, , ,

The sand-verbena moth

SV1

Figure 1 The sand-verbena moth (Photo: Wendy Gibble, Used under a CreativeCommons CC_BY 2.0 licence)

By Lisa Jørgensen

The sand-verbena moth (Copablepharon fuscum) is, when it comes to looks, a relatively anonymous fellow.  This nocturnal moth, which belongs to the order Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and the family Noctuidae, has a wingspan of 3.5-4.0 cm and has only been found in three Canadian sites, all on the coast of southwestern British Columbia, and in a few sites in the northwestern coastal part of Washington, USA.

The moth is heavily dependent on the presence of yellow sand-verbena, as this plant is the only host that it uses for egg laying, and later for the emerging larvae and adult to feed on. The yellow sand-verbena demands sandy, nutrient poor conditions, and though it is present in areas where other plants are dominating, it will only flower at sites where it is the dominant species. The moth has been found to require large patches of yellow sand-verbena to sustain a population, but such patches are difficult to come across because of the habitat requirements of the plant.

sv2

Figure 2 Preferred habitat of yellow sand-verbena, here Long Beach Peninsula, WA, US (Photo: Wendy Gibble), Used under a CreativeCommons CC_BY 2.0 licence)

This pickiness in the moth’s choice of host plant is the most probable reason that the sand-verbena moth is considered an endangered species under the SARA (Species at Risk Act), which is the official list of Canadian wildlife at risk. The label ‘endangered’ is put on species that are in risk of extirpation or extinction, meaning that the present populations of an ‘endangered’ species are the last in the wild. We do not know how many individuals of this moth species is left, but we do know that due to plant invasion, the number of sandy patches with yellow sand-verbena is decreasing, as other plants colonize the same habitat, thus keeping down numbers of yellow sand-verbena and keeping them from flowering. When the number or size of available habitats is lowered, the moth populations will naturally experience a decrease. Another reason for the loss of habitat is the proximity of the sandy patches to the shoreline that makes the patches at risk of suffering of erosion or flooding, and the use of dunes for military training that expose the plants to the risk of being trampled down. A more direct threat to the moth than the threat of habitat loss, is the spraying of Btk (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki) against the larvae of pest moths, or parasitic flies introduced (i.e. not from the “hood”) for the same cause.

But why should we care about this specific endangered species? It does not play any crucial part in the pollination of yellow sand-verbena, nor is it particularly important in the local food web or to the economy, so what would happen if it we took the laissez-faire approach and did nothing to help this species? It would probably disappear from some patches, and ultimately go extinct, as it has shown poor ability into dispersal on its own. But we can do something, and it may not even cost us a lot of money (that’s a good argument, eh?)! Approaches to help recovery the Canadian populations of sand-verbena moth include the protection of patches dominated by yellow sand-verbena by physically protecting the plants from erosion and trampling by training soldiers, by fencing the area (however temporarily), and the movement of yellow sand-verbena from patches where it has a low abundance (and so no sand-verbena moth population) to patches that are in risk of being dominated by other plants (with a moth population). Also, public outreach to the areas with populations of sand-verbena moth has been initiated, and the existing populations are being monitored. The Ministry of Environment of British Columbia considers the recovery goal of the sand-verbena moth, to maintain the populations at the current locations, to be feasible.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources:

SARA (Government of Canada): https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=789 25/11 2015

British Columbia Invertebrates Recovery Team. 2008. Recovery strategy for Sand-verbena Moth (Copablepharon fuscum) in British Columbia. Prepared for the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Victoria, BC. 18 pp.

 

, ,

Basic vs. Applied Entomology: How the Mountain Pine Beetle Opened My Eyes

Trap pictures 002

Staffan Lindgren checking the lure on a prototype multiple funnel trap. Photo: Ron Long

A guest post by Staffan Lindgren

I finished my bachelor’s degree at the University of Uppsala in Sweden in 1975. I had actually completed most of my degree at Umeå University, but because I wanted to take limnology and entomology, I moved to Uppsala for my last semesters, so my degree was granted by that venerable institution. Like many recent graduates, I was now faced with finding my way to a future in biology, and since I was interested in research I wanted to continue as a graduate student. A 2-year detour as a failed doctoral student in medical physiology (I have actually co-authored five publications in endocrinology), a semester as a special-interest student in two courses in forest entomology at what was then the Royal College of Forestry in Stockholm brought me back to essentially the same conundrum. I managed to land some temporary jobs (teaching assistant, which had the perk of leading a student field trip to what was then still the Soviet Union, and stream surveyor using aquatic insects to assess pollution) I applied for entry into the Master of Pest Management (MPM) Program at Simon Fraser University. Why this program? Well, one of my criteria for future employment was that anything I did had to be “useful”, so it had to deal with applied science. To make a long story short, I managed to get through this program, and was recruited by Dr. John Borden for a PhD working on semiochemical-based management of ambrosia beetles. Dr. Borden had quickly pegged me as “bright, but not particularly hard working if not motivated”! I can’t really argue with the latter part of that assessment! Necessity is the mother of invention, they say, and since using sticky traps (the standard research tool when I started) involved hard work, I invented the “multiple-funnel trap”, a story I will save for another blog.

This is where my obsession with “usefulness” started to hurt me, however.  SFU had excellent ecology faculty, and they had a seminar series called “Les Ecologistes” (and they still do). The MPM program also had a seminar series, and unfortunately there was a bit of a rift between the MPM and ecology faculty with each side preferring to stay clear of the other.  Consequently I never went to their seminars, something I deeply regret to this day. I feel that it hurt me because I went through my PhD with blinders on, looking only at outcomes, rather than causes for my successful and failed experiments.

baiting

Dan Miller (now a research scientist at USDA FS, Athens, GA) (Photo B.S. Lindgren) checking the tree where he just applied a verbenone bubble cap.

