06 December 2014

Geeking out about acorns on the local news.

My university has a pretty decent relationship with the local news. Reporters fairly frequently contact the public relations office, seeking out an authority (i.e., professor) on the topic of the story they're preparing. A few folks in my department appear in news stories on a semi-regular basis, mostly offering facts and opinions on issues tangentially related to their areas of expertise.

I wasn't entirely surprised, therefore, when I got a phone call from the public relations office a few days ago, asking if I'd be willing to talk to a reporter. I was initially apprehensive, as I'm still trying to get my bearings in my new home state and wasn't sure I wanted to be put on the spot if asked about something controversial. I had no need for fear, though: I'd been recommended as someone who could talk about why it was there seemed to be such a large acorn crop this year.

"Heck yeah!" I thought, and calmly agreed to meet with the reporter that afternoon. I spent a few minutes doing a quick literature search. As I suspected, there's a decent amount of literature on that very topic. I made a list of talking points, including a few general notes about plant biology/ecology:

  1. Acorns are the fruit of the oak tree, created by the fertilization of a female flower by pollen from a male flower.
  2. Multiple factors can affect the development of an acorn, including how many flowers of each type are produced, effectiveness of pollination, and whether the tree has resources to dedicate to developing lots of fruits.
  3. The factors above are, in turn, dependent on temperature, amount of sunlight, and levels of precipitation.
  4. Acorn production (masting) also varies temporally (through years), spatially (across geography), and by species (some oak species produce more/larger acorns).
  5. This summer has been particularly cool and wet compared to the past (I checked average temperature and precipitation for the month of July for 2011-2014), so perhaps those conditions favor more acorn production.
  6. Trees are large and can't move, so resource allocations from previous years can affect acorn production in subsequent years.
The interview took about 15 minutes. We went outside and stood near some conveniently located oaks near my building. Of course, the talking points I had planned were shuffled around and reframed depending on the questions he asked, but I think I covered everything listed above and more (acorns are food for wildlife, they do eventually grow into trees, etc). Then the reporter grabbed a totally awkward shot of me walking down a path looking at leaves.

It's totally cringe worthy, but I know at least my dad will want the link, so you can see how my talking points above translated into the final story here: KLTV News, Why so many acorns this fall?

Lessons learned: keep makeup and a blazer in my office, to prepare for next time. Be a more careful about preparing appropriate sound-bites. I was also surprised to learn how much trouble the reporter had getting someone to talk to him about this; a number of arborists in town completely blew him off. I thought it was super cool! That's probably a good thing, because the public relations representative said at the end of the interview, "Great! I can add you to the list to talk about plant stuff!"

Great, indeed. Let's call this "service to the university." 

1 comment:

John Hertweck said...

Kate being typically awesome.