The unBalanced ecoLOGist: Hemlock Hospice [II]

Hemlock Hospice opens to the public on October 7, 2017 at noon, and will be up for more than a year (through November 18, 2018). We have a website, a schedule of events for the opening reception, and are putting the finishing touches on the last of more than a dozen sculptural pieces emplaced thoughtfully throughout a new interpretive trail within the Prospect Hill Tract at the Harvard Forest. A substantial outreach effort is leading to press coverage, interviews, seminar invitations, etc., especially in the art world. Scientists, though, generally are a bit more muted in their response or apparent interest. Why might that be?

In pursuit of an answer, I explore here the importance of empathy in field research.

empathy, n. “The ability to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings, experience, etc.”

Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online, June 2017. Accessed 10 September 2017

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The unBalanced ecoLOGist: Hemlock Hospice [I]

Hemlock 023. Tony D'Amato in a Berkshire Old-growth Forest (color)
Figure 1 – University of Vermont professor of silviculture Anthony D’Amato with a 300+ year-old hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) tree in the old-growth forest on Mount Everett in western Massachusetts. Photo by David A. Orwig and copyright © Harvard Forest Archives, Harvard University

Throughout the eastern United States, one of our most iconic forest trees is dying. Eastern hemlock (a.k.a. Tsuga canadensis; Figure 1) is being sucked to death by a small insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid (a.k.a. Adelges tsugae). As a scientist, I study how our forests may respond to the loss of this “foundation” tree species.[i] As a human being, I cry, I mourn, and I look to the future for hope.

To reconcile the desire for knowledge and the emotional tearing that affects many of us who study eastern hemlock and all of us who are living with these fading trees,[ii] I have partnered with two artists—David Buckley Borden and Salua Rivero—to develop Hemlock Hospice: a collaborative, field-based installation that blends science, art, and design that [1] respects eastern hemlock and its ecological role as a foundation forest species; [2] promotes an understanding of the adelgid; and [3] encourages empathetic conversations among all the sustainers of and caregivers for our forests—ecologists and artists, foresters and journalists, naturalists and citizens—while fostering social cohesion around ecological issues.

Starting today, and over the next several weeks, we’ll be installing Hemlock Hospice in and around the oldest stand of eastern hemlocks in the Prospect Hill Tract at Harvard Forest, and I’m using this space to keep track of its background and progress. I’ll also be presenting an overview of Hemlock Hospice in a five-minute “ignite” talk at the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Portland Oregon, August 6-11, 2017.[iii]

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The unBalanced ecoLOGist: On Blogging

I live in a small, rural town (population ≈1200) in north-central Massachusetts, so when our librarian asked me if I’d do a program at the library on blogging, I happily signed on to help fill in the calendar. With tomorrow fast approaching, I thought it would be useful to set down some notes in, naturally, a blog. And besides, what better way is there to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon than on the writing of a self-referential blog entry? Sure beats trying to keep up with Twitter or cleaning up the workshop!

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The unBalanced ecoLOGist: On Editing

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve written a post. I could plead some normal excuses: just back from a sabbatical and nearly 18 months mostly overseas and returning to an avalanche of house cleaning and office work; getting married two weeks after stepping off the 12th plane flight in seven weeks; or that old stand-by, writer’s block. But really, none of them apply.

In fact, I’ve been preoccupied with meeting a contractual end-of-May deadline to deliver a 29-chapter edited volume—Carnivorous Plants: Physiology, Ecology, and Evolution—to Oxford University Press. I’ve cross-checked tens of thousands of in-text citations against nearly 1700 references in the combined bibliography. Wanting to avoid future litigation and unfavorable court judgments, I’ve made sure that the Oxford comma is used uniformly throughout the book. I’ve made sure all 111 figures are either 600 dpi tiff files at 50% of a B-4 page or vectorized eps files that scale well to any page size; that final versions of chapters by authors from around the world are all laid out on U.S. letter-sized paper (which is absolutely not the same as A-4) with equivalent margins and tabs (note to self: 1.27-cm tabs translate in Word to 0.49″, not 0.5″, tabs, and yes, my eye can tell the difference); that the proofing language of every file is set to English, not Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hebrew, German, Spanish, Portuguese, or Australian; and innumerable other details clearly explained in the OUP style sheet and in detailed letters from me and my co-editor that most chapter authors cheerfully, unknowingly, or willfully ignored.

