After about a month of running our experimental streams, it was time to finish out the experiment. The main thing we wanted to measure was how much biofilm and of what different types grew in the streams under different treatments. Biofilms are groups of microorganisms which grow on a surface. We usually think of biofilms as being comprised of algae, but they can also have a lot of bacteria in them as well.
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After Emma and David left, we hosted two colleagues from Antwerp University, Belgium, in the Mara. Jonas Schoelynck and Eric Struyf study silica cycling and are particularly interested in the role animals might play in the silica cycle.
I know our last post was several weeks ago, so you all probably think we have been off celebrating ever since getting our experimental streams up and running… Well, we did do some celebrating, but we’ve also been super busy with a lot of other cool science work. Having the streams work well just opened up a lot of time for us to do other things.
After several months of planning, several weeks of construction, several long days of set-up, and lots of hard work and ingenuity by all involved, we finally got the streams running smoothly! It was so exciting to finally see the whole array spinning along, 12 little streams ready to grow biofilms under different treatments and hopefully tell us something about how inputs from large wildlife influence the way the whole river functions.
Again, I can only blame irrational optimism for not thinking we might have some trouble with leaks from streams made out of PVC canvas. Chris and I had done a test on one of the streams, by filling it with water and leaving it outside for a couple of days. When it still held water, we were excited and moved on. But filling 12 streams sitting on bare ground with a precise amount of water was whole different level of testing.
Setting up our experimental stream array turned out to be no small feat! In some bizarre moment of optimism, I had scheduled one day to get the streams up and running. Impressively, it only took two and half days, which I still consider a win. There were a number of steps along the way, and I don’t think we could have done it without everyone’s contributions and help.
The last few weeks have been some of the busiest, but most fun and successful, of our entire field season. My advisor, Dr. David Post, came in from Yale in mid-January to spend two weeks in the field with us. David visited us in the Mara in 2011, and his insights on the system were invaluable in helping shape our research questions, so we were really excited to have back in the Mara to see what we had accomplished since then.