Great post on the iSTAR blog by Daniel Puppe… on the role of testate amoebae in silicon cycling within terrestrial ecosystems. Testate amoebae in forest ecosystems convert 17 kg – 80 kg of soluble silicon into the mineral phase of silica in a year! Perhaps exceeding the trees!
Originally posted on From inside the shell:
Contributed by Daniel Puppe
Silicon is the second most common element in the Earth’s crust (after oxygen) and the seventh most abundant element in the universe. That means we can find silicon almost everywhere. Silicon plays a pivotal role in diverse living organisms comprising pro- and eukaryotes accumulating biogenic silicon in various siliceous structures (= biosilicification) – like idiosomic testate amoeba shells. In soils of terrestrial ecosystems we can find a lot of biogenic silicon forming different silicon pools. These pools can be separated into zoogenic, phytogenic, microbial and protistic ones (Fig. 1).
While scientific research has been focused especially on the phytogenic silicon pool (represented by so-called phytoliths), little is known about zoogenic, microbial and protistic silicon pools. The protistic silicon pool in soils comprises mainly terrestrial diatoms and idiosomic testate amoebae (some testates are shown in…
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“A few short weeks of complete immersion in the study of ecology at PLE changed the course of my life.”
- Dr. Alex Ireland
(Alex took general ecology at PLE in summer 2005 and went on to earn his PhD from Lehigh University in 2012)
The Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology (PLE) is a field station in western Pennsylvania that is operated by the University of Pittsburgh. Each summer the station offers approximately a dozen field-intensive ecology courses, spanning much of the breadth of the ecological sciences, to students from participating schools throughout the region. Lehigh University joined the PLE educational consortium in 2014, and four Lehigh students enrolled in five of the field station’s classes this past summer. I asked these students to share some thoughts on their experience for the benefit of other Lehigh students, and with permission I summarize their comments below.
Bob Mason took the forest ecology course, taught by Dr. Walter Carson of the University of Pittsburgh. Almost all class time was spent in the field for hands-on lectures where the class learned about forest ecosystems and the major threats to forest biodiversity. Field trips to old-growth stands, camping overnight in the Allegheny National Forest, and guest lectures on related ecological topics such as riparian zone restoration and migratory birds were some of the highlights. In Bob’s own words:
The workload appeared heavy from the syllabus (two “full-blown” scientific papers and a final exam), and I did find the course to be challenging. However, it was absolutely worth the effort and I gained real-world insight into data collection, statistics, and scientific writing. This course was truly writing intensive! However, I still found myself with ample down time to enjoy with other students, and it was fun to meet students from a diverse group of universities. I strongly recommend the course to anyone interested in ecological research.
Ecology of Fungi
Charlotte Malmborg took the ecology of fungi course, which was a new offering taught by Dr. Shannon Nix of Clarion University. The students were in the field everyday, identifying fungi and learning about fungal biology, taxonomy, and ecology. Samples were returned to the lab, and the students learned microscopy techniques that enabled them to better identify and examine adaptations of fungi. The class collectively undertook a research project comparing the amount and diversity of mycorrhizae between old-growth and secondary-growth hemlock forests. Charlotte clearly had a fantastic experience (assuming her twitter feed from May is representative! e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and learned a tremendous amount about a topic that is not taught at Lehigh University.
Wetland Ecology and Management
Charlotte Malmborg also took the wetland ecology course. I teach this course, so I told her that she didn’t have to share her thoughts on it, but she chose to anyway. Here is an excerpt from her:
If you’re ready to get down and dirty this class is for you. From floating bogs to marshes to swamps, you’ll get to visit and learn about the biota and ecological processes in these unique systems, as well as the ecosystem services that they provide. You’ll learn more about mud than you ever thought possible, and you’ll be happy about it!
Chandler Navara took the disease ecology course, a new course taught by Dr. Thomas Simmons from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. In Chandler’s words:
The disease ecology class explored wildlife and plant diseases and their connection to human populations. Some of the diseases included Lyme disease, malaria, and rabies. From parasites, to vectors, to hosts, the ecological context of these diseases were examined, with a focus on how knowledge of ecology can be used to help control these diseases. We developed expertise in different field techniques used to sample disease vectors. The class was definitely worth every minute, and I made some lifelong friends at PLE!
Kris Abens took the Wildlife Management course, which was taught by Morty Ortega of the University of Connecticut during the last session of the summer. Some of Kris’s comments about the class:
The professor was great and a really nice guy. It was an amazing experience and I learned SO much, and amazingly, virtually none of the learning took place inside a classroom! We worked hard in this class, but it was very much worth it. I would definitely recommend the class to other students.
Interested in taking a PLE field course this summer?
PLE courses are fun, full-immersion experiences. Each course lasts for three weeks, is worth three credits, and covers the material in a semester-long course. All of them are field-based and satisfy the BS field requirement for Lehigh University EES students. The courses are distributed across four sessions, and although you can take multiple courses during the summer, you can only take one course per session (each course meets all day). Courses offered for Lehigh credit in summer 2015 include:
- Conservation Biology (11 May – 29 May)
- Forest Ecology (11 May – 29 May)
- Field Botany (11 May– 29 May)
- Behavioral Ecology (1 Jun – 19 Jun)
- Wetland Ecology (1 Jun – 19 Jun)
- Ecology of Birds (1 Jun – 19 Jun)
- Ecology of Amphibians and Reptiles (1 Jun – 19 Jun)
- Disease Ecology (22 Jun – 10 Jul)
- Limnology (22 Jun – 10 Jul)
- Field Techniques in Ecology and Conservation (13 Jul – 31 Jul)
- Wildlife Management (13 Jul – 31 Jul)
For additional information on these courses see:http://www.biology.pitt.edu/facilities/pymatuning/courses/course-schedule I teach the wetland ecology course and if you are interested in taking this class or one of the courses offered during the same session (1 Jun – 19 Jun), transportation to and from the field station will be provided from Lehigh University. To see more details about the wetland ecology course go here:https://sites.google.com/site/wetlandecologymanagement/syllabus To see more of the kind of FUN we have in this course go here: https://amongthestatelytrees.wordpress.com/category/wetland-ecology-management-ple/
For a Lehigh University student to take one of these classes, you will need to register for EES 395: Field courses at Pymatuning Laboratory of Ecology. The sections of the course will correspond to the list of classes above, so that you can sign up for the particular course of interest to you. Email me (email@example.com) if you have questions.
Last of day of ecology class tomorrow :(
Some pictures from the fun this year…..
A nice summary of our recent field work adventure in Maine is now up at the PalEON blog:
It includes a fun video, which is embedded below as well…
Originally posted on From inside the shell:
Sampling testate amoebae in a tropical peatland. A recent paper in Microbial Ecology by Swindles et al. suggests that testate amoebae have good potential as hydrological indicators in tropical peatlands.
Testate amoebae have been successfully used as indicators of past changes in peatland hydrology, particularly ombrotrophic (i.e., nutrients derived exclusively from precipitation) peatlands of north-temperate and boreal regions. Over the past couple decades, many ecological studies of testate amoebae have been performed in these northern bogs, allowing empirical relationships between community composition and surface moisture to be described. Because the shells of testate amoebae preserve well in the acidic and anaerobic environment of bogs, these modern relationships have been used to infer past changes in the relative wetness of the bog surface from the composition of subfossil communities. Much recent work has focused on the validation and interpretation of testate amoeba paleohydrological records from bogs, and their application to pressing global change questions.
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