paraphrased from the Meeting Program) This workshop uses a tabular ecology dataset from the Portal Project Teaching Database and teaches data cleaning, management, analysis and visualization. We use a single dataset throughout the workshop to model the data management and analysis workflow that a researcher would use.

Monday, August 7th

02:50 PM – 03:10 PM Oregon Convention Center – C120-121:

Novel approach for the analysis of community dynamics: Separating rapid reorganizations from gradual trends by Erica Christensen, S.K. Morgan Ernest and David J. Harris, Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, University of Florida.

03:20 PM – 03:40 PM Oregon Convention Center – C120-121:

Do existing communities slow community reorganization in response to changes in assembly processes? by Erica Christensen and S.K. Morgan Ernest, Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

Thursday, August 10th

04:30 PM – 06:30 PM Oregon Convention Center – Exhibit Hall

DNA metabarcoding of fecal samples provides insight into desert rodent diet partitioning by Ellen K. Bledsoe, Samantha M. Wisely and S.K. Morgan Ernest, Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL

Friday, August 11th

8:00 am-08:30 am Oregon Convention Center, Portland Ballroom 257

Advancing biodiversity-ecosystem function research by integrating community assembly: The CAFE approach by Katherine Bannar-Martin, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Colin T. Kremer, Yale University, S.K. Morgan Ernest, University of Florida, Mathew A. Leibold, University of Texas at Austin, sCAFE working group, iDiv

Hope to see you there!

The Portal Project 40th Anniversary

July 26, 2017 by

Funded by the National Science Foundation to study the importance of competition and granivory in desert ecosystems, the Portal Project first started collecting data in the summer of 1977. The initial grant was just for 5 years, yet 40 years later the site is still collecting data on plants, rodents, and weather.

To our friends who study paleoecology, 40 years is an eyeblink but in the span of a human life, 40 years is a long time. As you might expect, much has changed on the project. For one thing, after 40 years, the team running the site has changed. The original team of scientists, Jim Brown, Dinah Davidson, and Jim Reichman have all retired from the daily challenges of training students and writing grants, though some are still doing science. In their place, Tom Valone and I do our best to keep things running, studying the mysteries of the desert, and training the next generation of scientists who will hopefully take our place.

But more than just the people have changed. The site has changed too. It was easier to gaze across the site back then, before the Acacia went wild and started to take over.

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Left: Jim Brown in the late 1970s at the site (unknown photographer) Right: View from the ramada towards plot 1 (photo by Erica Christensen). Not a paired photo, but you get the idea.

The invasive plant, Erodium cicutarium, was a lot rarer back then

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You can call Erodium cicutarium, redstem filaree, redstem stork’s bill, or common stork’s bill, but our rodents call it yummy.  Photo by Sarah Supp.

And Banner-tailed kangaroo rats (and their distinctive mounds) were abundant.

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The distinctive cleared off mound of a Banner-tailed Kangaroo rat. Typically only one individual lives in a mound (unless the kids are still living in mom’s basement). Photo by Sarah Supp.

Our weather data is now recorded by an automated weather station that sends us the data via cellular signals, as opposed to laboriously transcribed from a contraption that would boggle the minds of younger ecologists!

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Left: We don’t have any images of the original weather station, but we do have what it produced: large round sheets of paper with squiggles. Right: the new hotness in weather stations. A post about this bad boy will be coming in the future. The previous automated weather station, which is still running as we trouble shoot the new one, is to the left in the image.

But for all the things that have changed, there are many things that remain the same. We still collect data at the same plots at the same stakes using the same methods.

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We still use quadrats to count the plants – though quadrat size was decreased to its current state back in the 1980s. Photo by Erica Christensen

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The only change to the rodent processing has been the addition of PIT tags and we now process rodents at a central location on their plot. In the early years the number of rodents was lower and processing while picking up traps was common, but this is slow when numbers are high. Photo by Ryan O’Donnell

The site is still intellectually powered by motivated and creative young scientists who are inspired by the place and the data it generates

 

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We still collect data with paper and pencil (though we are debating moving to digital technologies there as well)

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The mountains are still stunning

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Photo by Glenda Yenni

And, most importantly, the Ramada is still where we gather to share stories, plan the day’s fieldwork, and commiserate over the inevitable challenges of doing fieldwork in a remote, challenging, but amazing location.

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To celebrate Portal’s 40th Anniversary, we plan on having a blog a week for the next year (that’s our goal anyway!). These blog posts will focus on the science, the natural history, and the people who have helped make this one of the world’s longest running community ecology experiments.

We have reached out to many of the graduate students and postdocs who have worked at the site over the years asking for memories and stories, but we have not been able to find all of you. If you have a story about Portal or pictures from the site (especially from the early years!) that you’d like to share, let us know in the comments! We have 51 more weeks to fill!