A networking resource devoted to biological soil crusts and the researchers who study them. We will provide a means for international scientists to communicate, share their research, share important news and announcements, ask questions and find collaborators. We will also provide a space for informal writing on research, opinion, and ideas (now seeking posters!).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Post Backlog: My visit to Australia (aka Bilby Baggins vs. the giant Merino)

I am either a lazy blogger or a busy scientist, guess which? I spent a good chunk of June and July in Australia working with Dave Eldridge on various stuff related to shrub encroachment, animal ecosystem engineers, and biocrust impacts on ecosystem function. Sydney turns out to be a fabulous place to spend some time, and the Australian crusts and ecosystems are so weird and interesting. For example---drylands with a high preponderance of deciduous trees. I think that's unusual. Also, if I were to go to Europe the fauna would be reasonably familiar, different species but much overlap at the generic and familial level. Not so in Australia, if it is remotely familiar it's an introduction, the native fauna may as well come from a different planet. Case in point, the bilby, or rabbit-eared bandicoot. Bilby as you know is a common hobbit name. But what is a bandicoot? Or a mala? Or a betong? It is possible the people that told me all these names were making them up, they could have said "jimbobs" or "gullywuppers" and I wouldn't know the difference. Anyway, the bilby is a nocturnal marsupial about the size of a rabbit, with rabbit-like ears. It is like (might even be) a possum in its diet of ground dwelling worms and arthropods, and in it's pointed nose. We conducted a study in a bilby sanctuary on the dual effects of crusts and bilby digging on infiltration.

The old guy is at it again, making a "sand cake" for his easy-bake oven. To get him out of the loony bin for the day, I had to tell them we were going to see Cars II.

OK, that's not true, actually, Dave is prepping a sand bed for a disc permeameter measurement. He is single-handedly capable of manning about 5 sets of permeameters simultaneously. He has not seen Cars, but he likes that show with the stoner guy dressed up as a dog. In the last few months he has developed a nice new website here.

Paying my respects at the sheep temple.

Like North Americans, Australians seem to be found of big pointless things on the side of the road. Whereas we tend towards dinosaurs, Native American paraphernalia such as giant arrows or teepees, or Paul Bunyan and Babe, Australians mostly go for various agricultural products or the occasional tennis racket. This is the giant merino.

Diagram of the formation and subsequent breakup of the supercontinent, Pangaea.

Just kidding, these are crusts...aren't they cool? In Australia most of the lichens were familiar players from North American or Europe, but the mosses are a different universe. I wonder why. So many studies out there compare "crusted" samples versus "non-crusted" samples. This oversimplification has always bothered me a little bit, because it's never so simple. We could call a non-crusted, but b-f are all crusted yet all completely different in terms of composition, total cover, or spatial patterning and heterogeneity.Our interest is in sampling the entire variety that exists.