Biomes, 2011-2016,  Josh Ness,  Digital video files, Courtesy of Josh Ness 

We easily recognize time-based patterns when they unfold over seconds or minutes directly in front of us. We have to be more patient to witness incremental phenomena revealed over longer periods. In the biome of the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mexico, climatic variation occurs over many nested cycles — day and night, five annual seasons, the El Nino/ La Nina transitions every three to seven years, the approximately ten years of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, whose cycle appears to run between thirty and forty years. Modeling these cycles with a series of nested sine curves (micro-oscillations within macro-oscillations) might help us imagine and better understand how a long-lived organism, such as a cactus, tortoise, or Mexican wolf, experiences these arcs.

In the graphs below, I model the interaction of Crematogaster opuntiae and Solenopsis aurea ant colonies with nectar-producing desert plants. My study uses approximately 52,000 descriptions of hourly climate (temperature, rainfall, and humidity) and quantitative descriptions of insects’ physiological responses to these phenomena based on 3544 inspections of plants the insects visit, recorded at my study site in the Sonoran Desert at hourly intervals over a six-year time span. It’s difficult to look at that chronology and not detect a pattern in it or ascribe one to it, especially upon seeing the more than 200,000 data points integrated into a picture.

For scientists seeking patterns in nature, video and repeat photography offer useful tools for describing communities, detecting pertinent time scales for particular phenomena, and capturing how those communities change over time. The biomes presented here include the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Catskill Mountains, Skidmore’s North Woods, the Atlantic Coast in New Hampshire, the Northern Forest of the Great Lakes, the North Island of New Zealand, and Moreton Bay in Australia. All are structured by the same sort of climatic rhythms described above. A particular combination of precipitation, temperature, and solar energy engenders dynamic conditions that distinguish each site. Some of the videos have been accelerated to make these patterns more explicit.

Josh Ness



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