How are the nights?

Oh, how often comes that question: ‘And… how are the nights?’ Since Zoyla has been born, there has been a spark of interest into our sleeping habits, often accompagnied by worried looks for growing bags under my eyes.

I could simply tell you all ‘it’s going pretty decent, thank you’ and move on. But, wouldn’t it be much better if we would let the numbers do the talking? I thought so!

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Me posing with our study organism

So I dove into the data again, turning life with a baby into some new lines of R-code (of course with the obligatory pink dots and lines; the little princess wouldn’t allow otherwise). The used dataset is all thanks to my lovely wife, who has been tracking eating and sleeping patterns of our baby since almost the very beginning (see also the ‘sleep-pattern’ graph at the end of this post). Using that wealth of data, I could extract for each night the time between the last feeding of the evening and the first feeding of the morning. The result is presented below:

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Time between the two main night feedings (in hours) during the first 4 months of our baby’s life. The line is the result of a Generalized Additive Model.

So what do the numbers say? Well, clearly our sleep is improving! While our brave little girl could not stand more than 4 hours between her feedings at night during the first few weeks (note that the even more intense newborn week 1 and 2 are missing), she rapidly improved her night habits with a peak around 3 months of age. Then, we could often wait 8 (!) hours or more between feedings. That is truly amazing, even considering that these hours start already at around 18h00.

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Then, we rolled in to that dark period of the ‘4 month sleep regression’, with a clear dip in the model at around week 14. The baby-books had warned us for that: at around this age, she would temporarily forget part of the sleeping habits we painstakingly built up. We thus went back from 1 to 2 feedings a night for a while (including the half an hour of holding her straight up for her reflux – luckily we are two to tackle the nights).

But now those dark days seem over again, with the curve soaring upwards. Fingers crossed that slope will keep up that pace as, dear lord, one starts to love a good night’s sleep!

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They grow so quickly, don’t they?

Supplementary graph

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Sleep pattern of our baby in the night since we started tracking when she was about 2 months of age. Green bands are sleep, white bands are awake time, often filled with eating.

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Climate impacts on your doorstep

Extreme weather events are all over the news in recent years, with intense floodings in Asia, fires raging through Australia, and record heatwaves melting the asphalt in Western-Europe. We are all starting to feel the impact of the changing climate in every aspect of our lives.

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Summer droughts are the new normal in western Europe, so we better brace ourselves

In Flanders, increasing summer drought brings the effects of climate change into our homes and gardens, as summer heatwaves dry out the lawns, put restrictions on the water use and endanger the health of the elderly. Yes, indeed: despite the countless cliches about Flanders’ endless rain and grey skies, the region can be counted among the most water-limited and drought-sensitive areas in Europe.

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Summer droughts do not only impact agriculture – here a potato flower in a hot simmering evening sun, our gardens and parks feel the burden as well

While these recent summer droughts highlight the vulnerability of Flanders and its gardens to weather extremes, they also emphasize something else: gardens and parks can play an important yet underappreciated role in the water management during extreme events in Flanders. And, perhaps even more important: they bring the climate issues literally to people’s doorsteps, creating the perfect opportunity for an awareness campaign about climate adaptation and the issues related to intense summer droughts.

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Bringing climate measurements to the network of Flemish gardens to monitor the impacts of summer droughts

And that is exactly what we are setting out to do. Thanks to support from the Flemish government, we are rolling out an ambitious citizen science project that combines sensitization about climate issues with a unique scientific dataset about the impact of weather extremes. To that end, we will establish a network of thousands of ‘garden thermometers’, miniature weather stations that will monitor the temperature and humidity of gardens across the region.

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A mini weather station that monitors temperature and soil moisture for a fraction of the costs we traditionally had to pay, that is what allows us to roll out such an ambitious citizen science project

So, please stay tuned for ‘CurieuzeNeuzen duikt onder’ de ambitious follow-up of the citizen science project that made the Flemish people aware of the air quality in their streets. Now, it is the climate that is in our crosshairs, but together we will take it down: all together towards more climate-resilient gardens for the future.

