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Ancient spiders from an ancient forest

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Ever wish you could travel back through time and see a west coast Vancouver Island rainforest before industrial logging? To see huge old trees, intact soils and life in a climax ecosystem? You do not have to invent a time machine, you only need to travel about an hour out of Port Renfrew to the spectacular Walbran Valley.

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As part of an effort to document the biodiversity of the valley, I traveled with fellow arachnologists Claudia Copley, Darren Copley, Zoe Lindo, and Catherine Scott, along with birders, mycologists, lichenologists and assorted volunteers to spend a day among the giant trees. We were there at the invitation of the Friends of Carmanah-Walbran to lend our expertise to the effort of catloguing the biodiversity of this beautiful, yet still at-risk west coast habitat.

We arrived at the somewhat storied “Bridge to Nowhere”, where in 1991 environmental protesters confronted the logging companies, the RCMP and the government of British Columbia, holding the line against industrial exploitation of a rare ecosystem. What the activists were asking for seems modest: Can’t we have just this one watershed, among all the others on Vancouver Island, be preserved and protected from the clearcutting and degradation that is the fate of every other valley on the Island?

20170528-IMG_00212. Pacheedaht elder Bill Jones walks across the Bridge to Nowhere

While the Friends of Carmanah-Walbran took the other participants deep into the woods on hikes, we arachnologists ventured only short distances into the woods, as our slow and careful sifting through the soil and beating of the bushes is certainly not a thrill ride for everyone. For us, however, it was thrilling, as within 30 minutes of arrival on site, we had found a beautiful and seemingly dense population of Hexura picea, a relative of tarantulas.

20170528-IMG_00803. Hexura picea, a tarantula relative, brought out of its underground silk tunnel complex for a photo shoot.

These little, pretty, but nondescript spiders live in small silk tunnel complexes among the soil and rocks of the forest floor. Each tunnel has a main entrance lined with silk, and several other openings which may facilitate rapid escape or offer alternate exits at which to snare prey. Being members of the suborder Mygalomorphae, they are indeed tarantula relatives, a group of spiders that closely resemble ancient spiders. Many mygalomorphs retain traces of segmentation on their abdomens, unlike the more modern araneomorph spiders. In the Mecicobothriidae (to which Hexura belongs) the terminal spinneret segments bear “pseudosegmentation”

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The section of forest we found this spider in was a real “tangled bank”, in fact the scree slope associated with Walbran creek and a small tributary, which has since been covered with a layer of soil and a stand of hardy trees.

20170528-IMG_00574. Erosion is a gentler process in a forested valley, with trees holding on to what would be a talus slope higher in the mountains. The soils beneath these trees support an extensive food web.

Finding these spiders in the Walbran was not unexpected, as they had previously been found in the Carmanah Valley and at Avatar Grove, but their presence on Vancouver Island is somewhat puzzling, as they represent the only known Canadian population, and are seemingly not present on the BC mainland.

Given the dense population in the Walbran, the valley would be an wonderful place to study their behaviour, which so far is undocumented. We would presume that much of the activity of these spiders takes place at night, although Catherine was able to lure one out of its burrow by tickling the silken doormat with a twig.

20170528-IMG_01115. Hexura picea emerges from its silken tunnel and onto its “doormat” to “kill” a vibrating cedar twig.

The litter sampling we conducted will surely yield many more species, although we have to wait until the Berlese funnels have extracted all of the arthropods. The work of sampling and cataloguing biodiversity takes time, and is not totally congruent with the rapid “bioblitz” ethos.

If you are ever in BC, and want a trip back in time (never mind our politics), please do not hesitate to come out to the Walbran Valley. You may just discover something amazing.

20170528-IMG_02486. Darren and Claudia picking up pan traps beside the Malaise flight-intercept trap.

 

 

 

 

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Don’t read this article

I will admit that the headline was thoroughly and completely “click bait”. That’s because I was worried that “The new ESC Science Policy Committee and its mandate” would have you move along to the next article. And I hope that giving you the goods now on what this article is about doesn’t cause that right… now.

For those of you who are still with me, and I hope that is a majority of our members, I am aware that policy is not generally considered an exciting topic. But in this era of climate change, environmental degradation, increasing population pressure on our agricultural and silvicultural output, emergent and spreading vector-borne diseases, research funding challenges, and rapidly shifting politics in Canada and many of our largest trading partners, we as entomologists cannot merely sit back and let policy happen. We need to engage with policy makers to encourage careful decision making with the long view in mind.

