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An ode to the mudosphere

Field work has been cancelled the world over due to COVID-19. Over at The Molecular Ecologist, the contributors curated some photos from our exploits in the field as a nostalgic post to life pre-lockdown (if you have photos, be sure to send them to TMEfieldworkphotos@gmail.com).

My lab spends a lot of time in mud – the pluffier the better. We’d had plans to take the whole lab up to Virginia where we have been sampling on and off since 2014 but such a field trip was not in the cards. Instead, we’ve been dreaming of those long hot, days – filled with marshy mud that leaves a lingering eau de parfum after many washes. We even dare I say miss the occasional green head that feasts on your flesh.

My post-doc Will Ryan sent me this paper a few weeks ago by Stephen Hale in The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America in the praise of mud. And, I must say it reinvigorated a certain longing for those long hours in the field …

Forty years ago, Edward Deevey wrote a piece called “In the Defense of Mud.” We now know that muddy habitats are crucial for a variety of ecosystem functions. Hale lists 5 reasons to appreciate mud:

Figure 1. © Wikipedia

CHEMISTRY

“Muddy sediments recycle organic matter back into nutrients for plant photosynthesis (Figure 1)”

A tube building polychaete, Diopatra cuprea, that burrows in muddy estuaries. ©SA Krueger-Hadfield

BIOLOGY

“Life got started in an anoxic environment, perhaps in a muddy soup of chemicals”

PHYSICS

“Mud can be thixotropic, meaning that when agitated, it becomes more fluid, enabling the movement of mud-dwelling invertebrates (Figure 2)”

 

 

GEOLOGY, PALEONTOLOGY, ARCHAELOGY

Figure 3. Vasa – the pride of the Swedish navy that sunk in the Stockholm Harbor in 1628 – hands down one of the best museums I’ve ever had the good fortune to visit. (photo credit SA Krueger-Hadfield)

“Anoxic mud preserves organic materials that, in the presence of oxygen, would have rotted long ago; for example, sunken wooden ships like the Vasa that sank in Stockholm Harbor in 1628 (Figure 3), ancient sunken ships in the Black Sea, birch scrolls from 13th century Russia.”

Hale includes a 5th – non-scientific – reason to appreciate mud:

DIRECT HUMAN USES

What little kid doesn’t love mud pies? Even big kids have been known to partake in some muddy fun while field sampling (Figure 4).

Mud has even inspired poets to describe it as glorious. ee cummings called the world “mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful.”

As I sit at my desk at home I certainly miss the smell of the marsh and the wonderful world my lab gets to observe … one day we will be back praising and defending mud. Until then, enjoy Hale’s In Praise of Mud.

 

References

Hale SS (2020) In Praise of Mud. The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America e01709.

Field work nostalgia from 2015 in which I became stuck in the massive depression over my right shoulder for a good 45 minutes but managed to stay relatively un-muddied. © C Destombe

 

 

Stacy Krueger-Hadfield is an Assistant Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Editor of Social Media at the AGA. You can follow her on twitter @quooddy.

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