Skip forward to well into my 10-year stint as Research Director at Phero Tech, Inc., a spinoff company that was in part based on my PhD work, including a commercial version of what was now called “the Lindgren trap”. I was working on the application of verbenone, an oxidation product of a major monoterpene of many conifers, α-pinene via trans-verbenol, the principal aggregation pheromone of the mountain pine beetle Hunt et al 1989). Verbenone had been known for some time through research in the United States, but I wanted to see if we could use our release technology to make it applicable for mountain pine beetle management (Lindgren et al 1989, Safranyik et al. 1992, Shore et al. 1992, Lindgren and Borden 1993, Miller et al. 1995, Lindgren and Miller 2002a,b). The results were somewhat mixed, however. On the one hand we achieved significant protection of trees, but sometimes there seemed to be no effect at all (Amman and Lindgren 1995). It appeared as if the beetles responded, but if they attempted an attack, they then ignored the verbenone. At high densities, verbenone appeared to have no significant effect at all.

As I thought about this, I gradually came to the realization that I had no idea whatsoever of the mechanism of “anti-aggregation”. In the literature, verbenone had been billed as an anti-aggregation or spacing (epideictic) pheromone. Research by David Hunt revealed that verbenone was produced by microorganisms, so that if bacterial symbionts were knocked out, the beetles could not produce verbenone. Furthermore, it appeared that many species responded negatively to verbenone. This made me think that it was less of an anti-aggregation pheromone and more a tissue degradation kairomone, which would explain some of our failures, and necessitate a different approach to application. Other more capable researchers picked up the mantle and the use of verbenone is still being investigated.

It was about this time that I was fortunate enough to land my current position at UNBC, and with many new avenues of (curiosity-driven) research available to me, I eventually abandoned verbenone and semiochemical –based management research. I felt that mountain pine beetle had taught me a lesson, and in the words of Bart Simpson “…I never give up before trying at least one easy thing”.

What is the morale of all this? To me it is an example that shows that we must strive to not let existing paradigms blind us to the opportunities. My experience in science is that paradigm-shifts, even at the small scale that I would be capable of, are often slowed down because you cannot get funded to try something that goes against existing wisdom. One of my lasting memories from my undergraduate years in Sweden was listening to a Nobel Laureate (whose name has long since faded away) in brain research from UC Berkeley (if I recall correctly). He said that he would essentially state as fact something that would go against common knowledge, because he knew that it would generate lots of research to prove him wrong. He didn’t care if he was right or wrong, he just wanted to know the answer! I was never such a maverick, but I think some of the most successful scientists are. In the end, my zealousness for being “useful” made me less able to be just that. Don’t let that happen to you!

References

Amman, G.D. and B.S. Lindgren.  1995. Semiochemicals for management of mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins: Current status of research and application. In S.M. Salom and K.R. Hobson [tech.eds.], Application of Semiochemicals for Management of Bark Beetle Infestations –  Proceedings of an Informal Conference, Annual Meeting of the Entomological Society of America, Indianapolis, Indiana, December 12-16, 1993, Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-GTR-318, U.S. Dept. Agric., Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Ogden, Utah, 54 pp.

Hunt, D.W.A., J.H. Borden, B.S. Lindgren, and G. Gries.  1989.  The role of autoxidation of  α-pinene in the production of pheromones of Dendroctonus ponderosae (Coleoptera:Scolytidae).  Canadian Journal of Forest Research  19:1275-1282.

Lindgren, B.S. and J.H. Borden. 1993. Displacement and aggregation of mountain pine beetles, Dendroctonus ponderosae (Coleoptera: Scolytidae), in response to their antiaggregation and aggregation pheromones. Can. J. For. Res. 23: 286-290.

Lindgren, B.S., and D.R. Miller. 2002a. Effect of verbenone on predatory and wood boring beetles (Coleoptera) in lodgepole pine forests. Environmental Entomology 31: 766-753.

Lindgren, B.S., and D.R. Miller. 2002b. Effect of verbenone on five species of bark beetles (Coleoptera: Scolytidae) in lodgepole pine forests. Environmental Entomology 31: 759-765.

Lindgren, B.S., J.H. Borden, G.H. Cushon, L.J. Chong and C.J. Higgins.  1989.  Reduction of mountain pine beetle (Coleoptera:Scolytidae) attacks by verbenone in lodgepole pine stands in British Columbia.  Canadian Journal of Forest Research  19:65-68.

Miller, D.R., J.H. Borden, and B.S. Lindgren. 1995. Verbenone: Dose-Dependent Interruption of pheromone-based attraction of three sympatric species of bark beetles (Coleoptera: Scolytidae). Environmental Entomology 24:692-696

Safranyik, L., T.L. Shore, D.A. Linton and B.S. Lindgren. 1992. The effect of verbenone on dispersal and attack of mountain pine beetle,  Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopk. (Col., Scolytidae) in a lodgepole pine stand. Journal of Applied Entomology 113: 391-397

Shore, T.L., L. Safranyik and B.S. Lindgren. 1992. The response of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) to lodgepole pine trees baited with verbenone and exo-brevicomin. Journal of Chemical Ecology 18: 533-541

, ,

A Canadian Entomologist in Australia

Holly and Jake 2014

A termite mound on the road to Tom Price, Western Australian. A 2014 field trip through the Pilbara with two of the author’s PhD students, Jake Coates and Holly Caravan (not the first trip to Australia for any of them)

 A Canadian Entomologist in Australia (it has been done before, I am sure, but here are my two cents. Or, should I round that down to zero or up to 5 cents?) Okay, new title: My five cents

Guest post by Tom Chapman

I have introduced many Canadian students to Australian based fieldwork (e.g. Jake Coates). They’ve heard the stories, so they tended to start with some fear of Australia’s deadly denizens. Here is my advice to them woven into some of my personal stories of working in Australia. First, some of the most amazing biologists (professional and otherwise) in the world are Australian. But, do not assume that every Australian you meet is an outback survival expert with excellent knowledge of the local flora and fauna. And get ready; you are going to be teased and fed a lot of nonsense (exhibit A: dropbears).