Our diverse Society membership has an equally diverse set of skills and perspectives to offer to Canadians and the rest of the world. But engagement can only happen if we are willing to put fingers on the pulse of various issues, and to collaboratively marshal responses to issues as they begin to emerge. In other words, we can only be effective if we are able to anticipate in time and react with collective care and wisdom.

Over the past many years, the ESC has maintained a Science Policy and Education Committee. That committee has been effective in many areas including over the past several years:

  • expressing concern to the federal government about travel restrictions on federal scientists wishing to attend ESC meetings,
  • encouraging the continued support of the Experimental Lakes Area,
  • responding to NSERC consultations, and
  • drafting the ESC Policy Statement on Biodiversity Access and Benefit Sharing which was later adopted by our Society.

However, because the combination of both public education and public policy was a substantial and growing mandate, the ESC Executive Council Committee decided in 2015 to split the committee into two, each part taking care of one of the two former aspects.

In October 2016 I was asked to chair and help to formulate the new ESC Science Policy Committee. Your committee now consists of (in alphabetical order):

  • Patrice Bouchard (ESC First VP, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)
  • Crystal Ernst (appointed member, postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University)
  • Neil Holliday, (ESC President, ex officio committee member, University of Manitoba)
  • Dezene Huber (appointed member as academic representative, Chair 2016/2017, University of Northern British Columbia)
  • Fiona Hunter (ESC Second VP, Brock University)
  • Rachel Rix (appointed member and student and early professional representative, Dalhousie University)
  • Amanda Roe (appointed member as government representative, Natural Resources Canada – Canadian Forest Service)

Each executive member’s term is specified by their ESC executive term. Each appointed member is a member for up to 3 years. The Chair position is appointed on a yearly basis. The terms of reference specify that the committee should contain members “who (represent) the Student (and Early Professional) Affairs Committee, and preferably one professional entomologist employed in government service and one employed in academia.

We are officially tasked “(t)o monitor government, industry and NGO science policies, to advise the Society when the science of entomology and our Members are affected, and to undertake tasks assigned by the Board that are designed to interpret, guide, or shift science policy.”

We are now working on putting together an agenda, and have started to work on a few items. For instance, you may recall an eBlast requesting participation in Canada’s Fundamental Science Review that was initiated by Hon. Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science. We hope that some of you took the opportunity to send your thoughts to the federal government.

As we develop an agenda, we would like to consult with you, the ESC membership. Please tell us:

  • What policy-related issues do you see emerging in your area of study, your realm of employment, or in the place that you live?
  • How might the ESC Science Policy Committee integrate better with your concerns and those of the rest of the membership? 
  • How can our Society be more consultative and responsive to the membership and to issues as they arise?
  • Who are the people and organizations with which ESC should be working closely on science policy issues?
  • How can you be a part of science policy development, particularly as it relates to entomological practice and service in Canada and abroad?

 

Please email me at huber@unbc.ca with your thoughts, questions, and ideas. We know that many of you are already involved in this type of work, and we hope that we can act as synergists to your efforts and that you can help to further energize ours.

 

Dr. Dezene Huber

Chair, ESC Science Policy Committee

This article also appears in the March 2017 ESC Bulletin, Vol 48(1).

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ESC Blog Classifieds – MSc Positions at U Manitoba

Dr. Alejandro Costamagna, along with Dr. Harry Sapirstein, are advertising 2 MSc opportunities in agricultural entomology in the Department of Entomology at the University of Manitoba:

Effects of Midge Damage on Gluten Strength of Resistant and Susceptible Wheat Genotypes

Determining the role of crop and non-crop habitats to provide sustainable aphid suppression in soybeans

Deadline for applications is March 15, 2017. Contact Dr. Costamagna for more information or to apply.

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Leonard, the insects and me

 

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By Rama – Commons file, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53046764

 

Last winter, I spent a few months working on insect identifications for the BC Conservation Data Centre, mostly collections of insects made at newly-acquired conservation lands in the Okanagan and Kootenay regions of BC.

As I had no laboratory of my own, and no reference collections to work with, I was working out of the ROM, back behind Antonia Guidotti’s office in the entomology workroom. This place, in midwinter, is usually a little lonely, as Antonia has a lot of work to do all around the collection. And so mostly in solitude, I would sit there at my microscope,  stumbling through insect IDs, learning what I could about a vast array of taxa, and listening to an inordinate amount of Leonard Cohen’s music.

