A lot of the professional academic folks connected to the deep sea ROV dives have areas of expertise, so that while they might not know as much about all the other critters on the screen, they really know sea stars, black corals, comb jellies, siphonophores, etc. As someone with plenty of time, and with a university library somewhat nearby where there are journals I might use to read professional, published literature, I figured I could pick a focus, as if I was in grad school (I do have 3 graduate ecology courses on my transcript, so that’s not such a crazy idea) and spend the next year becoming an armchair expert.
The problem is, I love them all. Actually, though, the more I think about what I zero in on during dives, I think I already do have a focus, just not one as simple to define and become ‘expert’ in. One of my graduate courses in ecology was actually in what I suspect is my natural area of specialization- landscape ecology. I loved the subject matter of that course, and if GIS was easier and cheaper to play with on my sad little laptop, I would be spending a lot of my free time mastering it as a tool central to landscape ecology work.
The thing that makes landscape ecology so complex is that it requires some level of mastery of other scales of ecological and biological study. In order to understand whether the differences in species between this Channel Islands submerged slope
and this one
are due to the overall shape and texture of the landscape (which are determined by currants, geology, etc) or whether the species on each slope are just chance-determined patchiness. The top photo is of a slope where there were no eels. The critters living on the wall were rockfish, white tube worms, basket stars, and a few other species; the bottom was dominated by red sea stars. The second photo is of a nearby slope, which was explored the previous night, and its walls were absolutely full of dogface witch eels(Facciolella equatorialis), a whole vertical city of them, while the bottom was dominated by pink urchins. The walls have different textures, but it is hard to say how much the eels’ habitat was altered by the eels over generations of their use of it, for example.
In order to know why these and other similar slopes vary so much, I need to understand the ecology of all the various critters that live on each slope and bottom area, and how those organisms interact in their local ecosystems. I also need to know more about the shapes of the surfaces these critters live on, the geology of the surfaces, the rough boundaries of each species, etc. Basically, in order to understand larger-scale spatial patterns of these places, I need to be a jack of all oceanographic trades. Mastering any one type of critter, while fun, would be too narrow a focus to really further my mastery of the landscape-level ecology of the ocean ecosystems.