Honestly – are there many things better than spending a nice long day in the field? Granted, the weather today was a little temperamental, and it’s not a great idea to get lost in the woods (I speak from experience), but I always enjoy the chance to reconnect to nature. Plus, when you’ve got your eyes to the ground searching for pollinating flies, you see all sorts you might otherwise miss. Like this lil fella below, for instance.
As a university student, I’m currently attempting to write a dissertation. And in typical ‘me’ fashion, I’ve chosen to study functional diversity, a relatively new topic on the ecology scene and something nobody seems to know much about. Pros: I get to feel like I’m making a real contribution. Cons: it’s far from easy. But the challenge is what makes it exciting.
Functional diversity: the value and range of those species and organismal traits that influence ecosystem functioning (Tilman, 2001), involving the rate and level at which ecosystem processes occur.
I’m doing my fieldwork at Warton Crag, a small but beautiful nature reserve draped across the side of a (very) steep chunk of limestone overlooking Morecambe Bay. The Crag is well-known as a stronghold of pearl-bordered fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne), an increasingly rare butterfly in the UK (although you wouldn’t guess it from the number of them flying around this morning). It’s also a significant slice of lowland calcareous grassland, which promotes a fairly unique set of flowering plants.
For my dissertation, I’m looking at how management of the Crag’s grasslands (mostly through rotational cattle grazing through the winter, and primarily for the benefit of breeding fritillaries) impacts the diversity of the plant communities, and whether this has knock-on effects to the pollinating insects. Fingers crossed I’ll find something interesting (or at least something I can write 10,000 words on). I will keep you updated.
Until next time,
- Tilman, D. (2001) Functional diversity. In: Levin, S.A. (ed.) Encyclopedia of Biodiversity, vol. 3, San Diego: Academic Press, pp. 109-120.