America(!), monsoons, & the ever-present lack of rain

Greetings.

Past week or so has been quite eventful. The weather forecasts have jumped from the standard 0-20% chance of rain to 70% on a daily basis. We have even gotten to see the storms form above our heads (more on that later!). Lizard-wise we are rocking the desert; We have matched last year’s efforts at the ranch already and are doing quite well in the recently-added Huachuca Mtns sites.

Began independent project time again too this year. For those unaware.. I was once an undergraduate student. Yes yes, many eons ago I too struggled to pull “all-nighters” and “pass finals” and the like. Like many undergrads today, I know what it’s like out there when you are job hunting in our field. Everyone wants experience, and most students have zero to little when they are trying to get their bachelors degree. It is very hard to be 1) considered for better-paying (or, paid at all) jobs as well as 2) graduate programs if you have no prior experience. So the whole grades/classes/tests in school is effectively bottom-of-the-barrel as far as what people consider when they hire you. SO, I’ve made it part of my program to advertise my research and promote undergraduate involvement whenever I can.

This program has been immensely successful over the years. Since 2009 I have had over a dozen students help out at one point or another; and most summers I’ve had at least 2-3 assistants with me at all times. They are not all paid; many volunteer for the long journey out west. Same with at Ohio when we do all the lab-based work. You can view a semi-updated list of my undergraduate help here, and if you are one of the names listed, thanks a ton!!!

Anyways, they are super great AND they get lots of experience. Anyone familiar with my project will know that there are multiple components to it that involve knowledge of behavior, ecology, botany, and a wee bit of organic chemistry (isotopes!). Also… and actually my point to this part of the rant, the independent projects.

Last year (listed at: treelizard.net, click ‘research’) some of the succesful projects are going to result in presentations at this years World Congress of Herpetology in Vancouver, BC. Congratulations to K. Jaworski and K. Metro for their hard work about to be paid off! AND we are working on manuscripts for those projects as well… keep an eye out. Ultimately, my goals are to 1) educate the students in the scientific method, specifically project design, execution, analysis, & writeup 2) provide guidance as a mentor as well as a collaborator 3) provide additional guidance post-fieldwork in the preparation of work for presentation at a national conference and 4) write-up of the project for a publication. At worst we make it worth a presentation, at best, presentation & manuscript.

SO many of the students that come in have zero experience and end up with a stronger resume, solid research to discuss (in an area of their interest!), and potentially a publication to boot. These projects are also related to my project in ways that allow us to ask similar questions. Ultimately, it’s been a great experience.

This year we have three projects thus far. K. Jaworski is continuing her project from last year (see the ‘research’ link for details). M. Beal is conducting an interesting study similar to the work of M Angilletta that will examine how performance capacity and thermal preferences in S. jarrovii (Yarrow’s spiny lizard) are related, with some cool field based data to compare to. There’s more.. but you’ll have to wait and see. Additionally, J. Cronin is working on a project examining the interactions between invasive fire ants (Solenopsis sp.) and the tree & spiny lizards of this region. We know the lizards here eat ants (and sometimes the fire ants!), but do these tiny (but possibly deadly to a small lizard) ants have a big impact on the lizards’ choice of habitat? We’ll find out!

As you can see, very excited about these projects. Two more assistants arrive later this season and will likely extend upon these projects themselves. For now, we are in the house after a monsoon formed above our heads. Never a good thing with lots of lightning nearby. Excited about tomorrow though for the 4th. They are planning to have a huge fireworks show.

Tomorrow: 4th of July @ Sierra Vista.
Forecast: 70% chance of rain.
My Forecast: 88% chance of sunburn & fireworks.

Happy 100 Arizona,
-M
Matt

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