Sunday, December 8, 2013

Local-scale, continental-scale, what's in between? The regional scale of course!

In my new paper published in Ecological Applications (, my co-authors and I explored the important role of the regional spatial scale for understanding and managing lakes.

We found that the region that a lake is in really matters to its chemistry and nutrient levels. In other words, lakes that are closer together have more similar levels than lakes that are farther away. We actually quantified this pattern of different lake chemistry and nutrient levels depending on the region a lake is in, and showed how this approach could be used for studying other ecosystems.  We also studied the factors that make regions different from each other, such as the amount of forest land, agricultural land, and groundwater contribution, as well as the type of geology present.

Lots of research is conducted at the local-scale, such as within a lake, lake network, or ecological region (also called an ecoregion). On the other end of the spectrum, there is research being conducted at the continental and global scales. However, less research has been done on the intermediate, regional scale. One way that both terrestrial and aquatic scientists and managers have included the regional scale in their work is by grouping ecosystems within a 'regionalization framework' that is created by dividing a continent into contiguous, often hierarchical, discrete spatial units of similar landscape features that are sometimes called ecoregions or regions. However, there are many different regionalization frameworks to choose from, and none of these frameworks were created specifically to capture among-lake variation, which was the focus of our study. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dr. Reimer is in the news!

My sponsor here at QUB, Dr. Paula Reimer, is in this news this week. You can read about her new carbon dating breakthrough reported by the BBC news on Dec 3, 2013 here: Neat stuff!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Speaking at Trinity College, Dublin (ROI)

I was invited to give a talk as part of the Department of Zoology Seminar Series at Trinity College Dubin ( at the end of November. I took an ~2 hour commuter train ride from Belfast to Dublin, then went just 2 stops on the DART train (Dublin Area Rapid Transit) and found myself at the edge of the Trinity campus. I met with lots of brilliant students (undergraduate and graduate) and faculty (postdocs and professors) in the Department, and found them to be a very friendly group.  My lunch with graduate students in the Dept was especially nice - they seemed to be a very cohesive, fun, and productive group.

My talk was in a lecture hall in the Botany Building. In fact, it was in the lecture hall that was featured in the 1980's film "Educating Rita" ( Here I am impersonating Michael Caine in that film!

My talk, titled "Understanding multi-scaled relationships between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems," was well-attended and well-received by a mixture of students and staff. I had a lot of interesting questions after the talk. Then, we went back to the Zoology Dept for an informal social that was attended by undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs, and professors. Discussions during this social were really great. I was especially impressed with the quality of the TCD Zoology undergrads.  

Here are two of the scholars I had conversations with and who could be future collaborators: Drs. Ian Donohue and Andrew Jackson ( I will likely return to Trinity this winter to meet with them again.  

Special thanks to Drs. Katherine Webster and Natalie Cooper for hosting me and helping with my 
travel arrangements.

UPDATE: Here's the Trinity EcoEvo blog post about my talk.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Building my network in Scotland

During October, I island-hopped to Stirling, Scotland with my long-time collaborator Katherine Webster. Flying from Belfast to Glasgow is amazingly quick - just 20 minutes in the plane. A bus, train, and then taxi took us into Stirling, where the University of Stirling is located ( For those of you who might not be up on their UK geography, here is a map: Stirling is where THE Wallace (featured in Braveheart) is from, so there is a big monument to him there (tower in pic below).

The first day in Stirling, I gave an invited talk to the Scottish Freshwater Group: They have meetings twice a year, and this one was co-sponsored by the IBIS Project ( and held at the University of Stirling (pic taken while on campus below). My talk was titled Landscape approaches for understanding and managing lakes. The room was full and my talk went well. I had quite a few people talk with me afterwards about taking a landscape perspective in limnology, using hierarchical models, or creating and maintaining effective collaborative research teams. Good stuff!

The next day, we met with Scottish scientists who do very complementary research to the Landscape Limnology Research Group ( and who could be future collaborators. We met with Andrew Tyler and Peter Hunter from the University of Stirling, Laurence Carvalho from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology at the National Environmental Research Council, and Mark Cutler, Eirini Politi, and John Rowan from the University of Dundee ( 

We exchanged information about our respective research programs, including GloboLakes 
( and CSI Limnology ( We established 
that there are many, many opportunities for interesting collaboration and are planning to 
meet again soon.

Kicking off sabbatical with a European conference

I kicked off my sabbatical year during July 2013 by attending the Symposium for European Freshwater Scientists (SEFS) in Munster, Germany. For those of you who don't know where Munster is, here is a map: I had a great time at the conference.