All that after indeed just returning from a sabbatical that took me, over the course of nearly 18 months, to every continent except Antarctica, to dozens of interesting labs and field stations around the world, to new collaborations with friends and colleagues and new friends, and, at the end of it all, to a wedding in Brookline. But those are all other stories for other times (explore this site for all but the last).

Editing a book (my second; the first, Stepping in the Same River Twice: Replication in Biological Research, co-edited with Ayelet Shavit, was published last week by Yale University Press) is very different from editing for a journal (which I’ve also done for nearly 20 years, as a handling editor for American Journal of Botany [1995-2004], Ecology [2002-2015], Ecology Letters [2005-2008], and PeerJ [since 2012]) or editing and running the journal itself (which I’ve done twice, first as the founding editor of Ecological Archives [1998-2001], and second, as the editor-in-chief of Ecological Monographs [2009-2015]).

So I thought I’d jot down seven lessons I’ve learned from editing a couple of scientific / technical books that might be useful to others who are (or are considering) editing such a book and to remind me, if I’m ever asked to edit another one, that saying no might be the best response.

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The unBalanced ecoLOGist. Guest blog: An LTER for Sudan?

This week The unBalanced ecoLOGist features its first guest blog.[1] Written by Ahmed Siddig[2]  and edited only lightly for posting, it re-caps themes of the short-course on the science of biodiversity that Ahmed and I taught in Khartoum, Sudan, earlier this month and sketches a proposal for establishing a long-term ecological research (LTER) program in Sudan.[3]

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The unBalanced ecoLOGist: Hope and Promise in Khartoum (Use R!)

I just wrapped up an 11-day visit to Khartoum, Sudan, where I co-taught, with my colleague Ahmed Siddig, a six-day intensive short course intended to cover designing reliable biodiversity monitoring studies, basic analysis of the resulting data, and the fundamentals of the R programming language. With approximately six hours available each of the six days (nearly equivalent to the amount of lecture time in an average semester-long course), our initial syllabus included: introductory lectures on data needs about biodiversity in sub-Saharan Africa; using biodiversity data to inform environmental policies; sampling design; a morning field exercise to collect biodiversity data on the Shambat campus of the University of Khartoum, in and around the grounds of the Faculty (i.e., Department) of Forestry; a discussion of best practices for data management; basic R (interface, syntax, data entry, manipulations, and exploratory data analysis); and using R for standard ecological statistics applied to biodiversity data (rarefaction and extrapolation, occupancy and detection probability, ordination and classification, and hypothesis testing using regression and analysis of variance). There were also a few skills-building lectures tucked in after hours: success in research and teaching; science communication; and open discussion of how to apply for overseas opportunities.

This seemed like a reasonable schedule and a reasonable goal for a workshop attended by an expected 20 or so M.Sc. and Ph.D. students, junior and senior faculty, and established forestry and wildlife researchers at government agencies. Files would be shared using Dropbox and we would be building scientific capacity among the current generation of young Sudanese researchers and conservationists. Success was assured.

And then our expectations met reality.

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Dispatches from Abroad: A Khartoum Kick-off

Well, I had hoped to finish writing my last post about Valparaiso before I left for another around-the-world journey, but… here I am in Khartoum, on the east bank of the Nile, and one must live—and write—in the present.

