In Field Research, Common Sense is Best Precaution

In Field Research, Common Sense is Best Precaution

This summer, assistant professor Benjamin Runkle and his biological and agricultural engineering students are working in eastern Arkansas, where they have set up instruments to measure water use, soil and water chemistry and methane production from a rice field. They are seeking ways to reduce water consumption and reduce heat-trapping carbon emissions. Runkle has submitted several field notes. The field note below is written by Faye Smith, doctoral candidate in environmental dynamics.

Faye Smith

Fig. 1

Irrigation ditches hold unexpected wildlife. Here, an Alligator Gar (Atractosteus spatula) swims past us as we walk through the rice field.

Although much of the research in the Landscape Flux Group depends on field instruments that continuously acquire data, the data collection requires us to deploy and maintain sensitive and complex sensors in a largely uncontrollable environment. Unlike laboratory or greenhouse experiments, we must adapt to new visitors that wander into our rice research site or to sudden changes in weather.

As for some of the uninvited guests, such as the deadly Water Moccasins that wonder about our research station, the best action is avoidance and caution. When cleaning sensors or digging out ground lines, it is desirable to avoid very sudden movements until you can be reasonably sure there are no spiders or snakes that may abruptly halt the day’s field expedition.

Remnants from tropical storm “Bill” cut short a field day with cold and heavy rain.

Remnants from tropical storm “Bill” cut short a field day with cold and heavy rain.

While these creatures can be hazardous to one’s health, our research team is ready to handle any misadventure. We keep emergency contacts on hand at all times and we are within a reasonable driving distance to town. Although Mother Nature can seem deadly or unfriendly at times, the beautiful and powerful creatures that wonder into our rice fields remind me of why we must strive to promote agricultural sustainability.

A Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) preying on what appears to be a non-venomous Plainbelly Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster) near the research station.

A Water Moccasin (Agkistrodon piscivorus) preying on what appears to be a non-venomous Plainbelly Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster) near the research station.

No matter how hard we attempt to impose straight lines of uniform grain across our countryside, nature finds ways to sneak in. These blurred lines between agriculture and the environment, including how our agricultural management practices can affect far-away natural ecosystems, should serve as a reminder of how we must strive to find ways of coexisting.

About The Author

Matt McGowan writes about research in the College of Engineering, Sam M. Walton College of Business, School of Law and other areas. He is the editor of Short Talks From the Hill, a podcast of the University of Arkansas. Reach him at 479-575-4246 or dmcgowa@uark.edu.

University Relations Science and Research Team

University Relations Science and Research Team

Matt McGowan
science and research writer
479-575-4246, dmcgowa@uark.edu

Robert Whitby
science and research writer
479-387-0720, whitby@uark.edu

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