My name is Roxanne Ardeshiri, I'm an undergraduate at the University of California-Berkeley, and I'm studying the community ecology of Sarracenia pupurea Pitcher Plants with Benjamin Baiser at the Harvard Forest. Because Pitcher Plants are essentially microecosystems, we are studying their community ecology to ultimately create model food webs for these systems.We will be measuring decomposition of prey (an ant) as a means of measuring the functionality of the system. This experiment will be conducted in the greenhouse, but all of the species we are using will have been collected from pitcher plants in the field. We are currently in the process of collecting, identifying, and culturing bacteria and protists, as well as rearing rotifers and invertebrates.
Once this is done, we will have treatments with high, medium and low species richness. Within the high and medium species richness treatments, we will also have treatments with varying functional diversity. We are measuring species richness and functional diversity in order to differentiate between redundant players and key players within the food web. Our goal is to have our experiment up and running by July 1st.
On a daily basis, I typically find myself looking under the microscope isolating and identifying different protists and invertebrates. It was really difficult and tedious at first, but now by the end of week 3, it's been rewarding to see my improving skills, and know that most of our cultures are still alive! PHEW!
So even though identifying protists is slightly TRAUMATIZING, my favorite part of our work is obviously going out into the field to collect our species! For our first day in the field we collected via canoeing in the Harvard Pond, which makes me feel like I'm living the life of Pocahontas! For our second day in the field we collected off of the docks in the Tom Swamp Bog. These docks are treacherously only a few inches wide, and sometimes feet apart! So I ended up falling into the bog but it was AWESOME because it was not only hilarious, but I was thankful to have been wearing my convertible pants for a reason, and the bog water ended up keeping my feet warm for the rest of the day.
By spending so much time sorting through all of our samples, I've most definitely learned a lot about the different species that live within the pitcher plant community. It's allowed me to gain an interest in Pitcher Plant community assembly, and now I'm considering doing a side project that will involve observing how these Pitcher Plant communities assemble themselves in the field.
I was doing some brainstorming, and thought of a question: Is it mainly the trough-shaped characteristic of Pitcher Plants that allow for these communities to assemble themselves in the way that they do, or are other aspects of the Pitcher Plant's physiology key for assembling these specific communities? To address this question, I'm thinking about having approximately 10 different field sites, of which each will have a Pitcher and a "Fitcher" (a Fake Pitcher!). I will assess what communities have assembled in each of these Pitchers and Fitchers over a 30-day period.
It's a simple experiment, with a naturalist's approach, but I'm hoping to take these observations, and develop a field study for biodiversity conservation for my senior thesis at Berkeley in the fall. I plan on using the California native Pitcher Plant, Darlingtonia californica. I'm curious to see what's inside of those guys!