Thursday, December 31, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Field Research Technician at Audubon of Florida’s Tavernier Science Center

Audubon of Florida’s Tavernier Science Center is seeking a Field Research Technician to fill a full time position monitoring prey base fish populations in the mangrove zone of Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park, and the Florida Keys. Scientific responsibilities include collection and analysis of fishes and physical data, and maintaining a data base. Field data will be collected from, powerboats, row boats and helicopters. Other job responsibilities include maintenance of vehicles, boats, and all field equipment including nets.

In addition to the duties described above, technicians will be expected to assist with other on-going projects at this research center which include SAV surveys, as well as banding and nest monitoring of roseate spoonbills. Applicants may be required to work long and unpredictable hours alone, in the sometimes-harsh environment of South Florida (e.g., heat and humidity, intense sun exposure, boating in rough seas, exposure to myriad biting insects including mosquitoes and flies), capable of working in close proximity to crocodiles, alligators and snakes, and tolerate project mishaps like broken boats/vehicles, schedule cancellations due to weather, etc. with good humor.


B.S. with a background in marine, estuarine, or wetlands ecology (or similar work experience).

Applicants need to have a valid driver’s license, experience with small boats, and operating vehicles with trailers.

Heavy lifting is required.

A successful candidate will exhibit a strong work ethic, work well in teams and independently in the field.

Individuals who have field experience in Florida’s estuaries, mangrove forests and/or coastal wetlands, sampling and identification of fishes are desired.

Additionally, a basic knowledge of boat maintenance and repair is preferred.

If interested in the position please send a cover letter and resume with 3 references electronically to Michelle Robinson at Closing Date for this posting is November 8, 2009 and the starting date for the position will be in early January 2010.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

New graduate fellowship program from the DOE

The Department of Energy has new fellowship opportunities for graduate students in the sciences (including biology). Check out their website for details on the program and how to apply.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Recent publications from the wetlands lab

Here are some of the latest publications to come out of the wetlands lab:
Armitage, A.R. and J.W. Fourqurean. In press. Stable isotopes reveal complex changes in trophic relationships following nutrient addition in a coastal marine ecosystem. Estuaries and Coasts.

Armitage, A.R., V. Gonzalez, and P. Fong. 2009. Decoupling of nutrient and grazer impacts on a benthic estuarine diatom assemblage. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 84: 375-382.

Frankovich, T.A., A.R. Armitage, A.H. Wachincka, E.E. Gaiser, and J.W. Fourqurean. 2009. Nutrient effects on seagrass epiphyte community structure in Florida Bay. Journal of Phycology 45: in press.

Ho, Chuan-Kai, Steven C. Pennings, and Thomas H. Carefoot. 2009. Is diet quality an overlooked mechanism for Bergmann's rule? American Naturalist in press.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Congratulations to Eric

Dr. Eric Madrid, a post-doc in the Coastal and Wetlands Ecology Lab, recently won the Annals of Botany Graduate Prize for an outstanding paper published from his thesis. Good work, Eric!

Monday, July 13, 2009

10 days, 10 nights: Days 9 & 10

One of the questions we revisited many times on this trip was, Why is plant distribution so patchy? The answer to that question varied. Sometimes environmental conditions like soil characteristics, salinity, or nutrient availability explained plant distribution. Other times, the physical environment did not yield such obvious answers. In the salt marshes on Sapelo Island, microelevations in topography contributed to the plant patchiness seen here.
Deposition of wrack - organic marine debris - on the marsh contributed to the formation of bare patches known as salt pans.

Passionflower Passiflora incarnata

Our last night on Sapelo Island, we had dinner at George and Lulu's - a local restaurant serving traditional Gullah/Geechee cuisine.

After this delicious send-off, we spend the next 1.5 days on the road, heading back to Houston, College Station, Galveston, or Corpus Christi. Thanks to the RLEM/MARB 689 students for a memorable trip!

Monday, June 29, 2009

10 days, 10 nights: Day 8

The next day, Dr. Steve Pennings from the University of Houston gave us a tour of the ongoing LTER projects on Sapelo Island. The projects investigate a wide range of topics, including the zonation of marsh plants and how interactions between plants and animals can govern marsh structure.
We traveled around the island piled into the back of a flatbed truck. Not too bad, as long as it wasn't raining!

Friday, June 19, 2009

10 days, 10 nights: Day 7

After our first night on Sapelo Island, we spent some time exploring the dunes. These are some of the most pristine dunes I've seen, since there is very little in the way of housing developments on the island. The primary dune on the right side of the picture is always being moved by wind and waves and is subject to erosion; the plants are most deep-rooted grasses and a few small shrubs. The secondary dunes on the left side are more stable and have denser, taller herbaceous and woody vegetation. Behind the dunes is a freshwater swale and then a pine forest. A complete transition from beach to inland forest!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

10 days, 10 nights: Day 6

That night, we had a group discussion about what we'd seen so far. Everyone took a turn presenting a few questions they had about things we'd seen so far. Research interests among the students ranged from ecology to hydrology to forestry to engineering (and some fields in between!), making it a diverse and interesting discussion.

