Hi there, I’m Garvin, a PhD student looking into really really small organisms: Protists.
When I first came into contact with the AG Scheu I was introduced into the small soil living animals like mites (Oribatida), springtails (Collembola) and what else is creeping down there. I stuck to the Oribatida during my diploma, looking into morphology and molecular phylogeny of peculiar species called Rostrozetes from Ecuador (second picture on the left). This was actually quite fun to do!
Then I got the chance to do mostly the same (check the morphology of a particular species and compare it with the molecular phylogeny) but with an entirely different group of organisms: Testate amoebae, small glibbery things with a shell, which I knew nothing about. Well, what a nice starting point… To make everything a bit more challenging these lads are paraphyletic and aren’t even in the same phylum. Check out Difflugia (Arcellinida, Amoebozoa) and Leptogromia (Cercozoa, Rhizaria) for example. As you see, testate amoebae can be even smaller than Oribatida. But the smaller they get the more fascinating (and alien) they become!
The morphological part could be done for Trigonopyxis arcula but the molecular approach would not come to fruition, despite culturing, cloning, nested PCRs and whatever. So I switched to a broader approach and delved heads on into next generation sequencing metagenomics. However, I did not stuck to testate amoebae alone but stumbled into the wider world of protists (third picture on the left).
Oh boy! An even greater “mess”, taxonomically spoken. But at the same time an even more fascinating “group” than everything I encountered before. Protists can do everything, really! And they actually do it. It seems to me that the smaller an organism is the more important it is for the system it lives in. In addition to their astoundingly vast amount of ecological function the look pretty nice, too!
In the end we still know not much about them. However, each and every day new stuff is discovered.
Right now, I finished looking into changes in trophic groups of protists with conversion of rainforest into rubber and oil palm plantations. The next step is to check what effects some fungi, soil fauna and fertilisation have on protists in a particular system.
Besides that, I really like to do stuff in R. You should check it out, too!