Here are some highlights:
1) The presentation quality was extremely high. Check out the program:
2) The venue was amazingly posh, with comfortable lodging, easy to navigate session rooms, and very good food. Check out the Movenpick Hotel:
3) The conference was a really nice size. It was smaller than what I've attended the last few years, which meant that it had fewer concurrent sessions and I didn't have to jump between sessions that often.
4) The diversity of plenary talks was excellent. They had a really nice balance of early-career, middle-career, and late-career speakers, male and female speakers, speakers with different disciplinary expertise, and speakers from different countries. Here they are: Simona Bacchereti, Emily S. Bernhardt, Ulrich Brose, Claudia Dziallas, Carol Eunmi Lee, Judit Padis├ík, Robert W. Sterner, and Diego Tonolla.  
5) My oral presentation was titled A conceptual framework for understanding multi-scaled cause-effect relationships between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and it was in the special session titled Organic carbon and nutrient dynamics in freshwaters under global change. The room was completely full during my talk and it was well-received.
6) The city of Munster was really nice - see pix below. It is dubbed the bicycle capital of Germany, and the people there are proud that they have not had a mugging in over 20 years. The Movenpick was right near a beautiful park with a nice-sized lake that was surrounded by trails (middle pic below), as well being walking distance to the Botanic Garden (map here:

My only real disappointment was that the majority of attendees study moving, rather than still, water (i.e., rivers and streams rather than lakes and ponds), but there were certainly enough interesting presentations for me to learn from and I was happy to start the year at SEFS.

Monday, October 21, 2013

What is a sabbatical?

The best comment I have gotten when talking to people about being on sabbatical is something along the lines of "how nice that you get a year off from work" or "what a nice vacation". Where does this incorrect notion come from? A sabbatical is NOT a vacation. Hmmm... What does Webster's say a sabbatical is? Huh - here might be part of the problem! Merriam Webster online says of the "sabbatical year": a leave often with pay granted usually every seventh year (as to a college professor) for rest, travel, or research — called also sabbatical leave. Well, I'd like to use this post as a way to tell you about what my sabbatical year is/will be generally like. 

In my experience, every sabbatical is different. Many professors choose to spend their sabbatical either learning and applying new research tools, building new research collaborations, or developing new curricula and courses (or some combo of those activities). Others do what I am doing - conducting data analysis and interpretation that can lead to grant proposals and peer-reviewed manuscripts (scientific papers), writing those proposals and papers, and extending their professional network. At MSU, during a sabbatical year, they pay Profs half of their salary so that they can travel and do research with no teaching or service/committee work.

The QUB library - great place to work!
My sabbatical comes after working very long hours and very hard for 16 years as a graduate student and professor. In fact, most graduate students and professors rarely work just a 40 hour week. Most work nights and weekends, and many either don't take vacations, or vacations include a laptop and working remotely. I secured funding for the other half of my salary this year so that I could spend a year THINKING and REFLECTING. Sounds wonderful, right? In some ways, this plan is like a vacation for me - I went into academia with the idea that I would spend loads of time thinking and doing science. The reality, though, is that I spend the majority of my working hours in meetings and classrooms, and although I find teaching very rewarding and enjoy some of my committee work, I really miss having the quiet time to think and do science.

The QUB GAP buildings (School of Geography, Archeology & Paleoecology) where I have an office.
So far, my day-to-day schedule looks something like this: deliver one of the boys to school/childcare at 9am, go to my office at QUB and work independently until mid-afternoon, Skype with colleagues in the U.S. in the mid-late afternoon (multiple research projects at various stages), and then head home around 5 or 5:30 pm. Pretty great! Also while we are here, I will work collaboratively with my colleague who lives in the area, serve on an NSF panel in D.C., attend a working group in FL, give some invited research talks and extend my local and regional professional networks by attending QUB seminars and European conferences and meetings. By the end of the year, I am hopeful that I will have accomplished a lot of science and that I will feel both personally and professionally rejuvenated!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


I am on sabbatical August 2013-August 2014 at Queen's University Belfast (QUB), Northern Ireland. I'm a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Geography, Archeology and Paleoecology at QUB. My sponsor at QUB (person who helped me become a QUB Visiting Research Fellow) is Dr Paula Reimer, a renown expert in carbon dating who recently won a Lyell Medal from the Geological Society. You can visit her webpage here: This is my first sabbatical, and I'm going to use this blog as a way to keep track of what I experience professionally during this year abroad.

The Queen's University Belfast (QUB)