Dispatches from the field: scattered thoughts edition

-When the bugs you’re hoping to count don’t show up for your field experiment, that sucks. But it’s also data that says maybe you’re not asking a question that’s relevant to the system. And maybe there’s other questions you need to ask, or you need to ask the same question in a different place.

-That being said, it makes me wonder how many times people have collected data, and looked at it and thought “hunh, that’s not very interesting” and just binned it. I know other people have thought this, but I know this often results in orphaned data.1

– I wonder if there are lessons to be learned here. I mean, actual, literal lessons. Could we use orphaned data as the basis for a course in teaching young scientists about the scientific process? Teach them about data management, exploration, analysis, scientific writing, collaboration, peer review and publication? And could we do it using an open science framework? I bet we could. Given time and resources, I’ll make this happen. So: give me time and resources, please.

-This summer, I’ve been pulling out the old ‘insect handling’ skillset a lot more- helping one of our students set up her bioassays, working with a colony of butterflies, and planning and setting up for some tritrophic rearing2– when you culture predators, you need to rear herbivores to feed them, and then herbs to feed the herbivores too. Normally, I try to adopt a growth mindset, but there really seems to be a talent in insect rearing. A green thumb, but plus. A chitin thumb? I often argue that anyone sufficiently motivated can learn math, can learn to code, but I’m falling into a talent argument for insect rearing. Maybe the key here is the motivation aspect. Maybe the chitin thumb is, in fact, motivation? Bug love? These deep thoughts come to you when you’re driving a van all over the countryside.


1. Now I’m imagining these sad, orphaned data. With big, hungry eyes. Data that just wants someone to take care of it and feed it and give it a home. And now I’m feeling a personal responsibility to them all and I think this means I’m probably going to end up the data equivalent of a crazy cat lady and maybe featured on Hoarders: Buried Alive: Data Science Edition.
2. Yes, I’m going to culture us some HUMAN EATING multicolored Asian ladybugs again. I’m delighted. See header image- that’s of my old colony.

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About cbahlai

Hi! I'm Christie and I'm an applied ecologist and postdoc in the midwestern US. I am an #otherpeoplesdata wrangler, stats enthusiast, and, of course, a bug counter. I cohabitate with five other vertebrates: one spouse, one preschooler, one teeny baby and two cats.
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One Response to Dispatches from the field: scattered thoughts edition

  1. Abigail says:

    I think motivation is a big factor in [small invert] rearing (or probably anything-rearing, really). The willingness to do everything right even when it is tedious as heck and doesn’t seem to matter. To feed them daily or change their culture daily or whatever, 7 days a week if that’s what it takes. To look at them every. darn. day. if you suspect something is wrong. To do the necessary cleaning if you do find contaminants.
    But there’s also an eye you develop to see what’s not growing right, when they are contaminated, what it looks like when you’ve fed them something bad, etc.
    So, motivation + growth.

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