When fieldwork fails….

Musings on fieldwork by PhD student Emily Meineke who spends a lot of time in the field with her trees – and by ‘field’ we mean downtown Raleigh. When the equipment doesn’t cooperate she can still enjoy nature.

Everything takes longer than I think it should– we all suffer from this, yes?– so when field work this week dragged on but gave no results, I decided to stare at insects instead. Elsa Youngsteadt, a research associate in the Frank lab, and I set out to measure, as Elsa puts it, how well trees breathe, make food, and turn that food into tree. In other words, we’re measuring photosynthesis.

The measurements require a fancy machine, which is impressive in its fanciness but requires finessing. Elsa knows how to finesse it. I barely know how to look at it right. But we were both newly introduced to it and have spent the last 5 mornings from 7 am trying to make it tell us to what extent city trees are breathing.

Some small thing always goes wrong, and we’ve gotten exactly 0.00 measurements. This is not a complaint. It is a fact, one that we will try to remedy at 7 am again tomorrow (Sunday) morning with patience. But this morning, I had none left, so I took photos of a handful of the the many insects we’ve seen while waiting for the machine to “equilibrate” or “become happy again”. We’ve seen sand wasps stinging prey to take back to their nests, native bees, daddy long legs with red mites on their legs, ants, butterflies, crickets, termites, scale insects, trash bugs, bark lice, furry caterpillars, and the list goes on.

The patience required by this fancy machine and its temper tantrums has reminded me that if you just sit in one spot, a parking lot, a construction site, a back yard, the earth will rise in its many forms, to remind you (me) that things around you breathe whether you measure it or not.

About the Author:

Emily Meineke
Emily earned her PhD in the Frank Lab in 2016. She’s interested in how human pressures (like urbanization) change the insects that live around us. Find her at emilykmeineke.com.