Sunday, August 25, 2013


Back in 2011, researchers from The University of Chicago and Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History (including Dr. Josh Drew and Dr. Mark Westneat), mounted an expedition to Papua New Guinea (PNG). Their primary goal was to quantify the diversity of fishes in Bootless Bay, a shallow harbor adjacent to the country's capital of Port Moresby. 

Ultimately, their research suggests that 949 fish species are present in the Bootless Bay area. Compared to other sites in PNG, this bay is relatively species-poor. Although limited sampling effort may skew the diversity estimates somewhat, anthropogenic factors (proximity to a major population center, habitat degradation, and exploitation) likely contribute to the low diversity estimates in this area. (See: Drew et al. BMC Ecology 2012, 12:15)


This summer, the majority of Hawkmoth posts have focused on fieldwork. The expedition to Fiji had similar goals to those in PNG. Both trips were intended to quantify reef fish diversity in areas subject to anthropogenic pressures, and both studies are relevant to questions on a much larger geographic scale, concerning broad patterns of diversity across the tropical Indo-Pacific. 

Geographically, Fiji sits on the periperhery of a region known as the Coral Triangle (outlined in the photo above, with Fiji identified to the east). Bounded by Indonesia, The Phillipines, and Papua New Guinea, the Coral Triangle is the heart of earth's marine biodiversity. This relatively small area boasts 50% of the planet's coral reefs (see: Coral Triangle Initiative). 

What we see is a steep drop in biodiversity from areas within the Coral Triangle to those on the periphery. Reefs in Indonesia and New Guinea have many more fish species than those in Fiji. But how did that happen? By quantifying the diversity of fishes in and around the Coral Triangle, we begin to trace the gradient of change in biodiversity here. Ultimately, this will help illuminate the how and why of reef community composition in the most diverse marine systems on earth.

ID cred to @eastofthewoods. Your name is all up in here :)

Monday, August 19, 2013

Just Images

UntitledDSC_7621 - Version 2DSC_9027 - Version 2
DSC_7540 - Version 2

Pastels and warmer hues from the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, France, and the UK.

Untitledfield on fire- controlled burn
DSC_8499 - Version 2
DSC_7907 - Version 2

Saturday, August 10, 2013

[Almost] Free Friday


It's worth the trek. Yesterday I made my first foray into the mysterious north, riding the 1 through the upper reaches of Manhattan, across the Broadway Bridge to the end of the line.

I stepped off the metro at Van Cortland Park, onto an open air platform lofted above a tree-lined street. It's just across the river, but this feels nothing like the city. Gone is the amber glow of fluorescent lighting on underground station tiles, and gone is the cloying humidity of humans commuting, breathing and thinking silently, crammed together en masse.


Just outside of the station, free shuttles run to Wave Hill at ten past the hour. This public garden is perfect for a quiet morning walk ($4 admission for students). It exudes a sense of reserved elegance, passed on in the quiet of a sparrow alighting on an elm branch, and in the fickle grace of soft summer rain.

Walking across the lawns, I poked about in all variety of hidden reading nooks (those great last bastions of introversion), tucked here and there in the shrubbery. It's a rare and wonderful feeling to discover that even for a moment, a garden like this might share its secrets with you.


If you head back across the river, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), offers free admission on friday nights, starting at 4pm. The line is hellaciously long but moves quickly, and it's worth the wait. The exhibits are crowded, but the scene is friendly (populated mainly by starving student types). That's a $25 savings on admission, ($14 for students with ID), for which I'll gladly brave the crowds.

! #postimpressionism

MoMA was great (and free!), but the highlight of this second Friday in August was a performance by Johanna Warren at The American Folk Art Museum. Admission here is always free (check out the Bill Traylor Exhibition on now), but on Fridays there is also live music and a wine bar (cash only, $5) from 5:30-7:30pm. Add one upstate songstress with a haunting voice and the weekend is effortlessly begun.


Sunday, August 4, 2013



Let the sorting commence! Fieldwork is finished for the summer, but we've only just begun. In Fiji last month, our lab collected 217 fish specimens which we preserved in formaldehyde, wrapped in linen, stuffed into buckets, and shipped back to the USA.

Now that we're back in New York, all 217 specimens have been sorted by species and origin. They've been labeled, preserved in ethanol, and stowed in large glass jars to line the shelves of the ichthyological collections of The American Museum of Natural History. There, they join fishes collected across the globe, in a massive repository of information on the world's biodiversity. These samples are now a physical resource, providing a snapshot of diversity and morphology for current and future biologists interested in the fishes of Fiji. 

Next up, we'll set to work extracting and analyzing DNA from the tissue samples we collected to paint a clearer picture of population-level interactions between Fijian coral reefs. Out of the field, there's still plenty to be done.