Somehow, I feel the mood of Leonard Cohen’s later works lends itself so well to solitary entomology pursuits. The consummate outsider, looking closely and inwardly at the human condition, and yet always so aware of a wider world, Leonard’s music has many parallels to sitting at a scope, baffled by Nature’s  diversity and wondering how it all fits together.

(As an aside, when I was going through scads of unfortunate, dead, trapped insects, the song “Who by Fire” seemed morbidly appropriate)

Occasionally, from the lab bench, I would reach out to the other folks online, sharing my discoveries through Twitter (the entomology workroom has a modest wireless connection!).

How excited I was, having lived in BC most my life to discover the wonderful piglet bug Bruchomorpha beameri, a wonderful fulgoroid planthopper that I had no idea even existed before taking this contract!

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It was heartening, sitting there alone, singing softly along to Leonard Cohen that people out there on Twitter responded so well to my excitement at discovering these treasures, and offering helpful advice. Terry Wheeler  was especially helpful when I was stumbling over some puzzling scathophagids from the Peace District.

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Connecting with people like Terry, who encouraged me through my ID struggles made me feel that despite being on the outer edges of my knowledge and what could reasonably be called paid employment in entomology, people cared about what I was doing and were there if I needed them.

With the help of Terry, Antonia, Laura Timms, Lu Musetti, and the great Leonard Cohen, I struggled my way through my contract, and my first eastern winter. Last week, Leonard Cohen died, leaving a huge hole in Canadian songwriting. We still have his recordings and poems to keep us company, though no matter what we are doing.

On Tuesday, I will head back to the ROM as a volunteer, to help sort out some of the ant collection, to the best of my ability. Perhaps I will listen to some of Leonard Cohen’s music, and tweet out some of what I find to connect me and my entomology work to the wider world.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NW7oNpzBSGc&w=560&h=480]

 

 

 

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ESC Blog Classifieds: Job opportunity – Entomologist / Offre d’emploi – Entomologiste

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recently published a job advertisement for two Research scientist positions in the fields of entomology (Vector-borne Entomology & Molecular Insect Taxonomy). Please find below the link to the job advertisement, shall this be an employment opportunity that could interest you. https://emploisfp-psjobs.cfp-psc.gc.ca/psrs-srfp/applicant/page1800?poster=966937&toggleLanguage=en Thank you for your consideration! Deadline: Oct 26, 2016

L’Agence canadienne d’inspection des aliments (ACIA) a récemment publié une offre d’emploi pour deux postes de chercheurs scientifiques, dans les domaines de l’entomologie (Entomologie vectorielle & Taxonomie moléculaire des insectes). Veuillez trouver le lien menant à l’offre d’emploi, advenant que ce soit une opportuniqué qui vous intéresse.https://emploisfp-psjobs.cfp-psc.gc.ca/psrs-srfp/applicant/page1800?poster=966937&toggleLanguage=fr Merci pour votre consideration! Date limite: 26 octobre 2016.

Krista McCarthy, Recruitment-recrutement Advisor, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

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Joint Annual Meeting ESC-ESM 2017 – Winnipeg, MB

Yes, the International Congress of Entomology, which included the 2016 Entomological Society of Canada meeting contained within it, has just drawn to a close, but it’s never too early to start planning and preparing for the next ESC Annual Meeting!

So, in 2017, please accept the invitation of the Entomological Society of Manitoba to join entomologists from across the country in Winnipeg October 22-25 to share their, and your, entomological research and curiosity!

Official 2017 ESC-ESM Joint Annual Meeting Website

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BugsR4Girls – Applied entomology with a twist

By B. Staffan Lindgren (@bslindgren)

I have always thought of myself as extremely fortunate and blessed to have made a career in entomology. The main reason is that 99.9% of all entomologists I have met and come to know over the years have been extremely nice people. Like most entomologists, I was interested in animals (which in my case included insects and spiders) at a young age. Many of my friends probably considered me a bit odd, but that’s as far as it went as far as I recall. Unfortunately, that is not always the case as this story reveals.

