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Video transcript

- [Instructor] Let's talk now about some of the field expedition methods used today and how they lead to new discoveries about biodiversity. The key word here is multidisciplinary. Expeditions are almost never just one kind of scientist marching into the field and collecting only one kind of organism anymore. Multidisciplinary expeditions are ones in which you have a team of people who bring different expertise to the table or to the field or to the leaf litter or to the deep sea or to whatever aspects of the natural environment you're exploring. The benefits of a multidisciplinary expedition happen because you have that different expertise, the different focus of attention by each member of the team. It can happen for example when you've got a bird expert, an ornithologist that is on an expedition walking next to a botanist, somebody who studies plants who might say, "Well that bird is fantastic "but it's living on such and such a tree "and that tree might have "other related species of that bird also living on it "or its close relatives. "We should check that out." You get a synergy, a new way of looking at things. You don't overlook something that might fall outside your particular area of expertise. Multiple disciplines and collaboration, those are the keys. An ability to compare notes, to ask questions of each other right there in the field. So, what goes into the nuts and bolts of an expedition? What equipment do you need? What are the best methods for collecting the specimens? What type of transportation and how much food are you gonna need? Of course the nuts and bolts of different types of expeditions are like the nuts and bolts of different car models. One type of car is gonna have different nuts and bolts than another type of car. The nuts and bolts for deep sea expedition will be different from the nuts and bolts of a shallow water expedition or a terrestrial expedition. And all those different sets of nuts and bolts are gonna have to be very carefully planned by people who know what they're doing. Part of the planning has got to be the prior communications with and buy-in from the host country governments and the local communities. The people who see you come into their back yards to look at and collect organisms have the right to A, give you permission to do it and B, and learn and benefit from your findings. It must be a completely open system, a true partnership. Obtaining the necessary permits is an official and legal manifestation of this partnership. And what are some of the other nuts and bolts? Every expedition has to consider the type of gear that's the most applicable. I'm not gonna join my terrestrial buddies with full scuba gear on and similarly I wouldn't expect them to show up for a snorkeling session with a butterfly net. Here's another good example. There are scientists who wanna study the organisms that live in the tops of trees. The canopy organisms. And this is a lot more difficult than it might sound. How do you get to the top of a very tall tree and move around among the thin branches once you get there? Do you need climbing gear? Or would a hot air ballon work better to hover over the treetops and reach down into them? Or maybe walkways, suspended in the canopy. So, if you're studying mountain organisms, you're going to have mountain climbing gear. If you're going to study organisms that live underwater, of course you have to have that whole suite of stuff that goes with diving. Everything from a source of air or other gases to breathe to the equipment to breathe it and especially special training. If you're going to a place where electricity isn't going to be readily available, you need to have power sources to keep your cameras and your computers charged. And then there are modes of transport. Sometimes this is the single most difficult thing to assemble. Everything from camels to jeeps and ocean going vessels are things that you have to consider in your expeditionary planning depending on where you're going. Being prepared takes a lot of work. Remember, this is a mission of discovery and by definition, you're bound to run into things that you don't expect. But you also have to plan for what comes out of the expedition. The collected material and all the information that goes with it. An increasingly crucial part of the gear that goes with you into the forest, to the coast, onto the ship or anywhere is a computer and a digital camera. It's where you record your notes, your data, your photographs. It used to be notebooks, pens and pencils, maybe a paintbox and an easel but today it's computers and digital photography. And today, within minutes of coming out of the water, down from the tree or in off the beach you can type into your computer the most recent discoveries that you just made, download your photographs and if you have an internet connection out there, send them off to colleagues saying, what is this? Is it a new species? The ultimate data in any expedition of course are the specimens themselves. You need to make sure the that you have the right equipment with you to collect them and preserve them. You wanna make sure that these precious organisms are kept in a condition that will still yield data after they've been brought back to the lab for study. You need containers for all of that and usually, some type of chemical. Some specimens you wanna preserve in special fluids and some you wanna keep dry. Increasingly, we collect specimens from molecular analysis. Some of the needs of molecular biology can be met by preserving material in a standard preservative like alcohol, usually ethanol but not all of it can. Sometimes you need to have a way of quick freezing the material in the field. Even if you're doing your research at the north or the south pole, you still need to keep the material frozen all the way back to the lab so you need to have a way of bringing something like liquid nitrogen into the field with you and liquid nitrogen isn't something you just walk into the local store and buy. Nor is it something you can easily take onto the airplane with you. So there has to be a lot of advance planning and logistical arrangements. Once you've collected the specimens you need to label them and include the basic collection information of who, what, when, how and especially where. You also wanna capture photographs of the specimen while it's still alive if possible since many organisms do change colors after death. These days we have technology that helps us say exactly where it was that we collected something. GPS or Global Positioning Systems and GIS, Geographic Information Systems allow us to record the precise longitude and latitude coordinates on earth where that specimen was collected. The technology is getting better, less expensive and more integrated which means we're getting more and more accurate in saying where a particular specimen came from. But the collecting event also includes who collected it and that's important for understanding the situations surrounding the act of collecting. You know which person to contact if you have questions and knowing if the collector was an expert on that type of organism will help you better understand how the area was sampled and whether there are likely to be other organisms of interest there. The time, the date and the weather conditions are all part of the full set of collection information. All part of the so-called meta data that describes the collecting circumstances. It all needs to be recorded. Seasonal information could be very, very important. The time of day can also be really important. How many of the specimens were seen and how many of them were collected at the same time? What were they living on? Or perhaps living in. Parasitology requires you to collect the type of host the parasite was living on. Not just the parasite itself. And it's important to collect as much meta data as possible because you never know what will turn out to be critical information in the future. Which brings me to say a few words about the future. Scientists cannot do it all. There just aren't enough of us. In the race to document and preserve the diversity of life on this planet we need all the help we can get and that's where citizen science is becoming a bigger part of the way scientists work. Citizen science refers to having non-scientists help collect scientific data. There are so many people who can contribute. You don't need a formal science degree to be observant and notice the life around you, wherever you are. I get tips and photos all the time from individuals that like to snorkel and dive but we can also take a more organized approach and recruit interested people to help with the work of making observations, taking photographs, collecting information about organisms. It's more eyes and ears in the field. In the future we can also expect more use of drone or remote sensing technology. Satellite based systems for example can detect different kinds of radiation that come from the surface of the planet and allow the identification of tree species in a forest or the amount of chlorophyll in the ocean, right from space. There are very powerful ways of building what is known as spatial analyses. Where you can document, not only some of the biodiversity but also where those things are at any given moment. How many of them there might be over huge, broad swathes of the planet at any given time. Much more space than you could cover in an expedition. The flip side of the remote sensing coin is what's called, ground truthing. You still need to get those boots on or the mask and the snorkel. You still need to go out into the field and all I can say is thank goodness for that because there's nothing, there's nothing like turning over a rock or looking at what's coming up in the trawl or peering into your insect net and seeing something that no one else on the planet has ever documented before. There truly is nothing like the thrill of discovery.