Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Open Access Dream: Making your articles available with your research institution

I only recently found out  that my research institution has a database for open access articles!

We can send in our previously published work, and they will check out all the copyright stuff. And then, the Digital Collection team can usually make it openly available online. AWESOME!

I thoroughly recommend seeing if your institution has a service like this too.

Just submitted my first article, previously published with Australian Centre for Geomechanics, on mine rehabilitation frameworks. You can look at it here.

Happy Open Accessing!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Soil Scientist: Antonio

Meet Antonio: Botanical illustrator, educator, and soil water repellency guru.

I studied Biology at the University of Seville. During the last years at the University, I became
involved in some research in the Department of Ecology, working in the wetlands of the
Doñana Natural Park. In those years, as part of the course on "Phytogeography", I collaborated
in some studies and participated in a practical work on the habitat of Drosophyllum
lusitanicum, an insectivorous plant growing in poor soils in the Strait of Gibraltar and Portugal.
This got me interested in soils, and I decided to take the course of Soil Science.

Falling over during sampling (via Antonio)

Thus, I began to work closely with the Soil Science group at the Faculty of Chemistry,
participating in various soil mapping projects, first as an intern, then as a researcher for over
15 years! After I finished studies I worked for two years as a botanical illustrator to pay my
PhD. Fortunately, I got a job as adviser in the Regional Ministry of Environment of Andalusia,
where I participated in the coordination of various groups responsible for soil mapping
projects in Andalusia.

Karstic area at "Cerro del Hierro", Sevilla (via Antonio)

I got my PhD in 2000 with a dissertation on soil mapping and erosion, and in that same year I
started teaching Soil Science at the University of Seville. Since then, I have studied soils from
Southern Spain, but also Portugal, Egypt, Australia and Mexico (where I met Ale, my wife,
botanist). Initially, my research focused on soil erosion. One day, with my friend and colleague
Lorena (my second leg), we found that some aspects of erosion could only be explained by soil
water repellency, which for me was an exciting discovery. For several years I have devoted to
the study of this property and some of its causes, such as forest fires.

Antonio in Mexico (via Antonio)

But ... what is soil water repellency? It is assumed that soils get wet when it rains and water
infiltrates, allowing plant nutrition and soil processes. Discovering that sometimes water
just does not infiltrate is an important issue. When this property appears in soils, as it may
occur after a forest fire, the water balance changes completely. Rainfall does not infiltrate,
and moves on the soil surface as run-off, increasing the intensity of erosion. Reduced
infiltration in a water-repellent soil modifies the environment of plants, leading to changes
in the composition of ecosystems, and retarding recovery. Sometimes soil characteristics are
recovered in a period of days, months or years. In other cases, recurrence of fires or changes
in soils or vegetation make hydrophobicity become permanent. There is still much to discover
about this, because of the complexity and dynamics of soil components and processes.
Today, my studies are focused on the changes induced by fire and geomorphic and hydrologic

                          Fire-induced water repellency in soil aggregates (Gorga wildfire, Alicante, Spain, July 2011).

Dr. Antonio Jordán is located at the University of Seville, Spain.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Beatutiful Botanical Fungi Art by Kelly Burns

I just had to share these amazing hand-drawn fungi by the talented Kelly Burns

Kelly previously drew a mystical fungus for me :) These ones are a birthday present for her husband.

Love your work, Kelly!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Soil Scientist: Colby

Meet Colby: Outdoor adventurer, wetland lover, husband and soil enthusiast.

Colby is a soil and wetland scientist living and studying in Raleigh, North Carolina. He grew up on a small family farm in northwest Iowa (USA) where he gained an appreciation for the great outdoors, agriculture, and the natural world.

His interest in wetlands started as a teenager when he went on his first duck hunting adventure with his older brother. Since it was his first time duck hunting he didn't have any waders so he attempted to stay afloat while hunting in the middle of the wetland and walking on knocked-over cattails. This eventually lead to him getting stuck waste-deep in muck (highly decomposed organic material that accumulates in wetlands) with no waders on. This would bug some people, but he actually thought it was pretty cool.

Colby's research site (Juniper Bay)

From then on Colby found wetlands incredibly interesting, so he approached college with the goal of creating a career around wetlands. Colby entered the environmental science bachelors degree program at Iowa State University. There some incredibly enthusiastic professors, Dr. Lee Burras in particular, showed him how interesting soils can be, so Colby enrolled in every soil science class that he could. He also noted how cool it would be to have those professor's jobs - preaching the complexities of soil science, taking students on cool field trips, conducting research on topics that directly impact the environment and agricultural economy around him. A university professor became his dream job. He finished his BS in environmental science in 2008, after which he entered the soil science program at NC State where his current research is a blend of his two academic interests - soils and wetlands.

