Archivos de Diario para enero 2015

09 de enero de 2015

Biodiversity Oral History Project Pilot: Snails of San Francisco

From left to right, Helminthoglypta nickliniana, Helminthoglypta arrosa, Haplotrema minimum

A little while ago I was talking with my co-worker Rebecca and we were lamenting the fact that so much knowledge about the natural world is locked up in the brains of a few, not because they guard it jealously, but because these tidbits are either too minor and disjointed to be publishable as scientific research, or because they are qualitative, or seem obvious to the experts. What a shame! We felt like every time we had the privilege to go out into the field with these kinds of people, they would reveal amazing facts about the predatory habits of parasitic wasps, or where to find butterflies in the rain, along with wonderful stories about how they came to know these things, but the only way for others to know them would be to find them out for themselves, or walk around with an expert for a few hours.

So we came up with an idea: why not start a biodiversity oral history project to record these facts and stories, along with the voices of the people who told them to us. At a bare minimum, we could start recording these conversations we were having and post them online, but at a resplendently-attired maximum we could publish these recordings alongside written, searchable transcripts, with photos and/or video recorded during these hikes. To give these walks a bit of structure beyond just having conversations, we could organize the projects around making very local field guides, so the ostensible point of the walks would be for the expert to introduce the recorder to the topic of the guide and seek out the organisms in question, and the recorder would record everything the expert said during the walk, take pictures of the organisms they found, do some research based on what they learned, and assemble the guide in collaboration with the expert.

We talked with Heather, the Academy's chief librarian, and she thought it sounded like a good idea and had thoughts about how to host the data and do the transcription, and maybe even fund it, but first we had to try it! I know embarrassingly little about mollusks despite my love of nudibranchs, so I suggested we start with the land snails of San Francisco, and Heather had just the expert in mind: Neil Fahy, retired geologist, avid amateur malacologist, Academy research associate, and longtime San Franciscan.

To start things out, I wanted to follow a model like this:

  1. Sit down inside with the expert, talk about what species need to go in the guide, and decide where to go look for them.
  2. Go look for the organisms and photograph the heck out of them!

Meetup

So, Neil and I set up a meeting at the Academy and talked about snails! He told me he'd deposited his manuscript on Bay Area snails at the Academy, and recommended some other literature for me to check out (which I later did), and we planned a hike to go look for snails. Neil recommended Crystal Springs Reservoir / San Andreas Lake as a decent spot, which is owned by the city of San Francisco, even though it's outside the city limits, so we set a date.

I went through Neil's manuscript and a checklist of SF snails he sent me that was exported from Roth and Sadeghian and used that for the skeleton of the guide using iNaturalist Guides. It became immediately apparent to me that Helminthoglypta was an important and diverse group of native California snails, but they all kind of looked the same, so I was eager to get out in the field and learn about them.

In the field

Neil and I met up at San Andreas Lake in Millbrae, I set him up with a recorder, and we started walking. My recording setup was not terribly sophisticated, and the recording shows it! I just took a pair of earbud headphones with an inline mic, paperclipped it to Neil's jacket so the headphones were tucked away and the mic was exposed, and plugged them into a smartphone, which I put in Neil's pocket. I did the same for myself so I could mix together both audio tracks if Neil's didn't capture my side of the conversation (it did a decent enough job). The apps I was using were Voice Recorder Pro on my iPhone and Smart Voice Recorder on an Android phone. I gave Neil the Android phone figuring I would want to use mine for photos and such, but I think that was a mistake b/c the Audio quality ended up being worse, regardless of mic placement. That may have just been the device though, which was a 3+ years old. Also, the paperclip wasn't really the best fastening device. So main technical findings for recording were

  1. Give your best setup to the expert
  2. Cheap headphones with a mic are fine, but use one of those bigger black, clamshell-like clips instead of a paperclip
  3. Record compressed audio! Uncompressed audio files get big fast

Overall I think it went great. We only found 3 snail species, but I learned a ton in the process, particularly about those Helminthoglypta species, which can be separated in the field (H. arrosa is much more common and generally has an open umbilicus, while H. nickliniana usually has a closed umbilicus and has a distinct, regular pattern of oblique ridges on the shell, though you'd need a sharp macro shot or a hand lens to see them).

Follow up

Of course I also learned a bunch going through my photos and revisiting some of the literature on the species we saw. Pilsbry, for instance, is an amazing resource with a great deal of detail on Californian species, including photos and very detailed locality data.

Reviewing the audio was pretty time-consuming, I have to admit. I was hoping to just upload the file to soundcloud and use it for annotation, but I think that would put me over my free quota, so I turned to Audacity, which isn't quite as nice to look at, but get's the job done for file format conversion, syncing multiple audio tracks, and annotation using label tracks. Pretty amazing open source tool, frankly. The main challenge was that I had 6 hours of audio to review! Audacity makes it easy to skip around to where people are talking, and I made labels for all sections where Neil was talking about snails or something else I found interesting. I've included a few tracks here for you to check out.

01-local-history-of-the-portola-expedition.mp3

02-local-geology.mp3

03-serpentine-land-snails-and-vegetation-preferences-or-lack-thereof.mp3

04-what-drives-snail-distribution.mp3

05-how-to-search-for-snails-shell-decomposition.mp3

06-snakes-kites-humans-and-other-snail-predators.mp3

07-on-studying-newt-development.mp3

08-arboreal-snails.mp3

09-our-first-snail-helminthoglypta-arrosa-how-to-identify-it-how-to-photograph-snails.mp3

10-on-the-caifornia-lancetooth-a-carnivorous-snail-that-eats-other-snails.mp3

11-on-collecting-snails.mp3

12-check-the-bottom-of-slopes-for-shells.mp3

13-how-neil-got-interested-in-snails.mp3

14-on-teaching-kids.mp3

15-bleaching-and-the-effect-of-the-rain.mp3

16-how-to-find-living-snails.mp3

17-finding-a-live-h-arrosa.mp3

18-on-tentacles-nativity-and-preserving-juveniles.mp3

19-on-teaching-students.mp3

20-dietary-preferences-of-h-arrosa-and-haplotrema.mp3

Future

So first of all I need to sit down with Neil again, and look at the remaining species and think about where to find them, and then we need to do so.

I'd also like to peruse the Academy's collections with Neil and photograph some of the species that don't have licensed or public domain photos online. The Academy also has a number of slides of terrestrial mollusks that I'd like to try digitizing.

Also wondering what role journaling should play in this process. I'm taking a few text notes from our discussions, but maybe blogging would be a better, more open way to do that.

Anotado en 09 de enero de 2015 a las 01:38 AM por kueda kueda | 19 observaciones | 15 comentarios | Deja un comentario