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Joys of fieldwork

2. October, 2011
Skansin in Tórshavn, Faroe Islands

Image via Wikipedia: Yes, this was one of my field sites.

So I’ve been away for a while.

Apparently this PhD malarkey is busy work – who would have thought it?

The “away” that I’ve been at is the Faroe Islands. It’s a small place of little consequence to everyone but the few of us lucky enough to have grown up there. I’ve somehow managed to make it so, that I could carry out fieldwork up there, which allowed me to see (very little of) my family while also working. I stayed partly with my mum and partly with my boyfriend while there and spent most of my time either in the field or recharging batteries watching One Piece with English subtitles.

Now fieldwork. As you may have noticed, I work mainly with sticklebacks where I cruelly feed them bloodworm (Chironomid larvae) to see how they forage. Apparently they like bloodworm (Chironomid larvae. Annoying yet?). Normally I do this on a small-scale in tanks in the university aquarium facilities. This summer, though I decided to scale things up a bit, so I spent entire days staring into ponds all around Tórshavn. The plan was to do the same thing in streams as well, but apparently sticklebacks in streams don’t like bloodworm (Chironomid larvae) as much and I did not have the patience to wait more than 4 hours for one worm (larva) to be eaten.

Here’s the premise of my experiments: In terms of avoiding a predator that can’t see you, is it better to be aggregated or spread out? Say you were a bloodworm hiding from a stickleback somewhere out of sight (in turbid water, maybe). Would you feel safer with a bunch of other worms, or would you worry that they would give away your hiding place? I set up a survival experiment where I made (dead) bloodworm either group up or spread out hidden in “restaurants” that allowed water flow (transmission of smell) and access, but not visual contact with the worms until the fish entered the restaurant.

Right now, I’m analysing the results using a hideously complicated survival model with I don’t know how many strata, random factors and so on. Is it balanced you say? are you kidding me?? It was based on field work. Of course it’s not balanced. Will have to deal with that statistically. So no, I have no results yet. You can wait for the paper 😉 – or maybe come find my rubbish poster at some fancy ecology conference.

Cheers, it’s good to be back!

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