Dreaming about Baikal at Kellogg Biological Station

Elena and Sabine showing Steve the Baikal plankton cultures - careful, we have to keep them cold! Photo S.E. Hampton, 9 November 2013

Elena and Sabine showing Steve the Baikal plankton cultures – careful, we have to keep them cold! Photo S.E. Hampton, 9 November 2013

Last week Steve and I visited the Baikal crew at Kellogg Biological Station to exchange results and new ideas for collaborations on the Baikal project. KBS has a famous history of important work in aquatic science, and it is always a special destination for limnologists.

It was especially exciting for us to be there while there is so much activity around culturing the Baikal plankton isolates from the summer field season, and at a time when all of us have projects with new results we are puzzling over and needing lots of feedback. Paul showed us some results of the genetic characterizations of the microbial community of Baikal open waters, hot off the presses, and we speculated wildly about the many new species that the team might be discovering – wild speculation is the most fun part of new results, and the hard work of figuring out what is actually going on will soon displace the wild speculations! We discussed Danny’s nutrient-temperature phytoplankton experiments, and interesting possibilities for developing niche models for the phytoplankton based on both observational and experimental data.

A major area of our discussion was about dovetailing the theoretical models of phytoplankton dynamics with some of the empirical analyses of Irkutsk State University’s long-term data. Sabine, Chris, and Elena have been working hard on theoretical models of the under-ice plankton communities, especially paying attention to how their dynamics can be driven by competition and grazing. One of Chris’s papers [PDF] on this topic starts with a quote from Woody Allen – “Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once” – and explores seasonal succession in ice covered systems, or more generally in systems in which strong state transitions are observed.  The biological interactions being modeled are interesting to consider in light of some of the empirical analyses that relate Aulacoseira blooms primarily to the physical environment – there are many ways to explore the trophic relationships empirically and also to plug physical forces into the theoretical models, and the challenge is to decide where to put most of our collective energy!

After exhausting ourselves daily with these intellectual exercises, we drove out to the Michigan State University main campus on the final day. We got lost on Michigan’s many beautiful back roads – those who know KBS know how easy this is – but arrived only a few minutes late for my first meeting of the morning. Later that day I gave a seminar about Lake Baikal in the Science at the Edge series, sharing the Baikal team’s analytical work and recent activity on the Global Lake Temperature Collaboration project, as well as some thoughts on ecology’s relationship with data [PDF]. Colleagues in BEACON, the NSF Macrosystems project CSI-Limnology, and across campus provided endless new sources of inspiration throughout the visit and we left campus wishing we’d had another day on our schedules to visit more!

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