20 August 2016

Organising forams

It's not the first time this happens to me. One works on a project, you get students working on it too, and then you want to use their results but realise there is at least one issue with their identification. And then you have to do it all again. I should learn and be more involved in the counting; if you don't do it when they're actually doing the counting you run the risk of having to do it all again on your own, often with very little documentation of hat the student had doen in the firts place.

The previous time this happened, the student had at least sorted the forams to a certain degree. But now we had had two students who had been involved in the Laugharne fieldwork, during which we make them pick 100 specimens, and not sort them but just identify them. So that was what they were used to and that was what they did. They had just placed one or two forams on each of the 64 numbered rectangles on the microslides we use. As they both had tried to count to 300, they had many slides per sample, and there was no way of having an overview. And then I tried to make a type collection from the forams these students had picked. And then I saw we did not agree. If I went to a sample in which they claimed a certain species was abundant I often found few, and sometimes I found nice specimens of a species they claimed not to have. And they had only given us total counts; not count sheets with what they had called the specific foraminifera on the various rectangles, so we could not reconstruct what they had called what. A problem! What to do?

I discussed with James; he suggested we get external help in. I had been the one student's main taxonomy adviser, and our former colleague Anna had helped the other. So if Anna would pop by, we could make sure we agreed on everything. And she would! Which was good news; she is not only good with cold water forams, but she is also very nice. And she would be in town for unrelated business anyway. All good!

We first looked at the type slides; fortunately we tended to agree on taxonomy. Then we had a look at the students' samples. We started with organising one sample each of the one student and discussing what we called all the species. Then we went on to the next. And when we were at it we ended up reorganising them all. It's a bit of a chore; one of the samples had been spread out over five slides and sorting all that is a pain. But I'm learning! My arctic taxonomy has not been this good since I left Norway. And at least we now have thoroughly identified samples with proper documentation. And I think I have managed to convince James to at least make sure that our current students hand over documentation of their slides before they leave. Better to have them organise their slides, but well, count sheets is a start. But for now I'm having a trip down memory lane being neck deep in forams again!

The way the students left their slides

The way we leave them

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