The next morning we hiked past some areas covered with Sphagnum moss, which are what give the Okefenokee swamp the name "Land of the trembling earth." Gases produced by the moss get trapped underneath the mats so that when you walk on the moss, the ground seems to give and large areas move under your feet.

10 days, 10 nights: Day 5

We arrived at Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee swamp late in the day. The next day we canoed and hiked through the tannin-filled waters (see picture) of the swamp. It rained, again, but it was still a peaceful and striking landscape.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

10 days, 10 nights: Day 4

Night 4 was spent in the Itchetucknee family cabins in Florida. I don't have any decent pictures of that night - it was the stormiest night so far. But the next day cleared enough for us to canoe the black river swamp along the Itchetucknee River.

Pond cypress and Spanish moss

Growing on the reeds below are eggs from the non-native, invasive apple snail. It is a voracious herbivore that can alter plant communities and displace native snails. In one area that was fenced off and designated as "native snail habitat," the only gastropod to be seen was an apple snail. From the number of eggs we saw, apple snail control programs appear to be somewhat ineffective.

Monday, June 1, 2009

10 days, 10 nights: Day 3

The next night we spent in Gulf Shores, Alabama, near some beautifully restored dunes.

Then we drove to see pitcher plant bogs in Florida, where we saw at least six different species of predatory plants.
Sarracenia flava

This one shows the pool of water inside the pitcher and the downward-pointing hairs along the walls to prevent insects from climbing out once they've fallen in.
Sarracenia purpurea

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

10 days, 10 nights: Day 2

Nighttime on the Atchafalaya Basin levee brought a cacophony of sound.

In addition to tree(?) and cricket frogs, we heard the rumbling of bull frogs and the occasional hoot from a barred owl.

The next day, Dr. Keim gave us a tour of some of the flood control structures around New Orleans, such as the Bonnet Carre spillway (below), which releases extra water from the Mississippi into a floodplain. Marshes inside the floodplain have fresher water and higher plant diversity than marshes outside the floodplain. We also toured ghost cypress forests, which are former cypress forests where the trees have been killed following the anthropogenic introduction of salt water. In many cases, the dead trees remain standing, with just their leafless trunks sticking out of the water.

10 days, 10 nights: Day 1

I recently returned from co-teaching a field course on wetland ecosystems of the southeastern US. For 10 days and 10 nights we traveled across the southeastern states, visiting a variety of freshwater, estuarine, and marine ecosystems that could be classified as "wetlands."

The class crashed at my house the first night so that we could hit the road early in the morning.
The next day we canoed in Atchaflaya Basin, a swamp in southern Louisiana. Our tour was led by Dr. Richard Keim from LSU (in the front of the canoe on the left).
The basin is one of the largest remaining examples of a pond cypress-tupelo riverine swamp.
Next: New Orleans

Friday, May 1, 2009

Restoration, nutrients, and insects

How do insect communities develop in restored marshes? How does plant diversity and nutrient availability influence insect assemblages? Post-doc Chuan-Kai Ho is addressing these questions in a new experiment.

Small mounds of Spartina alterniflora were planted in a brackish marsh restoration project near Port Arthur, Texas. Spartina alterniflora is a common marsh plant, but as the competitive dominant, it may exclude other plant species. Will that impact the insect community?
Some mounds will be left intact.
Some mounds will be clipped (below) to remove the Spartina alterniflora canopy and (hypothetically) allow other species to colonize the mounds. Some of the clipped and unclipped mounds will be fertilized to evaluate how nutrient supply influences insect assemblages. The red arrows on the photo below point to beetles that live in the marsh canopy.
A parting shot for the end of the day.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Congrats to Allison

Graduate student Allison Parnell won Best in Category for the Marine Resources Management Division at the TAMUG Student Research Symposium last week. Good job, Allison!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The saga of the Spartina that fell over continues

This week, we surveyed restored marsh mounds at Port Arthur. Last July, some of the mounds appeared to be overgrown with Spartina, and the plants were growing over the edges of the mound and falling over. All of the plant material eventually senesced during the winter, but the centers of those mounds now have dense new green growth. Decomposing senesced material around the edges will probably raise the elevation of the mound edges and facilitate the outward spread of the marsh plants. To quantify this spreading potential, we will assess accretion rates to determine the rate of marsh growth.
This observation suggests a hidden benefit to using this strain of Spartina: Maybe its rapid growth will increase marsh spreading rates?

Some of our research "fleet": a pirogue and a towed inflatable for samples.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Seeking Graduate and Undergraduate Field Technicians

Seeking Graduate and Undergraduate Field Technicians to work on a Recreational Use Attainability Analysis of streams in the Brazos River Basin. This TCEQ project being conducted by Dr. Kirk Winemiller in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences and Dr. David Scott and Dr. Scott Shafer in Recreation, Park, and Tourism Sciences will sample 727 miles on 31 streams.

