Julia successfully defended her doctoral dissertation, "Morality, Emotion, and Policy Making: Decision making about water recycling" on March 25! Thanks to everyone who came out for her public defense talk, which was amazing. The Field School team couldn't be prouder or happier to see her pass this milestone.
We're so excited to announce that as part of our ongoing partnership with Debris Free Oceans, we'll be offering high school and college-level marine debris educational trips as part of our summer 2016 season!
Participants will fundraise for Debris Free Oceans as part of their participation, and all proceeds beyond the cost to run the trip will be used to support their clean-ups, education, and outreach. Students will get many of the same awesome field experiences offered on other Field School trips--including living on the water, snorkeling, corals, and sharks!--while also learning about marine debris and ocean sustainability, participating in ongoing debris research, and helping make south Florida's marine ecosystems cleaner and healthier! You can learn more about the marine debris trips here, or get a reminder why marine debris is bad news here.
Weirdest of friends: the mutually beneficial relationship between alligators and wading birds
A recent study published in PLOS One found that alligators benefit when wading birds nest in their territory. Benefits to birds from this relationship are clear and well-documented--nesting near alligators keeps away many of the predators that might otherwise threaten eggs or chicks, like raccoons and opossums, increasing nesting success. This research shows that the relationship is actually an example of "mutualism"--that is, a relationship between species that is good for both of them--rather than "commensalism" (a relationship that is good for one species, while not really helping or hurting the other). Alligators that live near nesting wading bird colonies were generally in better physical condition than other similar alligators that didn't live near birds (63rd percentile for body weight versus 17th percentile). This difference is mainly explained by alligators getting the chance to feed on "dropped" chicks--hatchlings that are ejected from the nest when a bird has too many young to successfully feed and raise.
One of the things we love about this study is how effectively it illustrates that ecological relationships aren't always simple or obvious (because PLOS One is open access, you can read the whole study for free here). Based on what we know now, we'd expect a drop in the bird population to negatively effect the health and fitness of some alligators, or a decline in alligator populations to lead to lower reproductive success for wading birds. But that isn't obvious without looking more closely at how these species interact. It's an important reminder of how amazing and subtly interconnected ecological systems are.
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