The other day I (along with a large number of people on Twitter) got to witness this kindness in action in a way that warms my heart. Nicole Spencer, a concerned mother, sent a request to the Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) regarding her young daughter, Sophia, who happens to love insects and wants to become an entomologist when she grows up. Sophia’s interest has somehow led to teasing and outright bullying in school, however. Fortunately Sophia’s mom understands the importance of nurturing her daughter’s interest, as did my mother even though I kept spiders in jars in my bedroom. Nicole’s and Sophia’s heartfelt letter was passed on to Morgan Jackson (@BioInFocus), who promptly posted a tweet on behalf of the ESC (@CanEntomologist) asking entomologists to help out. This tweet, which displayed the letter, included the hashtag #BugsR4Girls, and it quickly went viral.

facebook-shareWithin a very short period, Morgan had amassed a list of 100+ people willing to assist, along with a number of additional offers from non-entomologists. An offer even came from celebrity Dominic Monaghan, British actor and host of the television program Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan. You can get the gist of it all from the Storify that Morgan put together. The huge response led to interest from media, and Sophia and her mom were featured on Buzzfeed Canada, where the whole story is revealed. It hasn’t ended there. Another media story came from LFPress, and Sophia’s story even made the front page of the Toronto Star! In addition, numerous tweets have been posted with or without the hashtag, and above I have reproduced 3 (but there are so many more that you really need to look for yourself). I also posted about this on my Facebook Page, and the story was shared by others there. The comments from this one really says it all!

I mentioned non-entomologists. Here is an open letter to Sophia (called Beatrix in the letter because the author didn’t know her name at the time) from a science communicator.bug-chicks

On the one hand this is a story about a little girl who has big dreams. On the other hand it is a story about the future of women in STEM. Sophia has dreams about becoming a scientist, but both she and her mother are uncertain of what possibilities are out there. Many other young children are in the same boat, I’m sure. But the journey starts at home with parents encouraging children to believe that they can be or do whatever they set their minds to. Last Friday I listened to a CBC Radio show with Maria Issa, a Canadian scientist who started in life just like Sophia by daydreaming and watching lady bugs. In spite of the odds being stacked high against her success, she made it, but many are discouraged, which later affects their self-confidence. My experience is that there is no gender difference in ability – in fact women mature sooner and are more focused than men IMHO. And the increasing number of brilliant female scientists in entomology is a case in point. Luckily for Sophia, she has an encouraging mother. Whether or not she becomes an entomologist is not the point. The point is that she believes in the possibility.

llavanerasFor me, Sophia’s story is a wonderful, multifaceted teachable moment. With all her new friends, Sophia will do just fine. I wish her all the luck in the world.

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ESC Blog Classifieds – 2 Post-docs @ University of Alberta (Chemical Ecology & Ecophysiology)

Seeking Two Postdoctoral Fellows in Tree Responses to Insect Herbivores and Drought

Area of Research: Chemical Ecology & Ecophysiology

Location: Department of Renewable Resources, University of Alberta, Edmonton (Alberta, Canada)

Description of positions: The interdisciplinary project goal is to characterize the contributions that metabolomics and genomics-assisted tree breeding can play in comprehensive forest planning. Postdoctoral fellows (PDFs) sought for this project to assess the activities of tree defense and ecophysiological responses to insect herbivory and drought. The PDFs will characterize the secondary compounds, anatomy, and ecophysiology of two conifer species (lodgepole pine and white spruce) in response to insect herbivory and drought treatments in both greenhouse trials and associated progeny field trials in Alberta. The PDFs will be responsible for conducting and coordinating both lab and field investigations that include anatomical and chemical characterization of tree defenses, assessment of 13C, gas exchange, and chlorophyll fluorescence plant drought response, implementation of greenhouse and field experiments, data management, statistical analyses, writing reports and peer-reviewed journal manuscripts, and interact with industrial and government partners. The PDFs will also assist with supervision of full and part-time research assistants and undergraduate students. Even though each PDF will have his/her own research projects, it is expected that they work and collaborate together.

Salary: $50,000+ benefits per year, commensurate with experience.

Required qualifications: PhD in a relevant field is required. The ideal candidate should have background and experience in chemical ecology, ecophysiology, entomology, forest ecology, with strong analytical chemistry of plant secondary compounds (primarily terpenes and phenolics) using GC-MS and LC-MS, and writing skills. Suitable applicants with a primary background in one or more areas, plus interest in other research areas, are encouraged to apply.

Application instructions: All individuals interested in these positions must submit: (1) an updated CV; and (2) a cover letter explaining their qualities, including a list of 3 references along with their contact information (a maximum of 2 pages). Applications should be sent by email to Nadir Erbilgin (erbilgin@aulberta.ca) and Barb Thomas (bthomas@ualberta.ca) by the closing date. Please list “PDF application in Tree Responses to Insect Herbivores and Drought” in the subject heading.

