Archbold Biological Station, Biennial Report 1997-1998

Hilary M. Swain, Executive Director;  photo by Christine Ambrose


Executive Director: Hilary M. Swain       [Biennial Contents]


"Our sense of wonder grows exponentially: the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery and the more we seek knowledge to create new mystery"

These words, from E.O.Wilson, capture the very essence of Archbold Biological Station, a place where wonder and fascination about the natural world unites with cutting-edge science and technology. Our source of wonder, the field, is but a step away from our center of knowledge. Our knowledge is amassed by the people, the publications, the research collections, the library, and now (in 1998, courtesy of major funding by the National Science Foundation) by the speed of fiber-optic networking and our Web site connection to the outside world of the Internet. In our continuing quest to seek knowledge and meaning for our place on earth, we only add to, rather than detract from, our sense of mystery and respect. Our natural worlds, of ancient scrub ridges and wide prairie valley expanses, are infinitely complex, revealing their scientific wisdom one element at a time. Fortunately for us there is no single discovery that will illuminate the secrets of the scrub, or explain the workings of a ranch landscape. Rather we revel in the small, incremental "eurekas" of staff and visiting scientists that can make the chat at morning coffee, a chance encounter on the walkway, or an intern seminar, such a beguiling experience. The potpourri of significant findings from the last 2 years includes the discovery, by Lubo Masner and Mark Deyrup, of many previously undocumented tiny parasitic proctotrupoid wasps. Proctotrupoids respond to the unlikely technique of scattering bright yellow, soapy-water-filled plastic bowls, which inexplicably attract vast numbers of these wasps at favored spots around the Station. Another finding is the work by the Bird Lab and collaborators on DNA microsatellites, which established that the genetic features of the Florida scrub-jay populations in central Florida are distinct from their western North American counterparts. It also revealed that there are a number of genetically isolated and distinct populations within Florida, a finding augmented by work on morphological variation of specimens from collections throughout the U.S. We learned from the Plant Ecology Lab that plant species that resprout after fire have much higher genetic variation than those that recover their populations from seeds.

     But Archbold’s science is so much more than a list of such intriguing facts; it has a sense of connectivity. Our ideas are opportunely linked and placed in context by working at one site with a long timeframe of biological data, thoughts, and processes. At the Station the undercurrents that flow through all our work—patterns of fire, the annual vagaries of temperature and rainfall—help us recognize the interfaces among our traditional disciplines. In the case of the Ranch, a broader understanding of our ecological findings comes from the strong interface with the economic reality of agricultural operations. The joys and challenges of working in the same environment unite us in many ways. Moments together in an ecosystem—honey-scented February days, deluging El Niño rains, blackened ash of wildfires during the height of the 1998 drought—help frame our common understanding.

     These shared experiences contribute to our common sense of place, which is so much part of the living legacy of Richard Archbold. His legacy of support let our organization achieve great success in 1997–98, by allowing us to do what we love best—conduct research that conveys a sense of wonder about the ecosystems we investigate, and commit ourselves to the protection of these same ecosystems. Thanks to all who joined in this endeavor; the Board of Trustees, science staff, support staff, the Scientific Advisory Board, students, donors, funding agencies, and our collaborators and visitors. All contribute to a visionary tradition.

—Hilary M. Swain

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