My first expedition to Australia, the land of perilous animals, was in 1997. I was a graduate student, I knew next to nothing about the southern hemisphere let alone anything about Australia, and I was traveling on my own. I was to begin collecting gall-inducing thrips on Acacia. My supervisor, arguably the world’s expert on these insects (sorry Laurence Mound, father of all things thrippy), was to follow me a few weeks later. Why was I going first? I never really knew, maybe my supervisor didn’t want to be seated long-term by my side on cramped airplanes, but I tried not to take it personally. After about 31 hours of traveling, I arrived in Adelaide; well placed at the edge of Australia’s arid zone to begin my search for Acacia thrips.

An Acacia thrips gall covered in aphids and tended by ants (2007, near Fowler’s Gap, NSW)

An Acacia thrips gall covered in aphids and tended by ants (2007, near Fowler’s Gap, NSW)

A very generous and outgoing student, among the research group at Flinders University that was to host me, volunteered to pick me up at the airport. It was a two hour round trip for her, so I was grateful and indebted, but she seemed to have no idea how exhausting my travels were for me. During our commute to the University she was non-stop questions and instantly personal. What were my dreams and aspirations? Did I prefer to sleep with men or women? How many times had I had my heart broken? My brain was so clouded with exhaustion that I couldn’t deflect this assault or form coherent replies, the latter of which didn’t seem to matter to her. When we parked at Flinders, we were confronted by a long flight of cement stairs leading to the biology building. I lagged well behind on our ascent, but here is when I uttered my first ignorant and anxiety-motivated question during this visit: Should we be worried about redback spiders? She came back down the stairs and told me that while having lived her entire life in Adelaide she had never seen a living specimen of that species. I pointed down and past her foot and I said, “I think that’s one”. She took a look and she agreed: it was a living redback spider. We continued up the stairs, but I was baffled. How had this woman, so unaware of this deadly spider species, survived to adulthood? Anyway, one hour after arriving in Australia I had escaped injury during this my first deadly Australian animal encounter.

Over the next few days my jet lag receded and I started to get to know many more of the students among my host group. I knew I was making strong personal connections when during a trip to the campus bar one student informed me, “We thought you’d be an asshole”. After asking a few questions, what I think he was saying was that having met my supervisor the year before, that by association I would share many of his qualities. I don’t agree with this person’s opinion of my supervisor, but is there evidence of personality associations between students and supervisors? I leave you, the reader, to ponder that question, and I know that for some of you it would be horrifying if there were positive evidence on the subject. Another indication that I was making connections that afternoon was that I was also invited to join a group to watch a Cricket test on TV. I didn’t admit it at the time, but I thought Cricket was a game that died out a century and a half ago. I can’t have been the only Canadian that is embarrassingly ignorant of the fact that there are well over a billion people that are obsessed with this game. And for those that are aware of the vibrancy of Cricket, and think very little of me now, I want you to know that I became a fan. For instance, I know who Sir Donald Bradman is and I even lived a few blocks away from Centennial Park Cemetery and was present when his ashes were interred there. If you want to impress South Australians in particular, look up “The Don” and memorize a few of his batting statistics, you’ll win over some hearts.

However, this initial introduction to Cricket was painfully dull for me despite my host’s encyclopedic tutorials on rules and traditions. Several times I tried to engage the group in conversational topics other than Cricket. These efforts failed until I asked about swimming locally and the potential for being attacked by sharks. Admitting any anxiety about these dead-eyed predators to a group of Australians is somewhat like the popular notion of adding blood to the water on the behaviour of a shark. Everyone in that lounge room broiled with horrendous attack stories for me to hear. It was hard to keep track, but I think there were at least three people this group knew of directly who had been bitten or killed. When they had clearly shaken me the group switched to trying to assure me that swimming was safe – Listen mate, you have more chance of being struck by lightning. I asked the group to tell me some stories of people they knew that had been struck by lightning. They didn’t have a one! I am not suggesting that means that shark attacks are more common; instead I think it means that lightning strike stories just don’t hold the attention of visitors to Australia. Therefore, there isn’t the same temptation for locals to retell, confuse some details and exaggerate these stories. I have seen other visitors tormented the same way as I was. It seems cruel. We really are worried and have deep fears about shark attacks. Why is that not apparent to our hosts? I think I gained some insight years later when I moved to Adelaide and naturalized (my family and I became CanAussies). A neighbour asked me how, when I lived in Canada, I had the courage to leave my house. I thought they were referring to Canada’s cold winter weather, but instead they meant the bears. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Even Canadians that live in bear country would find that ridiculous – Listen mate, you have more chance of being struck by lightning (I’m strategically leaving Churchill, Manitoba out of this discussion). My point is that Australians see our fears as absurd so teasing us doesn’t seem so wrong.

The author’s children during a 2003 camping trip to the Flinders Ranges of South Australia.

The author’s children during a 2003 camping trip to the Flinders Ranges of South Australia.

Australians might have sharks in perspective, but not everyone you meet there knows the bush like a Mick Dundee.  Australia is more urbanized then Canada (89.2 % versus 80.7 %). And, among the general population there remains significant fear and ignorance of the wildlife on their Island Continent. Turning again to the deadly redback spider, another neighbour in Australia was using these nifty rake/gloves to bag yard waste. Imagine The Wolverine with webbing between his claws. A redback climbed out of the dried leaves pinned between the gloves and crawled on to the back of my neighbour’s hand and bit him. He told me later that the pain was immediately blazing hot and he was terrified that he would die. That is not what is commonly reported; the bite is usually described as a mild sting with pain sharpening 20 to 40 minutes later. He screamed, got the attention of his wife and she rushed him to emergency where the highly competent staff there encouraged him to ice it, monitored him for a little while and then sent him home. What, not instant death? There is an antivenin but it is not always administered, and there hasn’t been a death due directly to a redback bite post 1956 (when the antivenin was developed). We found a redback in the pouch on the front of my daughter’s bicycle, one in the door of our car, and one under the last step of the spiral staircase in our house. I played volleyball once a week at a sports complex and if our game was the last of the evening we had the job of taking down the nets and turning off the lights. One night a teammate noticed that there was a redback in the light box. He warned us that they can jump two meters and that we needed to stay back. Nonsense. Enough was enough. I stepped up and reached in and turned off the lights. I am certain that this spider was grateful; the dark brings out her preferred prey and it certainly wasn’t volleyball players. While living in Australia, these spiders were a constant in my family’s lives and none of us were ever bitten. It was now easy to imagine how the unobservant woman I mentioned at the start of this piece survived her childhood and adolescent years.

