Archbold Biological Station, Biennial Report 1997-1998

The Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) meets at Archbold Biological Station, 30 January 1998. L-R: Robert E. Ricklefs, Richard B. Root, Gary K. Meffe. SAB member not present in this photo in Frances C. James. Photo by Nancy Deyrup.


       Accomplishments 1997-98
  • More than 84 visiting scientists from 34 colleges and universities, 6 museums and botanical gardens, 6 government agencies, and 2 private organizations, and 5 independent scientists, conducted over 96 projects at Archbold.
  • Thirteen federal grants/contracts totaling $824,033 were funded for endangered species and other research in central Florida.
  • Nineteen state or private grants provided $785,126 for research, monitoring, and biological inventory.
  • With financial support from the National Science Foundation we completed a 100 mbps fiber optic computer network, linking all labs and facilities at the Station and the Ranch.


Executive Director: Hilary M. Swain       [Biennial Contents]


A recurring theme at scientific meetings and among funding agencies is the need for more interdisciplinary research, work at the interfaces of disciplinary boundaries, which represents some of the most exciting new frontiers in science. At a field station such as Archbold, meeting the goal of interdisciplinary research seems not only feasible but, in some ways, almost inevitable. This may seem unexpected—our science often thrives while advancing along meandering pathways. We are driven mainly by curiosity and a keen sense of scientific adventure. But during 1997–98 we have achieved success in interdisciplinary research by capitalizing on some systematic advantages:

     Working at One Location. Whether dealing with research at the Station (58 yr, 1941–1998), or at the Ranch (11 yr, 1988–1998) our myriad data and thoughts are placed in interdisciplinary context by working largely at one location with a long history. Understanding the spatial aspects of biological processes, now extensively driven by integrated GIS coverages for Station and Ranch, and recognizing the importance of the temporal scale, helps us grasp the ecological complexity of these systems. The accumulating facts from different taxa and disciplines continually add information to the unfinished scene; the comprehensive picture does not go unrecognized. Thus Eric Menges, plant ecologist, in his presentation at our 1998 Current Research Symposium, combined data on Florida scrub-jays with data concerning fire histories and life history strategies of plants, to argue for the ecological importance of "pyrodiversity" —the variable frequency, intensity, and seasonality of burn cycles in scrub communities. Having staff and visitors conduct much of their work together at one location heightens common awareness of the natural integration of biotic and abiotic factors.

     Focused Research Programs. Archbold’s mission statements for the Station and the Ranch narrow the geographic range of what we do—field ecology, preferably long-term—on either the scrub habitats of the Station and other sites along the Lake Wales Ridge, or on the prairies of the Kissimmee Valley ranchlands. However these geographical constraints do not narrow interest in the multitude of questions concerning these habitats. Rather they allow us to focus, with greater depth and breadth, on these two ecosystems. This in turn enables us to compare detailed data collected here with data from other regions—such as Eric Menges’ synthesis on the ecology and conservation of the Florida scrub in a recent book, "Savannas, Barrens, and Rock Outcrop Plant Communities of North America" (in press).

     Our best interdisciplinary research ideas stem from the strong disciplinary research programs of individual labs. The recent finding by Mark Deyrup and Tom Eisner, a new species of pygmy mole cricket from the Florida scrub browsing on a delicate layer of blue-green algae about 3mm down in the sand, has spawned a whole new dimension of work by Christine Hawkes in the Plant Lab, examining the role of cryptobiotic soil crusts in nutrient cycling. Analyses of long-term data on acorn production by Warren Abrahamson, and Jim Layne, as well as Bob Curry and the Bird Lab, link the research programs of the plant ecology, vertebrate, and bird laboratories. Extensive data on the distribution, seasonality, and host preferences of our insect fauna tie together interdisciplinary studies of pollination biology and relationships between scrub-jays and their insect prey.

     Most scientists rely on judgement by colleagues in their direct field—but one of the rewarding aspects of research at a field station is the degree to which we rely on peer review from colleagues in widely disparate fields. As any participant to our 1997–98 research seminars (Appendix G) will attest, interdisciplinary peer review is the order of the day. Our peers are not only experts in our specialized fields, but also those able to contribute substantially because they know the sites and the systems so well. This cycle has promoted awareness of, and opportunities for, interdisciplinary activities.

     Our scientific programs at Archbold are strongly linked to real-world problems. There is no gulf between scientists and land managers at Archbold—they are the same people. At the Station our research helps guide stewardship for our own and other publicly managed scrub properties. This is epitomized by data on Florida scrub-jay genetics, metapopulation structure, and responses to fire collected by Glen Woolfenden, John Fitzpatrick, and Reed Bowman. These data have helped define the parameters for selecting and managing protected areas along the Lake Wales Ridge and elsewhere in Florida. At the Ranch, solutions to questions of sustainability in agro-ecosystems will come from the interface between our ecological and economic research programs, rather than either discipline working in isolation. Real world problems provide a tremendous purpose for our work; interfaces between disciplines are very relevant to help solve these problems and enhance our ability to understand levels of organization across a range of biological and socio-economic factors.

     Interdisciplinary research has been further supported in 1997–98 by strengthening complementary and supportive sciences and facilities. The new Local Area Network, an Internet connection with T1 line, Web site, and computer information center (see page 30), has complemented our existing technical support expertise in GIS, reference collections, library, long-term monitoring data such as detailed climate information (see page 27), as well as information management. Easier access to technology and data on site has facilitated interdisciplinary research—whether it is an intern in the Plant Lab identifying a pollinating insect, or a visiting class using satellite imagery via the Internet to help plan the design of their field experiment.

     A Legacy of Interdisciplinary Research. We inherit and are enriched by our predecessor’s ways of asking. Archbold is fortunate to have been favored by many scientists whose research and writings have had a tradition of reaching out to other fields, merging different perspectives, and creating new fields. This is epitomized by Research Associate Tom Eisner’s work in chemical ecology, which we celebrated in fall 1998 when he presented the library with two bound volumes of 114 papers stemming from his work to date here at the Station. He credits many of these findings from Archbold as helping to launch the interdisciplinary field of chemical ecology.

     In conclusion, all our research programs in 1997–98, from those that could be defined as disciplinarily narrow to those that are broadly interdisciplinary, leave us with an increased appetite to further advance our understanding of this special place. We would encourage you to read through the pages of this report to join us in this scientific adventure.

Biennial Contents | Top

Archbold Biological Station, 2000 March, revised 21 July 2000.
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