Doing ecology in any system often involves technical tricks, the kind of thing that never shows up in the Methods section of papers but is nevertheless essential for doing the work. Your Methods section might say that you implanted radio transmitters into sharks–but probably won’t say that you did this by taking advantage of the fact that sharks fall asleep if you flip them over.
Which is too bad, because it means that much of the obscure background knowledge, creativity, and cleverness involved in getting science done is invisible except to the cognoscenti, the few others who know the same technical tricks you do.
Don’t know that I have any super-clever technical tricks myself. I definitely do have tricks–running protist microcosms involves just as much as obscure background knowledge and technical know-how as running field experiments, however hard that might be for you muddy boots field ecologists to believe. 😉 But I don’t know that my tricks, important as they are for doing microcosm research, would be all that interesting to someone who doesn’t work in the system. For instance, we count our protists in water drops, live under a binocular microscope. To make the protists easier to spot it helps to tap the petri dish containing the sample on the microscope base. This gets the protists moving (I call it “flushing the game”) and so makes them easier to spot. It also flattens and spreads out the drop of water that you’re looking at, so that you’re not trying to look right down the side of a steep-sided water drop. Optical distortions prevent you from seeing protists swimming along the edge of a steep-sided drop of water. Like I said, dish tapping is a very useful trick–but somehow not as cool as flipping sharks over to make them fall asleep.
So, what are your best technical tricks?