My intention with this post was to coherently present an idea I had during my Ph.D., which I never pursued. However, when I started typing, I felt the urge to reflect on an aspect of my journey as a scientist and what motivated my latest publication.
Link to Article: EXPLORING VERTEBRATE COMMUNITY RESILIENCE TO INVASIVE MAMMAL PREDATOR INVASIONS
Why this paper?
Skip to the last paragraph in this section for the TL;DR
One of the most inspiring mentors I've ever had once asked, "If you had all of the funding in the world, what research question would I pursue?"
The question came as I was wrapping up my MS thesis on quantifying mongoose populations and their relationship to environmental variables in the Rainforest in Puerto Rico. At the time, I failed to think deeply about how my research fitted the bigger picture in the field of Ecology. I guess that's why I felt like a kid in a candy store after being asked! I want to chase sooooo many projects, ideas, and questions. But, in retrospect, I was more concerned with what I personally thought were exciting questions instead of what would be a good Ecological problem to solve that'll interest the collective. Besides that, I had a bad case of "Insular thinking" and unwavering pride in all things PR. Oh, how things have changed! But this is a convo worth exploring at a later time…
Back to the question if I had all the funding and resources…I wanted to pursue so many exciting questions about what allows invasive species to be so plastic, so paradoxical in many ways. Indeed my favorite phrase for a while was "from molecules to landscapes, it's all Ecology!" So finally, I settled on the central question of my dissertation: are mongooses taking advantage of the existing connectivity in Puerto Rico's landscape? This question stemmed from my MS, what (related to landscape structure) allows mongooses to establish populations? Even in those environments that theoretically are not conducive to? I decided to apply molecular techniques and examine landscape-level metrics to settle those questions.
However, with that same excitement, I got overwhelmed reading about the many methods I could use to get at my answer. I'm sorry, reader, but this is yet another topic for another post on how Ph.D. students tend to chase the most shiny-fancy-state of the art-method, or maybe I'm speaking for myself…
I also got diagnosed with ADHD and wanted to show it in my writing this time: letting paragraph ideas flow with minimal editing. I hope it makes sense and does not backfire… Back to the question of why this paper… the concept explored in this paper I developed during a graduate proposal writing seminar. It was supposed to be one of the chapters of my dissertation. However, I found it unfeasible as I chiseled my project and shaped it into what I wanted to be. I noticed I was gravitating towards another topic, tho interesting, not related to my main question. I cannot discount that I was strongly influenced by many brilliant colleagues in Dr. Pauli's lab, whose topics on foraging strategies, food webs, and diets were so exciting and innovative. Besides, the issues those folks were studying represented HUGE knowledge gaps for invasive mongoose populations in the faunal assembly of Puerto Rico. Nevertheless, although outside the scope of my dissertation topic, I allowed myself to explore those topics within the context of invasive species on islands.
I think there is a lot of potential to explore novel species assemblages in tropical islands through food web studies. Specifically, what is the functional role of a small mammal invading a native biological community? In this paper, I got to think about what question I would pursue if I had unlimited funding. This time, however, I could find where my personal interests might meet the collective. I think I found where this research fits within the bigger picture: A deeper understanding of mongoose influence on Puerto Rico's terrestrial vertebrate food web is paramount for biodiversity management and to grasp the bigger question of community resilience to biotic invasion.
Ecóloga, Mujer y Puertorriqueña. Sarcástica, pero seria