Keep calm and count diatoms

Most of ecological and biological studies focused on studying organisms’ distributions requires to know which species are in the sampled sites – and this is particularly important for biogeographical studies. 

One of my duties at UNL is to identify diatom samples under the Light Microscope (LM). Diatoms have an external silica cell wall which confers taxonomic features to each species in order to be identified. However, this task is not straightforward, either due to few diagnostic characters combined with small sizes – then more precise microscope techniques are required, e.g. Scanning Electron Microscope – or due to the flora analysed have received little attention  in comparison with other areas, leading to a limited number of bibliography.

South American diatoms would fall to the second reason I mentioned before. Also, current published studies give evidences of the high degree of endemism and geographical restricted distributions of diatoms in tropical South America, such as the benthic Eunotia and the planktic Cyclotella and Cyclostephanos. 

With all of this in mind, the task of identifying diatoms from a wide suite of samples that covers tropical Andes (Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador) and Amazon lowlands, is much more than exciting! And there is no better way to sit in front the microscope and count diatoms with this fancy t-shirt, a lovely gift of my colleagues and friends from IRTA 😉

Xavier

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Putting a name for the blog

One of the first thing to do when you decide to create a blog is perhaps decide which name this new platform should have. Because this is my first blog I’ve ever made, I went through some of that could inspire myself by searching some “keywords”: science, postdoc, travel, research… Unfortunately my search did not inspire too much in putting a name.

However, three words came to my mind. To some extent, I believe that these three words summary the what and why of this blog. The “what” is perhaps more clearer than the “why”, the latter being more philosophical. Let to me explain then why I decide to choose microbiostuff.

I’m refering “micro” plus “bio” to all living organisms as having less then 500 micrometers (by convention, see Martiny et al. 2006 Nat. Rev. Microbiol. 4:102-112). Is precisely such combination that belongs diatoms, the most species rich-group of algae and responsable of more than 50% of global primary production (Mann 1999, Phycologia 38:437–495). I had the opportunity to study diatoms during my phd, exploring their bioindicator role in a Mediterranean coastal wetland, the Ebro Delta (NW Mediterranean).

Although be very diverse in terms of habitats and diatom taxa (more than 400 spp were identified in my samples), the limited spatial scale of the Delta makes difficult to explore some ecological questions that recently I’m interested in: spatial vs environmental constrains of diatoms communities at large scales, in other words, diatom (microbial) biogeography.

This boring a long speech just to justify the third word of my blog name: “stuff“. I know that I’m not sufficiently specific using such a word that means everything and nothing at the same time. But I would like to leave it just that, with the freedom of putting inside of it all of my ideas, and that the same ideas would bring more questions, and maybe, some answers.

This is the aim, the study of diatom biogeography from an ecological point of view, while I keep eyes open around american landings!

 

 

 

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Welcome to Lincoln!

Hola! Hello!

It has been my first week in Lincoln, fixing my new bearings here and there as spanish visitor in the USA: check in with International Student and Scholar Office of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, cell phone, internet, social security number, bank account. etc. I think I’ve been successful with most of them, but still things are remaining to do!

Capitol State of Lincoln, Nebraska

Capitol State of Lincoln, Nebraska

Me at the UNL city campus

Me at the UNL city campus

My first impression walking down on Lincoln streets was: “Oh, it’s like those films I’ve watch since I was a child!” Big streets, big individual houses with their gardens, and cars everywhere! My neighborhood is nice and quite. Luckily, there is a bike path that goes directly to the University. It goes alongside the Antelope Creek, an urbanized small stream very used by the inhabitants. So in order to use it conveniently, I’ve bought a nice used bike! This will definitely facilitate my movements within the city, since the distances are very long. Particularly for shopping in grocery markets, where most of them are placed several blocks further my apartment (i.e. 1 km at least).

 

Antelope Creek

Antelope Creek

J street neighborhood

J street neighborhood

Although Lincoln in particular and USA in general are quite different of my home live, I like it! People are very friendly, always ready to help. And it’s not different at all with my new colleagues from the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences – they make me feel like at home!

My upcoming next posts will dealing with why exactly I’m here at Lincoln: a postdoc research position to study the biogeography of diatoms of Tropical South America 🙂

Xavier

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