Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring posts from researchers who’ve posted projects on Petridish, highlighting their backgrounds, research interests and experience with the funding process. Our next interview is with Geoff Gallice, a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida. View his project, called “Understanding rarity in butterflies of Peru“
Q: Tell us a little bit about your research interests.
I’m interested mainly in ‘big picture’ ecology, for example continental-scale patterns in species abundance and distribution – that is, how common and widespread species are. There’s an ecological ‘rule’ that claims that species that are more common locally also tend to be more widespread geographically. However, very few studies have looked at this in tropical insects, even though they comprise the majority of terrestrial animal species.
Q: What inspired you to become a scientist?
The wonder of the natural world is really what inspired me. Since my earliest days I was utterly enamored of the natural world, and nature as I knew it growi was tiny patches of scrubby forest and fields in the suburbs of Baltimore. When I visited a tropical rainforest for the first time, there wasn’t an iota of doubt that I would spend the rest of my life studying it.
Q: Why did you decide to post your project on Petridish?
Of course, I hope to have my project funded, but I also think that Petridish is a brilliant way of sharing my discoveries. Just as I always took my day’s catch home to show my mom (or whomever was at the house) when I was a kid, I still love to share my passion for the natural world. What good is making a discovery if you can’t share it?
Q: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve found in your research so far?
Most people studying macroecology (i.e. large-scale ecology) find a relationship between abundance and distribution. That is to say, species that are common tend also to be widespread. I didn’t find this for butterflies in eastern Ecuador, and if this pattern is true for tropical insects, it might cause us to have to rethink some pretty well-established ecological patterns. I also found a butterfly at one of my sites with an extremely restricted distribution – it is found only in a relatively small forested area in eastern Ecuador. More shocking still was the discovery by some of my coworkers that this might be true for several hundred butterfly species in South America. We just don’t know for sure yet.
Q: What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you in the field?
Learning Spanish was a struggle at first. During one of my earliest trips to Costa Rica, I expressed my excitement for being in the forest to a local guy, who appeared quite confused by my revelation. When I was first learning, I often ‘spanish-ized’ English words in the hopes that they would be understood. Well, that often works, but not always. I had explained to this man that I was ‘excitado’, which there means excited, yes… but in a way one ought not to tell strangers. After someone pointed out my mistake, I quickly joked at how ‘embarazado’ I was. Apparently, I was also pregnant. That got a good laugh, at my expense of course. My Spanish is pretty good now, but when it occurs that I’m at a loss for a word, I think twice before inventing one.
To read more about Geoff’s research, ask questions or back his work, view the project page:
My research aims to gather data that will be used to understand rarity in Peruvian butterflies, in order to conserve them long into the future.