Current week is clear that a new academic year has begun at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The City Campus has filled with students going up and down, occupying the Adele Hall Learning Commons and Nebraska Unions libraries, and attending degree lectures. Altogether, they are giving a nice social and friendly atmosphere which I have missed a lot since my arrival this early summer.
I’ve started to grasp what studying and working at the UNL means: to participate and to get actively involved in all university components. For starting, and thanks to my postdoc supervisor, Sheri Fritz, I have the opportunity to attend her Quatenary palaeoclimate and palaeoecology course with undergraduates, graduates and phd students. It is a a very active course, where students are responsible of leading discussions about different quaternary science topics: atmosphere and oceanic circulations, paleolimnology, glacial-interglacial cycles, etc.
Also, in the Fritz lab, we will meet every weak to talk about common research topics, read and comment papers, or explain our previous experience in science. In this sense, I will give to lab members a short presentation about my PhD thesis on the ecology and palaeoecology of the Ebro Delta. I hope to expose it during the upcoming Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science seminars as well. I’m very excited to share my ideas and experience with geologists, climatologists and paleontologists, and I’m feel lucky to learn of them.
Lincoln has more than 100 miles of trails for cycling, walking and running. Actually, this is perhaps one of the thing I like most in the city, the possibility of reach likely any Lincoln’s area with any other transport than your legs.
The oficial webpage of Lincoln Parks and Recreation provides all information you need to get informed about the trails and its main characteristics. As an early inhabitant, I’ve made my fist steps along two main paths: the Billy Wolf and Rock Trail Island. The former is what I used everyday to arrive at work, going north alongside a very nice creek.
Billy Wolf Trail
Billy Wolf trail is perhaps one of the most transited Lincoln’s trail. If not, is at least definitely the most friendly bike path I’ve never go in. Every person I’ve crossed in my way: “Hi!”, “Hello, good morning!”, “many people today running here, right?”. Even when someone going by bike behind you says: “sorry, on your left”. Many many friendly and pleasant going through it.
The Billy Wolf trail also gets south of Lincoln, where you can visit, as myself, the nice Holmes Lake Park. People usually go there, for instance, for fishing, for lying at the grass and have picnic, or simply for catching pokemons 😉
Sundays are usually devoted by myself to go outside and explore the Lincoln’s trail network. I would like to post here more pics of it. Meanwhile, I’m showing you some pics of the above mentioned trail and the lake. Enjoy!
“forested” bike stretch
Panoramic view of the Holmes Lake
Let’s be serious that today we are going to talk about ecology. By “googleing” (i.e. task to go through google searches), I’ve found a very interesting paper by Nuñez and Nuñez, 2006 (Controversías en ecología: competencia interespecífica y la estructuración de comunidades), who from a philosophical point of view, present the goodness of disagreements and re-formulating questions in science to change the theoretic framework of ecology, a relatively new discipline if we compare with others like chemistry or medicine.
Two different and controversial ecological theories have coexisted since the 1960s to explain the role of biological competition as driver of ecosystem structure. The niche concept and exclusive competition theories developed by G.E. Hutchinson, considered the father of the modern ecology, were the key pillars of this discipline. Ramon Margalef, catalan ecologist and contemporary of Hutchinson, showed a great admiration to him and agreed with most of his theories, yet with discrepancies.
Another ecological theory developed by Edward F. Connor and collaborators showed that stochastic processes – so called null models – not only could be plausible for explaining structure and diversity of ecosystems, but also rejected assembly rules proposed by Hutchison and others (e.g. Diamond). To see the magnitude of this disagreement, I cite one of Connor’s most relevant paper (The assembly of species communities: chance or competition?, Ecology 1979: 1132-1140): “Every assembly rule is either tautological, trivial, or a pattern expected where species distributed at random”; and authors also added: “one would falsify the null hypothesis that species distributions are generated by random processes”.
These two controversial theories were largely debated during the 1980s, being each theory seen as irrefutable and exclusive. This fact resulted in confrontations hard to conciliate among coeval ecologists. However, the revision of methodologies for both null models and assembly rules showed that there were more points in common than previously though. With this revision (e.g., Maurer 2004, Models of scientific inquiry and statistical practice: implications for the structure of scientific knowledge, The University of Chicago Press), ecology moved to a new and soft controversial framework. The solely exclusive competition did not necessarily explained species distribution in ecosystems, and the interpretation of null model results was neither determinant to explain it.
To sum up, changes in ecological theories for a better understanding of patterns in ecosystems can benefit by interpreting controversies as constitutive part and not as a imperative laws.
After one month living in Lincoln, I’ve get an approximate idea about how the summer weather is here.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature between the summer weather in Nebraska and my place (south Catalonia), is the warm sensation. Due to the continentality – Nebraska is at >2000 km from the coast – the humidity is less pronounced. This means that for an equal temperature, let’s say 30ºC/ 86ºF, we obviously feel more warm in Catalonia than in Nebraska. However, it is also true that there is high air humidity in Lincoln during certain conditions. For instance, two weeks ago, a hot wave passed through central USA, leading air temperatures around 37ºC (98.6ºF); and the air humidity did increase! In few words, this was because the plants (and Lincoln has a large vegetal coverage) started to evapotranspirate more as temperature increases, and then more steam (water) goes to the atmosphere. And what about the rain? Does rain in such a dry region? The answer is yes, it rains every 2-3 days. And this is so pleasant feel how in 1-2 hours it refresh completely the warm atmosphere we had.
Although I’ve seen different weather situations typical from temperate regions in summer, this is not new for me at all. What would be completely different from a climatic point of view will be to see tornadoes! I don’t say that I would like be in the vortex of one of them. Nebraska has had several “killer” tornadoes during its history (see here the top ten). Fortunately, many buildings have tornado shelters placed at their basements, and good alarm systems as my job place at the UNL; but this is not the case of my small studio 😉