I left Boston for the long trip to Khartoum on the afternoon of Tuesday the 31st of January, just a few days after “45” (he-whose-name-shall-not-be-written) issued the now-stayed executive order banning immigration from seven countries, one of which is Sudan; ironically, and barely noted by the media, two decades of economic sanctions imposed by the US on Sudan had been lifted by President Obama a fortnight earlier, apparently with the agreement of incoming-45. My itinerary took me from Boston to New York to Frankfurt to Cairo to Khartoum, where I arrived at 03:30 local time on Thursday, about 32 hours, and four on-time flights (thanks JetBlue, Singapore Air, and EgyptAir!) after I had checked in at Boston. I was met plane-side on the tarmac by my hosts from the University of Khartoum School of Forestry, passed rapidly through Sudan’s passport control (far more rapidly than I expect to get through US CBP—given the two-page Sudanese visa that now graces the middle of my passport—when I return to LAX in mid-March after my sequential trips to Germany and Australia that follow my stay in Sudan), had a nice cup of tea in the VIP lounge, and finally settled in, around 05:00, at the University of Khartoum Guest House. My colleague, host, and former Ph.D. student, Asst. Prof. Ahmed Siddig of the Forestry School at the University of Khartoum, thoughtfully laid in a few snacks to tide me over until breakfast the same day. Although I slept through until 13:30, barely having enough time to scarf down a quick lunch before my first meeting (click on an image to see larger ones).

 

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Dispatches from Abroad: Los Ascensores de Valparaiso

With but ten days to go before I leave for another extended overseas trip (a six-week journey that is taking me to Sudan, Germany, and Australia), I’m still catching up on visions of Valparaiso. This post has a small parallel with the incredible displays of political energy in yesterday’s marches all over the US and around the world, in which good people everywhere spoke out against the forces of darkness threatening us all.

As I wrote in my last post, Valparaiso gives me hope. Long a hotbed of activism, activists, artists, and art, Valparaiso (and much of Chile) was in the midst of a municipal workers’ strike while I was there in November, a strike in protest of the inequitable private pension system that was set up in 1981 under the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. As a visiting researcher and occasional tourist, I learned some things about the underlying issues, and also witnessed one of its impacts on a central attraction of the city—its ascensores.

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Dispatches from Abroad: Finding Hope in Valparaiso

Two months ago, I watched the US election returns on my laptop in a hotel room on the harbor of Valparaiso, a gem of a city in Chile, an inspiring country. Along with 51% of the 58% of the electorate who took time to vote (the lowest turnout since 1996), I sat in disbelief as the predictive arrow on the home page of the New York Times swung from rationality to chaos, much as I had done four months earlier watching the citizens of the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union. In post-Brexit July, I found solace in the old-growth of Oregon. In post-truth November, I was in a country that, like many others in Latin America, overcame decades of U.S. interference in its domestic policy and indeed, its elections; endured nearly two decades of a post-U.S.-sponsored military coup (in 1973 on, of all days, nerudas-house-20161106-ame-123901September 11); the subsequent suicide of its democratically-elected president Salvador Allende, dictatorship, death squads, and disappearances; and has emerged as a vibrant democratic country, albeit not one without its own issues and challenges.

Vaparaiso—the birthplace of Allende (and the dictator who overthrew him, Augusto Pinochet), the adopted home of Chile’s own Nobel Laureate, Pablo Neruda (who died two weeks after Allende, likely at the hands of the military junta)—and the eventual re-emergence of democracy and civil society in Chile, are two reasons I do not despair at the upcoming inauguration of the 45th president of the United States.

But enough about politics. Here’s Part I of some random recollections—mostly photos—of Valparaiso.

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Dispatches from Abroad: Home for the “Holidays”

Less than two weeks ago, I was sweating on the equator, where there’s no snow and the Christmas decor of Santas, elves, and reindeer seems vaguely out of place. Now I’m back in Massachusetts, where there’s a little of the white stuff (although most melted out in yesterday’s driving rain) and re-learning my way around the American landscape I’ve been away from since late July.

Apparently, one of the big issues facing the good citizens of our republic in this transitional era is whether one should say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”. Fivethirtyeight.com even did a post on this vexing question. Living as I do in the northeast, I’ve usually gone along with my local majority, which shares exuberant Christmas displays with “Happy Holidays.” But the ground appears to be shifting a bit here in Massachusetts.

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