Why I Went Full Stats Stud

In honor of World Statistics Day 2015 I felt motivated to write about my own experience with Statistics and my decision to switch career paths from Ecology(ish) to Statistics for my PhD program. One could argue that my current position as a statistician is a result of an intense desire to avoid any more Chemistry courses as an undergraduate student in Biology. My Chem 2 experience was the roughest of my educational experience (the last year notwithstanding) and when I crawled out on the other end I vowed never again. Since a minor in Chemistry was out, I decided to go the Mathematics minor route instead. Why not? I took AP Calculus. I was “good at math”. My second grade teacher told me so. Let’s do this.

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Bison, and Mosquitoes, and Shriners, Oh My!

Lost Lake
Day 14
Yellowstone National Park
Miles Hiked: 10 (80.7 overall)

Nearing the completion of their Master’s theses, two young, wild women struck out on the adventure of a lifetime. Meridith and Rachel’s 2012 Besties National Park Roadtrip was a transformative journey around the Western US National Parks. 10 states. 9 National Parks and 1 National Monument. One summer of fun!

Ecologist in action
After a day of full on touristing, it was time to get serious.  Our alarms went off at 4am, and we slithered out of our sleeping bags.  We dressed and washed up in a bleary haze before piling in the car with blankets and binoculars.  As per the recommendations of Jim and Dot (the adorable park ranger couple), we drove the 35 miles from Bay Bridge to Tower Falls and hung a left.  Along the stretch of road between Tower-Roosevelt and Mammoth, we found a pull off parking spot and were in position just as dawn broke over the sagebrush and meadows.  Wolf watching.  The wolves of Yellowstone get my scientists imagination running.  During the mid-90s the National Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves (mostly from the Canadian population) to Yellowstone, and the ecological impacts we are seeing appear to be profound.  For an excellent look at why top predators are important, check out this piece by Estes and colleagues.  Beyond the science, I think the mythos of these carnivores really plays on some of our most basic, primal thoughts.  What I really want to say, is I’m a stereotypical, hippie wolf-lover.  Seriously, wolves, wolves, wolves.  
Swimming Lost Lake

So, we arrive at our spot, we ate some granola.  We chatted about how hard core we were.  We covered up with blankets, because it was still cold, even inside our car.  More snacks.  And then…I totally fell asleep!  I know, it’s potentially the lamest thing I’ve ever done.  Lucky for me, Meridith is not so easily deterred and kept a keen eye out for any sort of non-Bison esque animal.  In spite of Mer’s proven ability to manifest rare wildlife, no dice.  Around 5:30, I was reanimated and we watched the frosty Bison graze as more people appeared to enjoy some wildlife watching.  A beautiful, if slightly disappointing morning.  But you know what soothes such situations?  Doughnuts.  We gassed up the car, consumed some well deserved sugar, and headed toward Roosevelt Lodge.
Sage and Skirts

We met up with the Lost Lake trail head behind the Lodge and began our first hike of the day.  This trail was a 4 mile loop, which doubled as a horse trail.  We wound up through trees, sage, and wildflowers until we came to Lost Lake.  This is a really beautiful little lake, at about 6,700 ft above sea level.  Little known fact about me, when I see a (clean) body of water, I generally want to be in it.  Meridith hung out on the shore, writing and enjoying the flowers, while I waded out past the lily-pads for a morning swim.  Shortly, we continued on around the loop and soon came upon one of Yellowstone’s petrified trees.  This ancient redwood signals just how different the plant communities and climate conditions once were in this area of the world.  An art student was also on hand with an antique camera, attempting to recreate period photographs from around the park.  Yellowstone.  It really attracts everyone.  Back around the hill and we were down at the Lodge again where we took a few moments to enjoy our afternoon sammies on some rocking chairs on the front porch.

Petrified Redwood Tree
As our day had started at 4am, we were getting a bit sleepy.  We drove the few miles up to Mammoth Village where we napped in the grass, enjoyed some staff internet, and wrote several more adorable postcards.  Apparently, composing haikus recharged our batteries, and we set off for the Beaver Ponds trail.  The initial climb and views were great, but as we neared the ponds themselves, we quickly renamed the trail, Mosquito Ponds.  We tried really hard to appreciate the wetland-pond complexes as we hiked rather quickly along the latter half of the trail.  Still no moose sightings, which had been our secret hope.  

Road Haikus
We took a few minutes to wind down from our speed hike by exploring the terraces around Mammoth Hotsprings.  I often get caught up in the challenge of hiking.  I love to go far and climb high.  So, it’s good for me to explore an accessible, interpretive trail.  It reminds me of the educational mission of the parks, and I always learn a lot from the signs!  By the end of the road trip, we had a running joke when we didn’t know the answer to a question.  “Where’s my interpretive sign?!”  I also really love when the wild and weird things about nature drawn the public in, and Mammoth Hotsprings are certainly something unique.  The smell of sulfur and the strange microbial mats were fascinating.  We couldn’t help but imagine what early visitors to the park must have thought of these crazy thermal features.  