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Ready for 2020

The 3D lab is ready for the new year to come, and plans are bigger than ever! Let’s take the opportunity of those dark days before January to highlight some of the things we hope to bring to you:

  • First and foremost: our PhD-students are preparing to harvest the benefits from their hard work in the previous year(s). A PhD always starts with searching, learning, building a foundation to work upon. Reading literature, doing fieldwork and learning and doing statistical analysis, it all requires a big investment. For Ronja, Charly and Jan, these things are now going to pay off. They are all currently working on (analyses for) their first first-author papers and, oh boy, does that make me proud!

What is happening in these mountain soils? Our team is hoping to tell you more about it in 2020!

  • 2019 has given us a whole bunch of big announcements regarding our SoilTemp-database. Now I promise, 2020 is when we will finally do what we set out to do: consolidating the global network, spreading its branches further to all parts of the globe, and answering these big global microclimate questions that have been intriguing scientists for so long. We have the plans of freshly started PhD-student Stef with our colleagues in Leuven, and of our collaborations with geomorphometrists (scientists studying the shape of the land), and the machine learning team in Zürich. But most of all, we will benefit from the group effort of several hundred of microclimate enthusiasts to do what scientists do best: work together to tackle global problems.

How do forest understory temperatures differ from the weather station averages? One of the countless SoilTemp-questions for the new year.

  • Our work with the Mountain Invasion Research Network will also bring more good news in the new year. We do not only have the work of Ronja and Jan, and of master students Ilias, Sam, Robin and Nell, but will also work together more with PhD-student Eduardo and the rest of the South American MIREN-team. Then there is more global analyses on the way, for example regarding the mysteries of the belowground world along mountain roads and trails.
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The Chilean part of our MIREN-team, one of the many exciting collaborations planned in the new year!

  • Finally, there is our work in the urban realm. Charly is promising some fantastic discoveries on urban invasions in the new year; we teamed up with a global network on urban invasions, and master student Naomi is joining the Lab to answer questions on the perception of nature in the city. Last but not least, there is some big funding news in the making for our urban projects. What that’s going to be about will have to remain a secret till early next year. 

 

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Where are non-native plant species sprouting most? Charly will be able to tell you in the near future!

So, that are our major story lines in the new year. We hope to keep The 3D Lab growing, keep learning from each other, keep doin great science and, most importantly of all, solve important scientific questions that will help us to keep our eyes on the price: saving our natural world from the dramatic changes our world is experiencing.

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Strengthening SoilTemp

Our SoilTemp-network got pretty lucky the week for Christmas: the project we applied for with the Research Foundation Flanders got funded, ensuring that our database iniative can gear up even more!

Although it was a relatively small grant that covers research equipment only, it comes in addition to earlier realized travel money and just at the right time to further consolidate our growing network.

The new funds allows us to expand our research in 3 critical directions. First of all, we’ll reinforce the established logger network we have in the north of Scandinavia. There, in the beautiful Scandes mountain range in Norway and Sweden and the flatlands of northern Finland, a whole range of SoilTemp-collaborators have been maintaining soil temperature loggers for years.

 

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Expanding our SoilTemp logger network in the northern Scandes will help us understand the effect of the complex topography in the region 

Thanks to these longterm achievements, the area already forms the biggest stronghold of our network, yet expanding it even more with the newly received loggers will ensure that we can use the northern Scandes to answer the most detailed and high-resolution microclimate questions.

What is more, we can now finally realize a longstanding dream: we can fly a drone over our precious mountains to look at them from above. This will provide crucial high-resolution data on the impact of mountain disturbances – like trails – on the mountain vegetation and its microclimate.

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Flying a drone with thermal camera, here at a workshop in France

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we will make sure SoilTemp will conquer the world even more: we will install microclimate loggers in some of the most remote places of the world to fill the emptiest spots on our worldmap. For those interested in helping us with the latter achievement, keep an eye out for a formal call early in the new year!

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SoilTemp wants to get a foothold in more of the most remote places on earth. Here, the Andes in southern Chile

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Dad in academia

On September 5th, my wife gave birth to a beautiful girl. On that day, our lifes went into a new, happier, fuller and much muore complicated phase: that of parenthood.