It is now almost two decades that I have been conducting fieldwork in arid Australia. The only animals that have caused me any harm have been ants, it was on that first trip to Australia and it wasn’t that bad. By this time my supervisor had arrived in Australia. Along with an Australian student, my supervisor and I drove from Adelaide to near Brisbane and returned to Adelaide. The trip took us 10 days and we covered over 5000 km, much of it on dirt tracks. We kept the air conditioner off to save fuel and we had the windows down. The work was hot and dusty. I wanted to be seen as a hard working student. I didn’t want to show any weakness on this trip, but by the sixth day late in the afternoon a wall appeared and I ran right into it; I had squatted down in front of a small Acacia bush and was staring blankly through the foliage. I hoped that it would appear that I was still looking for thrips galls, but I was really pretending that I was anywhere but in that desert. So I didn’t notice that several hundred bull ants had crawled up over my boots and socks until they started stinging me. I whooped and leapt around while slapping myself with my hat, and just as I settled down a flat bed pickup truck, off road and appearing to come from nowhere, drove slowly (a trot maybe) past me. There were four people in the cab, two on the cab, two on the bonnet and maybe eight people on the back. In the middle of the eight was a very large and dead red kangaroo: a big boomer. Even though the truck was only meters away, no one made eye contact with me as they past except for a little kid that beamed me a beautiful smile and waved the Kangaroo’s front paw. All these years later that moment remains my most favorite, stings and all.

We took a family vacation to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. It was a three-day drive up from Adelaide, tough to do with little kids. We had only two children’s music tapes, so we heard the tapes a dozen times each. One tape was by the Wiggles. It was the one where the Wiggles ask Steve Irwin (the Crocodile Hunter) a question about an Australian animal, like can emus fly? After Steve answered them the Wiggles would then sing a song about that animal. After we heard this tape five times my five-year-old sounding very exasperated bellowed, “Those Wiggles don’t know anything about Australian animals!” To be fair, they probably do know something, and I would say that just like hiking through Canada’s bear country it helps to have a little knowledge about the local wildlife to stay safe. But, fear and ignorance have no place. While traveling in Australia, if you still get talked into putting forks in your hair to ward off dropbear attacks, well then there is no helping you.

 

, , ,

ESC/SEQ JAM 2015 in Montreal

20151109-IMG_9020

This past weekend marked the beginning of the Entomological Society of Canada and the Société d’entomologie du Québec’s Joint Annual Meeting in Montreal. This three day event brought together a large number of insect researchers and insect enthusiasts from all across Canada. This was my second ESC/SEQ meeting in Montreal, and the second since I have been a student. As a blog administrator, I got a bit of an inside look at the current issues facing the society at the meeting of the ESC board meeting, which will be the subject of future posts. I also got quite a few bedbug bites from staying in a cheap hostel the night of the board meeting, but that is another, and terrible story.

Anyway, of course I brought my camera, and so here I give you the conference from my perspective.

20151107-IMG_8856

Here is the board meeting, which was also being shot by Louise Hénault-Ethier.

20151108-IMG_8882

On the opening day, the Gold Medal address was delivered by Jon Sweeney, reflecting mainly on his collaborators over the years and how the have helped shape his stellar career in entomology.

20151108-IMG_8889

Guy Boivin delivered the Heritage Lecture, which was an awesome mix of First Nations insect lore, followed by the early natural historians of New France. I learned quite a bit from this, and I hope Guy may write some more on the subject for the Canadian Entomologist.

20151108-IMG_8903

Sunday’s plenary session featured Marcel Dicke from Wageningen University, and was an absolutely fascinating story about herbivores, parasitoids and hyperparistitoids on mustards. The interactions he described kind of blew my mind.

20151108-IMG_8915

The first talk of the Graduate Student’s Showcase was by Christina Hodson from UVic. She described her work on a charismatic little psocopteran and its weird sex distorting elements.

20151108-IMG_8925

Holly Caravan of Memorial University delivering her lecture on fascinating social aphids, with some great background on other social insects.

20151108-IMG_8928

Jean-Philippe Parent of Université de. Montréal gave a riveting lecture on how to determine if an insect can measure time.

20151108-IMG_8937

Leanna Lachowsky of University of Calgary with a topic near and dear to those of of from the west: mountain pine beetle! This was a cool study on sex allocation in this troublesome forest pest.

20151108-IMG_8941

And finally, Paul Abram from Université de Montréal on stinkbugs and their parasitoids.

20151108-IMG_8969

After the great opening sessions, we all repaired to the Insectarium to enjoy drinks in the company of our favourite colleagues and study subjects!

20151108-IMG_8997

If you ever try photographing people in this space, you will quickly learn how much colour casts arise from the brightly painted walls. I did manage to capture this one of Louise as many of you will remember her, behind the camera!

20151108-IMG_8945

I caught this one of Cedric on the bus back from the Insectarium

20151109-IMG_9020

Big thanks to Sarah Loboda and Maxime Larivée for running so much behind the scenes. They provided to me my favourite shot of the conference as well! Not sure how they kept their wits about them, but I think it was because they both have such a good sense of humour.

20151109-IMG_9024

Monday’s plenary was delivered by Jessica Forrest, from University of Ottawa, talking about a whole range of issues with a population of montane bees in Colorado.

