From Star Trek to Species Ranks in Space… and Beyond

Post provided by Leonardo Saravia

Algae, Space Travel and Jungles

One of my main areas of study is Periphyton developed in microcosms. For those of you who don’t know, Periphyton is a green biofilm that you may notice in some (not very clean) swimming pools and is composed mainly of algae, bacteria, fungi, meiofauna and detritus. I started studying Periphyton because my Masters thesis involved developing a model in freshwater systems and after that I wanted to look into their spatial distribution.

©Hubble Heritage

©Hubble Heritage

I wanted to find an opportunity to connect my study system with two of my passions: space travel (I used to watch Star Trek and also I thoroughly enjoyed Space: The Final Frontier for Ecological Theory by Peter Kareiva) and tropical rainforests (which I developed a fondness for while watching Tarzan). I thought I could use Periphyton as a model system to test ecological theory, with a complexity similar to tropical forest as suggested by Lowe [1].

The study of the spatial structure of Periphyton was not as easy as space travel in Star Trek (for one thing they have a warp drive and I don’t!). I wanted to compare spatial models and data, but the methods that were available weren’t very well-suited to what I wanted to do, so I was not sure of how to begin. In the end, I decided to launch my first microcosms experiment and in the first photos I took of Periphyton’s spatial structure I saw they were like clouds, algae clouds. Continue reading