Colby's field research - collecting root pictures and root zone soil pore water samples of bald cypress (Taxodium distichum)

Colby's works under Dr. Michael Vepraskas researching phosphorus release from wetlands restored on agricultural land. He earned his master of science degree in soil science from NC State in 2010, and is currently about halfway through his doctoral program in the same discipline, also at NC State. Colby's areas of specialization are soil physics, soil and water conservation, and wetland soils. His long term career goal is to enter into a tenure track position at a top research university where he can continue research and teaching in those areas. 

You can read more, learn about soils and wetlands, and follow Colby's work

All photos are courtesy of Colby Moorberg.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Please, don't eat that mushroom

With all the wet weather, fungi is thriving. Unfortunately, there has been a darker side to all our fungi wealth. Sadly there have been several deaths in Canberra recently as a result of people eating wild mushrooms.

In response, the ACT Government has started a large ad campaign warning people not to pick and consume mushrooms. The ad is on my desktop at CIT, was sent in emails to staff and students ANU, and I have seen signs all over the place as well. 

Some of the ACT Government signage (via John Dow and Riot-Act)

I am happy about this ad campaign; it could save lives. Wild mushrooms should never be picked at eaten. I would never pick and consume a wild mushroom, and thought I would share why. 

They are really really really hard to identify
Identifying fungi requires many steps before you can work out what species it is. The steps usually include: description of the cap, gills and stem; colour of spores; odour; habitat description and where it is growing. Many species look almost identical, and it can take years of training to understand and look for the subtle differences. I certainly do not have this training, I just have a field book that I follow. I would only ever trust the advice of a seasoned expert.

The Death Cap is not alone; there are many poisonous ones 
Whilst the Death Cap is commonly found and confused for being an edible mushroom, many mushrooms are poisonous. Cortinarius species and Agaricus species have both poisonous, 'magic' and edible species, and many of them can look almost the same. The common mushrooms you buy at the supermarket may be easily confused with other species when picking from the wild. 

And the same with magic mushrooms; they can be confused with poisonous ones. Don't give into peer pressure. If you are worried, don't risk it. 

Field mushrooms -Agaricus campestris (via Wikipedia) can be confused with other toxic species.

New fungus is being discovered all the time
I know a local Mycologist has discovered more fungus in the last couple of years than in his whole career. This is mainly related to the wet weather; spores have laid dormant for a long time and are only now appearing in the wet. There is a lot we don't know about fungus, both current and new species. We don't know if the mushroom we see is one that we could eat, if it is poisonous, magic or it may even be a new species.

Please don't risk your or others lives, and don't consume wild mushrooms. 

More warnings and more information is needed about all wild mushrooms. To do that, we need more research and more people educating. You can add to the research and understanding about fungus by adding/reading

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Favourite Soil: Spolic Anthroposols

Spolic Anthroposols: Fancy name for a very messy mixed-up soil

An Anthroposol is a soil that humans have extensively modified. They are usually moved around, mixed up, stuff added to them, made especially for hoticulture, mineral materials with urban waste, or are 100% made by humans. They have been modified so much, that they no longer represent the original soil in any way.

A Spolic Anthroposol is a soil that humans have modified using heavy machinery (bull dozers, graders). Usually  they are made during construction, mining, dam buidling and other works where lots of soil is moved around. They also usually include rocks and other stuff (plastic, plant waste, glass, mining waste), which was not in the original soil.

You can usually find them in big heaps, on the side of roads and highways, at dams, in mines, in your backyard, and just about anywhere in cities and towns. It is probably even the soil in your veggie garden.

Why are they my favourite soils?

Spolic soils look rad! 
The nature of the spolic soil is totally random because they have been mixed up, moved around and stuff added to them. They have different soils, colours, pieces and bits everywhere, in no particular order. They are just a mass of stuff. This in contrast to most other soils which usually have clear horizons (layers of soil with certain colour, texture and structure) which follow standard soil classification systems. Spolic soils are beautiful and every one is unique and interesting to look at.

We don't know much about them
Spolic soils are very interesting to study because they are non-standard. Most soils can be classified and understood using standard guidelines, methods and classification systems. However, the random nature of spolic soils means that they do not fit inside the standard ways of understanding soils. Instead, they require individual thought, care and understanding. And as every spolic soil is unique, you will always come across something new and interesting when looking at them. 

They are important for rehabilitation of ecosystems and environment
It is particularly important to understand and research spolic soils, as they are quite often used to restore ecosystems in areas that have had mining, road work, or building. Understanding these soils is important for getting conditions right for plant growth, and the establishment of habitats for animals.

I love spolic soils, because they are interesting and unique. And I like to call spolic soils 'the mess of the soil world'!

What is your favourite soil?

Email me with your Favourite Soil story: jess (dot) drake (at) gmail (dot) com