From here on, my trajectory through the conference will probably differ substantially from yours. I of course needed to attend the sessions in which my former labmates were giving talks, but even so I did not manage to catch them all! I present to you instead a slideshow of images that I took during the conference. I will say how impressed I was by the student presentations this year in the GSS and the President’s Prize sessions. ESC students are really on the ball at how to give effective talks, and I hope that the more senior among us are paying attention! Perhaps in 2017 we can have a Student’s Prize to award to the best regular session talk!



















, , ,

Canadian Entomology Research Roundup: June 2015 – September 2015

As part of a continuing series of Canadian Entomology Research Roundups, here’s what some Canadian entomology grad students have been up to lately:

Ecology and Evolution

Rasoul Bahreini (University of Manitoba) found that honeybee breeding can improve tolerance to Varroa mites which can help minimize colony losses in the winter and improve overwintering performance (Article link). Rasoul also found that reducing ventilation may be an effective way to manage Varroa mite infestation in overwintering honeybee colonies (Article link), and that Nosema infection restrained Varroa removal success in bees (Article link).

A setup to study the effects of Nosema on Varroa mite removal in honeybees (Photo: Rasoul Bahreini)

A setup to study the effects of Nosema on Varroa mite removal in honeybees (Photo: Rasoul Bahreini)

A novel method based on agar-polydimethylsiloxane devices to quantitatively investigate oviposition behaviour in Drosophila melanogaster was described by Jacob Leung and colleagues (York University) (Article link).

Paul Abram (Université de Montréal) and his colleagues found that a predatory stink bug has control of egg colouration, depending on whether it is laying on the top or underside of leaves.  The pigment protects developing embryos against UV radiation (Article link). See also a related post on the ESC blog, an article in the New York Times, and a dispatch article in Current Biology.

A spined soldier bug female, with the range of egg colours she is capable of laying (Photo: Leslie Abram/Paul Abram/Eric Guerra)

A spined soldier bug (Podisus maculiventris) female, with the range of egg colours she is capable of laying (Photo: Leslie Abram/Paul Abram/Eric Guerra)

Philippe Boucher and colleagues (Université du Québec à Rimouski/Chicoutimi) found that ant colonization of dead wood plays a role in nitrogen and carbon dynamics after forest fires (Article link).

Did you know that ground squirrels have lice – and males have more than females? Neither did we, but Matt Yunick and colleagues (University of Manitoba) recently published an article in The Canadian Entomologist describing their findings (Article link).

Boyd Mori and Dana Sjostrom (University of Alberta) were part of a group of researchers that found that pheromone traps are less effective at high densities of forest tent caterpillars because of competition for pheromone plumes (Article link).

Parasitoid memory dynamics are affected by realistic temperature stress. As part of a collaboration with the University of Palermo (Italy), Paul Abram (Université de Montréal) and colleagues discovered that both hot and cool temperature cycles prevent wasps (Trissolcus basalis) from forgetting. (Article link).

Trissolcus basalis (Hymenoptera: Platygastridae) parasitizing the eggs of its host Nezara Viridula (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae). These parasitoids can detect their host's

Trissolcus basalis (Hymenoptera: Platygastridae) wasps (left panel) parasitizing the eggs of their host stink bug Nezara viridula (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae; mating couple shown in right panel). These parasitoids can detect their host’s “chemical footprints”, and even commit them to memory! (Photos: Antonino Cusumano)

Crisia Tabacaru and Sarah McPike (University of Alberta) studied Dendroctonus ponderosae and other bark and ambrosia beetles and found that competition between the beetles may limit post-fire colonization of burned forest stands (Article link).

Marla Schwarzfeld (University of Alberta) found that tree-based (GMYC and PTP) species delimitation models were less reliable in delimiting test species, and the Nearctic Ophion (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae) fauna is much larger than previously thought (Article link).

Where have all the mosquitoes gone? Emily Acheson and colleagues (University of Ottawa) found spatial modelling reveals mosquito net distributions across Tanzania do not target optimal Anopheles mosquito habitats (Article link).

Tyler Wist and colleagues (University of Alberta) found that a native braconid parasitoid (Apanteles polychrosidis) uses host location cues induced by feeding damage on black ash but not on green ash (Article link). Also check out the author’s recent post on the ESC Blog!

Fig. 2 Female Apanteles polychrosidis Viereck (Hymenopetra: Braconidae)

Fig. 2 Female Apanteles polychrosidis Viereck (Hymenopetra: Braconidae) (Photo: Tyler Wist).

Agriculture

Sharavari Kulkarni and colleagues (University of Alberta) discovered that reducing tillage could increase the amount of weed seeds consumed by carabid beetles (Article link).

Physiology and Genetics

Sebastien Boutin and colleagues (Université Laval) are beginning to decode the genetic basis of honeybee hygenic behaviour (Article link).

Investigating the cold tolerance of different Sierra leaf beetle life stages, Evelyn Boychuk and colleagues (University of Western Ontario) found that adults are freeze tolerant, the eggs and pupae are freeze-avoidant, and the larvae are chill susceptible (Article link).

From the Authors:

Shaun Turney, Elyssa Cameron, and Chris Cloutier had this to say about their new article published in PeerJ:

Our supervisor, Prof. Chris Buddle, has always emphasized the importance of voucher specimens for our entomology research. He explained that voucher specimens make our work replicable and verifiable. We wondered how widespread the practice of making voucher specimens among those practicing arthropod-based research. We investigated the frequency of voucher deposition in 281 papers, and the factors which correlated to this frequency. Surprisingly, vouchers were deposited less than 25% of the time! Our paper highlights the need for a greater culture of voucher deposition and we suggest ways in which this culture can be cultivated by researchers, editors, and funding bodies.

