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All of life's experiences count at a biological field station

Published on: May 17, 2019

Balancing limpet‐encrusted rocks on a rusty cart, I maneu‐vered my cargo up a steep ramp and into the seawater tanks at the Marine Biological Station in Millport, Scotland. It was the mid‐1970s and I was attending a field course for my degree in zoology. Earlier, as the tide rose, I had watched limpets leave their individual “home scars” to browse on micro‐algae. In the library I found a paper describing this behavior, although it didn't address what triggered limpet movement. Was the timing tied to tide timetables, or a response to fluctuating seawater levels? Daily, I turned the tanks’ taps to let seawater in and out, mimicking the tide times on the day when the limpets were collected so they gradually became out of sync with the changing tidal cycle in the “real world”. I graphed limpet movements. They were slow but I was busy. I missed the evening pub outings and eventually lost sleep. My results suggested limpets responded to the rise and fall of seawater, not the timing of the tides.

Exulted, I returned the rocks. I had little appreciation for the logistics of transportation, lodging, food, labs, seawater, and a library, but I loved being at the field station. Although I never envisaged then that my dream job would be at a field station, I have now served more than 20 years as Executive Director of Archbold Biological Station in Florida, one of the largest, most‐renowned field stations in North America. Archbold's mission is to build and share the scientific knowledge needed to protect the life, lands, and waters in the heart of Florida ( I am often asked, “How can I get a job at a biological field station?” Invariably my response is that all of life's experiences will count.

To read the rest of this article in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, please click here.