Thursday, May 19, 2016

Oh, it isn't even oak

Friends, I feel like I should begin this post by apologizing for the title, because it's a reference to the American cartoon comedy Family Guy. I don't even watch Family Guy, but my brother does, and every time he and his buddies take over our parents' cottage for a weekend gathering, I get an earful of stupid-humor quotes.

One year, their favorite quote was "Oh, it isn't even oak," and for you to understand what that means, I'm going to have to set the scene.

The main character, the family guy himself, has recently decided to become more intellectual. He bought himself a nice bookshelf and filled it with academic-looking volumes. Not to be outdone, the dog decides to play intellectual himself and reports to the dad how much he's been reading. It's an obvious lie. The dog can't name a single book he's read, and the dad has him on the ropes. As this interrogation ensues next to the bookshelf, the baby comes in and decides to be the Peanut Gallery, making side-comments and sound effects to accompany the conversation. Finally at the end of his rope, about to be exposed, the dog switches his focus from the books to the bookshelf, saying, "This is nice; is it oak?" - to which the baby immediately exclaims, "Oh, it isn't even oak!"

It's a sentence that fits when nothing is going right. When a last-ditch effort doesn't even work and you fall flat on your face. And it describes how I feel about my barnacle project. Check this out:

This table describes all the times I deployed cement blocks with settlement plates off the Oregon coast. You'll notice the first two deployments went pretty well. The blocks were at sea for three weeks, just as planned, and all of them were recovered on-time. But then the deployments went kind of hay-wire. My blocks were out for longer and longer periods of time. We couldn't even get to every station in one trip. Some - most! - of the blocks were lost. Oh, it isn't even oak.

Did the blocks we recovered at least yield good data? Sure, I was able to count the species that had recruited, but none of my original hypotheses proved true. I didn't find anything I expected to on the settlement plates. It was pretty much just barnacles. Oh, it isn't even oak.

Pleurobranchaea californica, a predatory nudibranch found
on my plates
I've been playing with my data for a while, and I guess the good news is that the more I look at it, the more promising it seems. I've spent the past few days looking up the biology of each of the species on the plates (barnacles and others), and all of them - all of them - have long-lived planktotrophic larvae. All of the mobile species are also predators. No way that happened by chance.

I'm working to craft an interesting discussion about the recruits I observed. If nothing else, I can say that the first species to arrive, settle, and colonize isolated blocks in the ocean are species with planktotrophic larvae. They're long-dispersing pioneers.

And that, my friends, is totally oak.


  1. It's not what you expected. But, that's science. Maybe nature is trying to show her colors in ways you Never predicted. The important thing is that you noticed and are aware. Hang in there Kristin!

  2. My iPhone (un) corrected your name. Sorry