Voucher specimens: an important component of arthropod-based research (Photo provided by Shaun Turney, Elyssa Cameron, and Chris Cloutier)

Voucher specimens: an important component of arthropod-based research (Photo provided by Shaun Turney, Elyssa Cameron, and Chris Cloutier)

From Ikkei Shikano, on two of his recently published articles:

Parents that experience a stressful environment can equip their offspring to fare better in a similar environment. Since this can be energetically expensive for the parent, we asked if parents are exposed to two stressors (nutritional stress and a pathogen), would they equip the offspring for both stressors or would they select one over the other? Cabbage looper moths exposed to a pathogen and poor food quality produced offspring that were highly resistant to that same pathogen. Parents that were given poor food produced offspring that developed faster on poor food. When the parents experienced both stressors, they produced offspring that were resistant to multiple pathogens but did not grow faster on a poor diet (Article link).

Herbivorous insects unavoidably eat large and diverse communities of non-entomopathogenic microbes, which live on the surface of their host plants. Previous studies suggest that consuming non-entomopathogenic bacteria may induce a costly immune response that might decrease the risk of infection by pathogens. But isn’t it wasteful for an insect upregulate a costly immune response to non-pathogens that it ingests with every meal? Within an appropriate ecological context, we show that cabbage looper, Trichoplusia ni, larvae do not induce a costly immune response, indicating that they are adapted to consuming non-pathogenic bacteria that are commonly found on the surface of their host plants (Article link).

From Kate Pare, on an article published by a group of undergraduates taking the Arctic Ecology field course at the University of Guelph:

Our study focused on changes in ant diversity in the area surrounding Churchill, Manitoba between the historic collections made by Robert E. Gregg in 1969 and collections made by students and instructors of the Arctic ecology field course in 2012. Seven ant species were collected in 2012 compared to the five species recorded from 1969. This increase in species richness in the 2012 collection is more likely a result of cryptic molecular diversity that was overlooked in the collection made in 1969 (Article Link, post on the ESC blog).

Members of the Arctic Ecology Field course 2015 (Photo: Eric Scott)

Members of the Arctic Ecology Field course 2015 (Photo: Eric Scott).


The ESC Student Affairs Committee will be continuing to help publicize graduate student publications to the wider entomological community through our Research Roundup. If you published an article recently and would like it featured, e-mail us at entsoccan.students@gmail.com.

For regular updates on new Canadian entomological research, you can join the ESC Students Facebook page or follow us on Twitter @esc_students.

, , ,

Questions About Scientific Publishing? Come to #ESCJAM2015!

This year’s 2015 Joint Annual Meeting in Montréal, Québec includes a free lunchtime workshop sponsored by Cambridge University Press that tackles the topic of publishing scientific papers.

Discussion will be led by a three-member panel examining the publication process through the eyes of an author (J. Saguez), a journal editor (K. Floate) and a publisher (D. Edwards).  Following short presentations by each panelist, the floor will be opened for general questions and discussion.

Send us your questions and we will do our best to address them in our presentations.

What makes for a good paper?  Who should I include as co-authors?  How important is the cover letter?  Why is the review process so long?  How can I best respond to reviewer comments?  What journal should I publish in?  What is hybrid open access?  What are predatory publishers?  Why don’t journals make publications freely available?  Knowing the answers to these and other questions can take some of the frustration out of the publication process.

Our goal is to ensure that everyone leaves with a full stomach and new insights to simplify the publication of their next paper!  You can help us by sending your questions to Kevin Floate (Kevin.Floate@agr.gc.ca) by October 23rd.

See you in Montréal!

Julien Saguez – Independent Researcher/Author

Kevin Floate – Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; Editor-in-Chief, The Canadian Entomologist

Daniel Edwards – Senior Commissioning Editor, Journals, Cambridge University Press

,

When you’re a spined soldier bug laying eggs, they can be “Any Colour You Like”

By Paul Abram
PhD Student, Université de Montréal

When Pink Floyd recorded their epic, psychedelic instrumental “Any Colour You Like” for the classic album Dark Side of the Moon, were they inspired by a predatory stink bug?

Three spined soldier bugs happily eating a mealworm.  Their voracious appetite makes them a widely-used biological control agent of insect pests (Photo credit: Andrea Brauner).

Three spined soldier bugs happily eating a mealworm. Their voracious appetite makes them a widely-used biological control agent of many different insect pests (Photo credit: Andrea Brauner).

Well … probably not.

The spined soldier bug (Podisus maculiventris), can’t actually lay any colour of egg it likes – but the real range of possibilities is pretty impressive.

The range of possible egg colours that can be laid by a single female spined soldier bug (Photos: Paul Abram/Eric Guerra)

The range of possible egg colours that can be laid by the spined soldier bug (Photo credit: Paul Abram/Eric Guerra)

Almost three years ago, when I started working with stink bugs and their parasitoid wasps, I noticed this astounding variation in the colour of the eggs of the spined soldier bug. I was surprised to find that nobody had looked into the cause of this variation or its potential functions. In fact, the function of insect egg colouration seems to have been a bit neglected in general. While I was initially hesitant to start on the dangerous path towards a PhD “side-project” (code for “I would like to take much longer to finish my degree, please”), I eventually caved.

In 2013, I was visiting a colleague’s lab where newspapers are used as a laying substrate for these bugs, and I noticed that there seemed to be a loose correspondence between the colour of the egg masses and the darkness of the paper, especially in high-contrast places like crossword puzzles. I wondered – could stink bugs actually adjust the coloration of their eggs to match the darkness of the laying surface? If so, this would be the first case of an animal able to selectively control the colouration of its eggs.

Back in Montreal a few months later, I started working on this question with an undergraduate summer student, Marie-Lyne Desprès-Einspenner. We did the simple experiment of putting individual females in Petri dishes painted white, black, or black on one side and white on the other.

Petri dishes housing spined soldier bug females, along with a mate, prey, and some green bean.  Everything a stink bug needs! (Photos: Paul Abram)

Painted dishes housing spined soldier bug females [right], along with a mate, prey, and some green bean [opened dish shown on the left]. (Photos: Paul Abram)

To our surprise and excitement, we got some nice results. First of all, it was clear that individual stink bugs could lay eggs across the whole spectrum of egg colours, and that the egg colour variation wasn’t just a result of advancing egg development. Additionally, stink bugs tended to lay darker eggs in the black petri dishes than the white ones; and, in the bi-coloured dishes, overall darker eggs on the black side than the white side. These effects were subtle, though, compared to the most important and unexpected factor: where the eggs were laid. Eggs tended to be lighter when laid on the underside of the lid (which was lit up from above) than when laid on the side or the bottom of dishes.

