Inspired by comments on a previous post: what are your best stories about “gremlins” messing up your field experiments?
The only story of my own that I have about this is from my undergrad days, when a classmate and I did an observational study of seed caching by chickadees. We were having problems with grey squirrels frequenting the feeder and disturbing the chickadees, thereby preventing us from getting many observations. It was suggested to us that we use a squirt gun loaded with a mild ammonia solution to scare the squirrels away. Hiding behind a shrub with a squirt gun in case any squirrels came by is the closest I’ll ever come to hunting. 🙂
Speaking of squirrels, one of my grad students had problems with ground squirrels stealing the flags he was using to mark plants. If I recall correctly, it took him some time and effort to come up with a way of marking plants that the ground squirrels would ignore.
My undergrad advisor once lost a replicate of an experiment on tadpoles in rockpools when a duck ate all the tadpoles out of one of the pools. Just one pool, fortunately, which I thought was kind of odd. Why wouldn’t ducks eat all the tadpoles out of all the pools?
Of course, unless yours is a very remote field site, the worst gremlins often are Homo sapiens. In grad school, a labmate of mine doing a mesocosm experiment on mosquito larvae lost the whole experiment when (if I recall correctly) a city worker added mosquitofish to every one of her tanks. I assume adding mosquitofish to standing water was part of the local mosquito control policy. Next summer she repeated the experiment–after first moving her mesocosms off campus to a secluded area in a university forest.
Gremlins can be abiotic too. When I was an undergrad the field experiment I was sampling for my honors project was destroyed by a huge (once-in-a-decade) storm. Not so unusual. But I know of grad students who work on coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico whose experiments involve bolting large metal enclosures to the sea floor. They hold their breath every time a hurricane goes through (sometimes in vain–they’ve had experiments completely demolished, even in very deep water).
So, what are your best stories about “gremlins” messing up your field experiments? 1000 Internet Points for the best story, and for the story involving the rarest or most unusual gremlin. 🙂
p.s. The subject and title of this post (capitalization and all) is my attempt to mess with regular reader Margaret Kosmala, who tries to guess the post author from the title. Did I fool you into thinking Meg wrote this post, Margaret? 🙂