Closing date: November 30, 2016.

Supervisors: Nadir Erbilgin (https://sites.ualberta.ca/~erbilgin/) and Barb Thomas (http://www.rr.ualberta.ca/StaffProfiles/AcademicStaff/Thomas.aspx)

Expected start date: January 2017 (with some flexibility)

Terms: 1-4 years (1st year initial appointment, with additional years subject to satisfactory performance).

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Appreciating insects and other arthropods: a lifetime of riches

 

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It is about time I got busy and stared blogging again on this site. Since I am out of practice, I will do what I know best: a photo essay about why I love insects and other arthropods, and how studying them has improved my life!

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Ever since I was a young kid, I have loved getting out and seeing the animals nearby. When I was very young, my mom would send me in the backyard with a spoon and a yogurt container, so I could dig up, catch and watch the bugs I found. 

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In school, virtually all of my research reports and essays would be about insects, spiders, snakes and other animals. My love of insects became my pathway to learning.

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In university, I continued to indulge my love of insects and other animals, by taking any and all zoological courses offered. 

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Even when not studying, almost all the free time I get is spent outdoors, still looking for and watching insects, spiders and other animals. I really enjoy doing photography of what I find. 

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Taking photos of insects is a great way to explore their beauty, and to try to communicate that to others. In the pursuit of a good photograph, I learn a lot about the habits of local insects. 

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Now, I make a living studying animal behaviour. At the moment I am working with Catherine Scott studying spider behaviour at a local beach in Victoria BC. 

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We are studying black widows, one of the most beautiful and intriguing spiders. Of course I bring my camera along, to document the cool things we are learning about their behaviour!

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Studying insects and spiders is not only my job, it is what I most love to do. There is just so much to learn and explore. I think that getting out and experiencing the natural world this way is one of the most rewarding things someone of any age can do!

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Organizations like the Entomological Society of Canada, as well as the Entomological Society of Ontario, and the Toronto Entomologist’s Association form a community of people I can talk to and share my discoveries with. I highly recommend getting together with other insect lovers! Trading ideas and anecdotes and learning more together are some ways we can improve knowledge of insects and other arthropods.  

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OK! I have said my piece. I would welcome any other ESC members, or other entomologists out there to do likewise! What have you been doing this summer? What are some of the cool things you have seen? Share them with us here at the ESC blog!

 

 

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ESC Blog Classifieds – MSc opportunity for prairie ecosystem research

 MSc – Role of dung-breeding insects in pasture ecosystems

Applications are invited for an MSc position to begin January or May of 2017.  Research will examine the role of dung-breeding insects in pasture ecosystems in southern Alberta.  This is a collaborative project between Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the University of Lethbridge (U. of L.), both based in Lethbridge, Alberta.

The project will include insect surveys using dung-baited pitfall traps from May through September on native pastures in southern Alberta, Canada. The role of dung insect activity will be assessed for effects on dung degradation, soil nutrients and micro-fauna, and greenhouse gas emissions.  Dung beetles will be examined as potential vectors of parasites affecting livestock.

The ideal applicant will have recently completed an undergraduate degree in biology or related program with courses in entomology and ecology.  They will be enthusiastic, innovative, and have excellent communication skills (written, oral) in English.  They must be able to work independently and as part of a team.  They must have a valid driver’s license and meet the scholastic qualifications required for acceptance into Graduate Studies at the U. of L.

The successful applicant will be jointly supervised by Drs. Kevin Floate (AAFC) and Cam Goater (U. of L.).  Under the supervision of Dr. Floate, the student will be based at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre (AAFC), where they will perform the main body of their research.  The Floate lab studies diverse aspects of insect community ecology with particular emphasis on prairie ecosystems (https://sites.google.com/site/dungins/homepage). Under the supervision of Dr. Goater, the student will be enrolled in an MSc program in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Lethbridge.  Research in the dynamic Goater lab focuses on the ecology and evolution of host/parasite interactions, and on prairie biodiversity and conservation (http://scholar.ulethbridge.ca/cpg/home).

Informal communication with Dr. Floate prior to application is encouraged.  To apply, please send a cover letter detailing your fit to the position, a CV, a copy of your most recent transcripts, and the names and contact details of three referees to Dr. Kevin Floate (Kevin.Floate@agr.gc.ca).  The deadline for application is November 1, 2016.