So, individual stink bugs can lay eggs of a range of colours, depending on where they are laying. Our next question was: how does this capability express itself on natural laying surfaces? We did some experiments using soybean plants, and figured out what seems to be the key to this whole thing: the stink bugs have a very strong tendency to lay darker-coloured egg masses on the tops of leaves (which have a relatively low surface brightness, like our black dishes), and lighter-coloured masses on leaf undersides (which have a high surface brightness due to light passing through from above, similar to the lids of our white dishes).

Light eggs laid on a leaf underside (upper panel), and dark eggs laid on a leaf top (lower panel). Photo credit: Leslie Abram.

A light egg mass laid on a leaf underside (upper panel), and a dark egg mass laid on a leaf top (lower panel). Photo credit: Leslie Abram.

Because leaves are excellent filters of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun (protecting most insect eggs, which are usually laid on leaf undersides), and dark pigmentation often acts as a ‘sunscreen’ in nature, we wondered if dark colouration would protect developing stink bug eggs from a lethal sunburn when they are laid on the tops of leaves. Eric Guerra-Grenier (another undergraduate researcher in the lab) and I tested this in the lab by exposing differently coloured eggs to different doses of sun-mimicking UV radiation.

The results were crystal clear – darker eggs are better-protected from UV radiation than light eggs, with a strong dose-dependency with respect to UV radiation intensity and egg colouration.

This was an exciting find, but begged the question: what is the pigment that makes eggs dark, anyway? The clear answer was that it must be melanin, which is responsible for most dark animal pigmentation, including in us humans, and is also really good at protecting against UV radiation damage.

Eric and I did the obvious thing, sending hundreds of (freezer-killed) stink bug eggs to two melanin biochemists in Japan. Our collaborators ran a suite of tests to confirm that the egg pigment was melanin. But…it turned out that the egg pigment wasn’t melanin! Right now, we simply don’t know what this “mystery pigment” is (maybe something totally new to science?).

As is common in research, we are left with more questions than answers. What is the physiological mechanism that allows stink bugs to selectively apply pigment to eggs? In evolutionary terms, why lay eggs on UV-exposed leaf tops in the first place? And why still lay some light eggs on leaf undersides? Could the pigment also have a role in camouflage, thermoregulation, or water retention? Do other, closely related (or why not distantly-related) insect species also have this capacity? We’re currently working on some of these questions, and I hope that we get to try to answer all of them eventually.

If you’d like, you can find a lot more details about our findings, including the answer to “does UV radiation affect the control of egg colour?”, in a newly published paper (remember to listen to the accompanying song while reading) – and stay tuned for more results in the coming months.

In the meantime, fellow entomologists and naturalists, look closely at insect eggs – is there anything interesting about how they’re coloured/patterned?

A spined soldier bug female having a drink and contemplating the future of insect egg colour research (Photo credit: Leslie Abram)

A spined soldier bug female having a drink and contemplating the future of insect egg colour research (Photo credit: Leslie Abram)


Postscript:

I would like to suggest additional Pink Floyd song/entomology paper pairings (feel free to suggest your own!):

“Breathe” //  “Active Regulation of Insect Respiration”

“Run Like Hell” //  “Mechanics of a rapid running insect: two-, four- and six-legged locomotion”

“Mother” // “Parental care trade-offs and the role of filial cannibalism in the maritime earwig, Anisolabis maritima

“Echoes” // “The adaptive significance of host location by vibrational sounding in parasitoid wasps”

“Time” // “Short interval time measurement by a parasitoid wasp”

“Us and Them” // “Boundary disputes in the territorial ant Azteca trigona: effects of asymmetries in colony size”

“Comfortably Numb” // ”Effects of carbon dioxide anaesthesia on Drosophila melanogaster

, ,

The flight of the backswimmer: dispersal behaviour in a freshwater insect

By Celina Baines

Have you ever thought about what a pond-dwelling insect might do if it doesn’t like the pond it lives in? People generally assume that these insects are stuck where they are, but actually, many freshwater insects have wings and can fly. This movement between ponds is an example of a process known as dispersal.

Backswimmers, for example, are insects that live in ponds and streams (and sometimes even swimming pools!). Backswimmers have a characteristic way of swimming – on their backs, just under the surface of the water, using their hind legs to propel themselves. It makes them look a little like they are doing the backstroke (hence their common name!). But they also have wings, and can fly between ponds.

A top view of a backswimmer swimming. Backswimmers can often be seen swimming just under the surface of the water, ventral side up. Photo credit: Shannon McCauley.

A top view of a backswimmer swimming. Backswimmers can often be seen swimming just under the surface of the water, ventral side up. Photo credit: Shannon McCauley.

We know from observing these insects that not all backswimmers make the same decisions about whether to disperse. Some individuals spend their whole lives in the ponds they are born in, and some individuals move to new ponds. So why do some individuals stay and some leave? One factor that could influence dispersal decisions is the quality of the pond. Pond “quality” could depend on many things, including the risk of being eaten by predators like fish. Dispersing can be a great way for organisms to avoid habitats that will be bad for them or their offspring.

Once a backswimmer has decided that it wants to disperse, it then has to decide whether it is strong and healthy enough to fly. This could be another factor that determines whether an individual decides to stay or go.

In the summer of 2013, I conducted a field experiment to learn more about how backswimmers make dispersal decisions. I wanted to test whether dispersal was induced by fish. I also wanted to test whether body condition (basically, the general strength and health of an organism) influences dispersal decisions.

I started by collecting backswimmers from a pond at the Koffler Scientific Reserve. That’s a research site owned by the University of Toronto, where I’m a graduate student.

This is me collecting backswimmers from a pond at the Koffler Scientific Reserve. Photo credit: Chris Thomaidis.