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Me and the little thing that turned my life upside down

From one day to the next, I became a ‘dad in academia’. And from that day, the search was one: how to balance the sometimes more-than-full-time job that is being a postdoctoral researcher with the more-than-full-time job of being a loving dad. But there I am lucky, as my job as a postdoc – and my colleagues – allow me that one wonderful thing: flexibility.

Thanks to this, I could shift around my working hours, keeping in mind what the baby wanted, needed and deserved. That is a privilege, it truly is, but also one of the greatest things about a job in academia: most of the time it doesn’t matter too much when and where you work, as long as the work gets done.

So I dove into the data to see how that looks, the working life of a dad in academia.

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My work schedule (minutiously tracked using the Timeular app) from September 5th, Zoyla’s birthday, till today, with each day a column. Pink colors indicate work that I did during working hours (of a ‘normal’ 9 to 5). The blue boxes are for work done outside these hours. Grey zones represent the weekends, horizontal black lines delineate the lunch break (often with colleagues).  Graph made with ggplot and (due to time limitations, I’m a working dad after all) some cheating in Inkscape. 

It looks like I did get the job done. Even though the first two weeks of her little life where spend in the hospital (she had to recover from a bacterial infection), the last two weeks were mostly spend moving into our own house, and I invested a great deal of time lowering the workload of the mother, I did still manage to be a fulltime scientist.

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Explaining the magic of R to the baby. She prefers ArcGIS, it’s more colorfull.

It required quite some creativity, ranging from explaining the magic of R to a – relatively – interested 3-months-old to working standing straight with a sleeping baby in a sling. There was catching up of lost working hours in the evenings and the weekends, and profiting maximally from the early rising. There were moments of processing emails when nothing else could be done, like the boring times in the hospital when baby was kept in a different room, or in the darkest moments of the nights when the baby really really didn’t want to be in her bed.

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Got the baby to sleep, so room for late night paper submission

In return, I got to experience so many precious moments of that baby growing up. Help ensuring that her mother doesn’t have to take the burden all alone, and being there with so many of the ‘firsts’ that make a parent happy.

Thanks to this academic flexibility, I never felt things getting out of control. Now, the new balance of life as a dad in academia has been found. What does remain challenging? The international travel that inevitably comes with my job. Leaving mum and baby alone for more than a day will every time tear me apart. For my next conference in Iceland, we’ll at least all go together, but many more heartbraking goodbyes will come.

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Microclimatic conditions anywhere at any time!

Earlier this month, the journal Global Change Biology asked me to write a little commentary about a recent paper . Well, that’s an offer one cannot refuse! First of all: that’s a tremendous honour; thanks GCB to think of me to write such a commentary. Secondly: the paper, from one of our SoilTemp-colleagues Ilya Maclean, is a beauty and more than worth the extra press.

So I got Jonathan Lenoir on board and wrote ‘Microclimatic conditions anywhere at any time!’

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How we can get microclimatic conditions anywhere at any time, using the mechanistic models from Maclean (2019) in Global Change Biology, and microclimate measurements (for example from our SoilTemp-network)

That is indeed exactly what we are celebrating here with this commentary: thanks to the computer models made by Maclean and colleagues, we can now finally – finally! – calculate microclimatic conditions anywhere in the world, and for any moment in the past, present ànd future. And that is important, as it is these local climate conditions – overlooked by traditional weather stations – that do matter for all biodiversity on earth.

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Microclimate logger

So now, what is next in global change ecology research, given that we can now get the ‘real’ climatic conditions anywhere at any time? Well, we argue that the predictions should be matched with on-the-ground measurements from all over the world.

And that’s where our SoilTemp-database steps in. We would herewith like to renew our call to all researchers having microclimatic data records for a given location and microhabitat to share their data in a common and global geo-database: SoilTemp. More about that on soiltemp.weebly.com!

Reference

Lembrechts JJ, Lenoir J (2019). Microclimatic conditions anywhere at any time! Global Change Biology.

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The hiking trail invasions

We like mountain trails. But we are not alone, it looks like: invasive plant species love them as well as a gateway to invade higher elevations areas.
What we always suspected, is now finally proven, thanks to the work of a tireless master student, spending a summer hiking up and down the slopes of the Chilean Andes.
Click on the interactive image below to learn more about our results:
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Thanks to Rebecca Liedtke and Jonas Lembrechts for pictures
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