Reeling in Results

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately crunching numbers, as I explained in my last post. I’m in the analysis phase of my experiment, combing through my data looking for answers to the question of how diatoms that live on mudflats are affected by heat waves. My hypothesis was that, in an extreme heat wave, the microscopic algae will be stressed and this will cause them to be less productive; I expected them to perform less photosynthesis and to produce less EPS (a slimy substance that helps the tiny organisms stick together).

The flashy local Groninger Museum is as worthy of admiration as the art on display there.

After weeks of agonizing over statistics and navigating errors and warning messages in the unfamiliar program (these trials surely sound familiar to Melissa as well!), the results are finally in!

Overall, my results suggest that a heatwave does decrease the productivity of mudflat diatoms. When I compare the diatoms in the heatwave treatment with the control, the ones in heatwave produce much less fluorescence and chlorophyll a over time. (To be scientific, I found statistically significant results – that is a way of saying that there is little chance that these results were random coincidence.) Because of this, I can say that the diatoms are photosynthesizing less in the heatwave.

You might have expected that heat would make them photosynthesize more: more exposure to sun and heat creates more plant (or algae) growth, right?  But in this case we find that this is only true up to a certain point. While they increase up to an optimum temperature, in my experiment we saw that when it gets even hotter, it inhibits the diatoms and they can’t adapt quickly enough.

On the southern coast of the Netherlands is the province of Zeeland (“sea land”) where I helped collect algae for an undergraduate lab class.

The second part of my hypothesis was that there would also be lower production of EPS in the heatwave. However, in this area my results were not conclusive. There was no trend or significant difference, which is unexpected because prior studies have shown a strong connection between chlorophyll a and EPS, which impacts sediment stability. I’m still hoping to disentangle why my results deviate from what other researchers have found.

The next step I’m working on is to compile everything into a report for that explains the details on my experiment – all the way from background on why it is relevant up to how I set up my trials and what conclusions I can draw from it.

It was easy to see how this region of central Germany inspired fairy tales such as those of the Brothers Grimm.

I also managed to get out from behind my computer for a couple of most excellent adventures!

Locally, there is still plenty to explore as I found during a trip to the Groninger Museum, which I’d often noticed in passing but never visited before. During another daytrip, I joined my professor on a drive all the way from our city of Groningen, in the north, down to the southern coast of the Netherlands (a mere three-hour cross-country trip) to collect algae samples for an undergraduate lab practical.

Europe’s largest hillside park, Bergpark Wilhelmshöhe, was an idyllic spot for an early spring hike.

I later ventured across the border to visit old friends in central Germany. Seeing a small town and its classic frame houses with their exposed wood beams, all nestled in between a river and hills brought darkly romantic fairy tales to mind. I also enjoyed exploring the mid-size city of Kassel, the highlight of which was a long walk in a lovely baroque hillside park with forested trails leading to impressive 18th century statues and ruins overlooking the town.

Lucky for me, that wasn’t the last of my adventures as spring is just arriving and I’ll have more excursions to share next time – as well as a new research project to begin!

Above Kassel, Germany, at the park’s highest point, stands the Hercules monument, which has watched over the city for about three centuries.

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