Beaver Ponds Trail
Beaver Ponds Trail 
Early visitors to the park?  That reminded us, we had seen an advertisement for a lecture happening that evening at Mammoth Lodge (nerd alert).  We filled our water bottles and found our seats just as the lights went down before the lecture.  What followed was a delightful trip through early Yellowstone with a family of Shriners. The presenter explained that he found a trip scrapbook in an antique shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and spent a few years tracing the history of the book’s contents.  The Shriner couple had explored the park in horse carts, ate dinner in large dining tents, and sat in bleachers to watch bears feed on the scraps leftover from the kitchens at Mammoth Lodge.  The intersection between personal history and park history was compelling.  I especially loved the pictures of the women’s hiking clothes!  I was about 1000% certain I was going to fall asleep as we walked into the room, but I was happily alert the whole time.  

On the drive back to our campsite, we watched the sun set over the Bison and chatted about the history of the American West.  As we pulled into camp, I set my alarm for 7am.  The theme of day two had been water.  Tomorrow, the theme was mountains.

Mammoth Hotsprings

EcoNews Round-up: April 1, 2013

Along the trail in Cache Creek Canyon Regional Park

Happy April!  I’ve got some fun things planned for spring on the blog.  Hopefully, you will see these coming up in the next few weeks (sneak peak of a new travel post via this pretty picture).  For the moment, I wanted to share with you all some more of the interesting science news I have been hearing lately, or at least thinking about lately, as some of it is not super-duper recent.  Spoiler alert, none of these are April Fools Day stories (or are they…).

This is a little less “breaking news” at this point, but I couldn’t resist telling you guys about how amazing dung beetles are!  These little guys are using light from the Milky Way to navigate around their habitats!  The point of this navigation is to roll the dung ball (a precious resource!) away from the dung pad in as straight of a line as possible.  This helps the beetles avoid competition from their potential dung ball stealing fellow.  This Science Friday story is worth a listen for several reasons, not the least of which is the great explanation by the study author and the amazing mental image of a dung beetle wearing a Milky Way obscuring hat (just listen, believe me).  These sorts of findings are adding to the growing field of sensory ecology.  Researchers are learning about how organisms perceive the world, and how that world view, or umwelt, impacts the ecology of different species.  It’s more than just cool facts too!  Sensory ecology can be used to help plan protected areas or understand the impacts of a new development.

I like this article mostly because of the title:  Somewhere Over the Brainbow.  Thanks NPR.  I’m also genuinely intrigued by the idea of a brain activity map.  Obama claimed in a speech that this project would help with the treatment of brain disease, specifically mentioning Alzheimer’s Disease.  The story starts by comparing this project to another major government science initiative, The Human Genome Project.  It’s an appropriate comparison, I think, but the brain is so complex results will likely be very slow in coming.  One issue brought up by the article that interested me was the argument against the project, which stated that such large groups organized by the government aren’t the best for science.  In any case, I’m excited to follow the story!    

If you want to talk about Fracking,  pro or con, you should understand how it works.  Here is how these wells are supposed to work under ideal conditions.

For more on Fracking, check out the cover story for the March issue of National Geographic.  Here is another interesting article by Nat Geo about the same issue but centered in New York.  I would love to know some people’s opinions.  Do you think Fracking has a place in America’s energy future?  Not at all, or as a stepping stone to more green technologies?      

Last, here is an Ecological Society of America press release about one of my very favorite habitats:  the salt marsh.  Unfortunately, as the press release explains, these already threatened habitats are not doing too swell.  Specifically, on the east coast, erosion is slowly eating away at these valuable habitats.  This is due, at least in part, to some of the same food web processes discussed in the last EcoNews Round-up.  Another contributor to the erosion are drainage ditches meant to draw off standing water in the marsh and, thus, decrease the available breeding ground for mosquitoes.  It’s a complex problem, but, as so many love to say, that’s ecology.  It’s always very interesting to see how human alterations to an environment have so many unforeseen consequences.  This is another excellent example of that phenomenon.

Again, I like to leave these news segments, which can often be kind of depressing, on an up note.  Check out this gem sent to me by a friend during finals week.  Love.

 Last Word:  I love these news round-ups because they encourage me to stay (at least a little) up to date on what is popular with the media.  One thing I highly suggest for those who aren’t scientists themselves, is to check press releases from organizations like the Ecological Society of America.  They have trained scientific journalists writing these articles, so you are must more likely to get a does of quality scientific reporting

What do you think?  Is there a place for Fracking in America?  Do these news round-ups amuse or depress you?  Is there any sort of news you would like to see more of on this blog?  Probably, you just want more nerdy boys singing about beer.  I’m right, aren’t I?