Duties include

Participating in field training April 18, 19, 25, and 26

Working most, and preferably all Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays between

May 1 - July 31, 2009

Driving project vehicles

Staying in hotels 1-2 hours away from College Station

Working independently in 2-person teams

Following a standard scientific sampling methodology

Navigating to sampling points using maps and handheld GPS units

Collecting recreation and habitat data on stream segments

Conducting interviews of people using streams

Entering data on field sheets and handheld field computers

Maintaining field equipment

Desired skills include

Ability to swim

Hiking in rough terrain

Paddling canoes

Towing a boat trailer with a full size pickup truck

Experience with Microsoft Excel

Applicants will be hired based on

Availability during periods needed for the project

Prior work experience

Experience working outdoors in tough conditions

Hired field technicians will generally work between 10-13 hours per day at a pay rate of $15/hour

To apply, please email/drop off resumes with attached references to

John Baker


Room 110c Heep Laboratory Building (Bldg 511)

Kirk Winemiller Aquatic Ecology Lab

Texas A&M University

Monday, March 2, 2009

Seagrass work on TV

For my postdoctoral work in Florida, I studied nutrient impacts on seagrass beds. This segment of a local television show featured our work. Each clip is about 5 minutes long.
Nutrients in Florida Bay Part 1
Nutrients in Florida Bay Part 2

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Technician positions open

We are hiring a field technician to assist with field sampling of plant and animal communities in restored coastal marshes in Port Arthur, TX. Field work will include deployment of nets and field experiments from airboats and pirogues. Laboratory tasks will include sorting, grinding, reducing, and analyzing of plant, soil, water, and animal samples. Sample processing will include some analytical procedures using a variety of laboratory equipment, such as nutrient and pigment analyses. Additional tasks will include reading and recording results in accordance with standard procedures, data entry and associated computer activities, writing reports, supervising student workers, and performing related duties as required.

BS in biology with related college courses in plant and community ecology and relevant work experience is desired.

The position is 30-40 hours/week and is eligible for benefits. Salary is $9.49/hour (negotiable).

To apply, submit an application online here (search for job posting# 090580). Position is available immediately and will remain open until filled.


In the news

This story in a local newspaper, the Bay Area Citizen, is about management of a Nassau Bay wildlife area, where I'm serving as an adviser.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Internships available with Houston Audubon Society

Houston Audubon Society

440 Wilchester Blvd.

Houston, TX 77079

Title: Sanctuary Management Interns (2)

Agency: Houston Audubon Society

Location: Primarily High Island and the Bolivar Peninsula

Job Description: Assist with management of Houston Audubon Sanctuaries on the Upper Texas Coast.

Duties: Control exotic plant species by cutting, pulling, mowing and herbicide application. Erect sanctuary signs, post boundaries, maintain fences, pick up trash, and perform other tasks as necessary. Interact with sanctuary visitors. Bird censusing and nest monitoring may be included. Use all tools and equipment in a safety conscious manner at all times.

Qualifications: Excellent physical condition. Ability to perform hard physical work for extended and irregular periods, under adverse conditions and in all extremes of weather. Mechanical aptitude and knowledge of machinery. Experience with chainsaws and other power tools. Ability to work with a wide variety of people and to work independently of supervisor. Enthusiasm for working outdoors. Personal vehicle necessary.

Minimum Qualification: College coursework in natural or biological sciences.

Benefits: Travel expenses between sanctuaries reimbursed.

Salary: $10 / Hour (10-hour week)

Last date to apply: February 16, 2009

Starting date: March 10, 2009

Documentation needed: Resume with cover letter and 2 references.

Contact: Winnie Burkett

Sanctuary Manager

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How do marsh and mangrove habitats compare?

In seagrass beds in Florida, nutrient supply appears to be more important than canopy complexity for epifauna. How does that conclusion apply to salt marshes in Texas?

Most Texas salt marshes are dominated by Spartina alterniflora (cordgrass). This forms a dense, complex canopy (left) that is critical habitat for a variety of animals, including snails, shrimp, and juvenile fish. But, in some parts of the Texas coast, native mangroves (Avicennia germinans) are behaving like invasives and converting marshes into dwarf mangrove forests. This change may have been influenced by climate change, which brings milder winters and less frequent freeze events to limit the spread of mangroves. Continuing climate change may accelerate mangrove proliferation, particularly in transition zones like Port Aransas.

Mangroves have aerial root structures (left) that may provide analogous habitat to salt marshes for marsh fauna. I have observed snails using marsh grasses and mangrove pneumatophores in similar ways. But will other important marsh fauna, like brown shrimp or juvenile fish, use marsh and mangrove structures in the same way? In other parts of the world, the answer is "no," but here in Texas, where we are at the transition between marsh and mangrove habitats, the answer is unknown. We will soon begin collecting fauna from both habitats to find out.