This is me collecting backswimmers from a pond at the Koffler Scientific Reserve. Photo credit: Chris Thomaidis.

I brought the backswimmers back to a lab at the University of Toronto. Because I wanted to test the effects of body condition on dispersal, I first had to manipulate the backswimmers so that they had different levels of body condition. I did this by carefully controlling how much food each backswimmer got to eat.

Backswimmers are carnivores, and they aren’t very picky. For this experiment, I fed them fruit flies, because it’s really easy to get lots and lots of fruit flies. So, in what turned out to be one of the most back-breakingly tedious jobs I’ve ever performed for science, I (and many uncomplaining assistants) counted out thousands of individual fruit flies to feed to the backswimmers. Each backswimmer was housed in its own little cup, and received a specific (and carefully counted) number of fruit flies to eat every day. Here’s what the hundreds of drink cups looked like, colour coded and full of bugs.

Left: Cups housing backswimmers at the University of Toronto. Right: A backswimmer in its cup.

Left: Cups housing backswimmers at the University of Toronto. Right: A backswimmer in its cup.

After a few weeks of controlling the backswimmers’ diets, it was time to bring them outside to see if they would fly. I set up some artificial ponds in a big field. These “ponds” are actually just watering tanks that farmers use for cows and horses, but I added algae and artificial plants to make them more like natural ponds. Since I also wanted to test whether backswimmers are scared away by fish, I added a fish to half of the tanks. I put the fish in cages, and that way, the backswimmers could tell there was a fish in the tank (they could see and smell the fish), but the fish couldn’t actually eat the backswimmers.

This is me, checking the artificial ponds for backswimmers. Photo credit: Betty Dondertman.

This is me, checking the artificial ponds for backswimmers. Photo credit: Betty Dondertman.

Then I put the bugs in the tanks, and waited. After a couple days, I went back to the tanks and checked to see which backswimmers were still in the tanks, and which ones had flown away.

Firstly, I found that backswimmers are scared away by fish; they are more likely to disperse when a fish is in their pond.

I also found that the backswimmers with high body condition are more likely to fly, probably because they are strong fliers and have the best chance of successfully finding a new pond.

Both of these results were really cool and answered some questions for us about how backswimmers make dispersal decisions. But they might also tell us a little about how other organisms move around in natural ecosystems. Dispersers are the only individuals that can find new ponds and start new populations. If dispersers tend to be the strongest and healthiest individuals, that’s great for native species that we want to encourage to start new populations. But having strong, healthy individuals from exotic species start new populations is probably bad news. Dispersal can therefore have important consequences, which is why we need to understand more about how and why organisms disperse.

For more information about my study, check out the recent publication:

Baines, C. B., McCauley, S. J., & Rowe, L. (2015). Dispersal depends on body condition and predation risk in the semi‐aquatic insect, Notonecta undulata. Ecology and Evolution 5(12): 2307–2316

, ,

Canadian Entomology Research Roundup: April – June 2015

As a graduate student, publishing a paper is a big deal. After spending countless hours doing the research, slogging through the writing process, soliciting comments from co-authors, formatting the paper to meet journal guidelines, and dealing with reviewer comments, it’s nice to finally get that acceptance letter and know that your work is getting out there. The ESC Student Affairs Committee is happy to be posting a fourth roundup of papers authored by Canadian graduate students. Stay tuned to the ESC blog for some full length guest posts from some of the students below in the coming weeks!

Have a look at what some entomology grad students in Canada have been up to recently! Articles below were published online from April through June 2015.

Forestry

Seehausen et al. found that parasitism of hemlock looper Lambdina fiscellaria (Guenée) (Lepidoptera: Geometridae) pupae was significantly reduced in plots with high partial cutting intensities (40%). To sustain parasitism rates in forest stands vulnerable to hemlock looper defoliation at naturally high levels, it is recommended to refrain from high intensity partial cutting. Article link

Apechthis Ontario parasitizing a hemlock looper pupa (Photo credit: Lukas Seehausen)

Apechthis ontario parasitizing a hemlock looper pupa (Photo credit: Lukas Seehausen)

During its recent outbreak starting in the early 2000s, the mountain pine beetle destroyed huge areas of lodge pole pine forests in BC and Alberta while also expanding its geographic range east and north. More recently, the beetle has been confirmed to be attacking and reproducing in a novel host, jack pine, which is distributed from Alberta to the Atlantic coast. New research by Taft et al. looks at how specific chemicals in jack pine trees that affect mountain pine beetle vary in jack pine across its range. Article link

Another study from the Erbilgin lab at University of Alberta by Karst et al. revealed that stand mortality caused by prior beetle attacks of mature pines have cascading effects on seedling secondary chemistry, growth and survival, probably mediated through effects on below-ground mutualisms. Article link

Physiology and Genetics

Proshek, Dupuis, et al. found the genetic diversity of Mormon Metalmark species complex are more diverse than traditional morphological characters. Article link

A Lange Metalmark butterfly (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Oudin, Bonduriansky, and Rundle at the University of Ottawa found the amount of sexual dimorphism present in antler flies is condition-dependent. Article link

Nearby at Carleton University, Webster et al. studied the edge markings on moths to show they can provide camouflage by breaking up their body outline. Article link

Another study from Carleton University, from Hossie et al., showed that predator-deterring eyespots tend to appear on larger-bodied caterpillars and that smaller species are better off remaining undetected. Check out the detailed blog post about this study on the lead author’s blog, and a great photo gallery of caterpillars with eyespots! And here’s the link to the Article.

Jakobs, Gariepy, and Sinclair established that adult phenotypic plasticity is not sufficient to allow Drosophila suzukii to overwinter in temperate habitats. Article link

Insect Management

Part of the PhD work of Angela Gradish focused on the White Mountain arctic butterfly (WMA), a very rare butterfly occurring only on the alpine zone of Mts. Washington and Jefferson in New Hampshire. Despite its threatened status, little was known of the WMA’s population structure, distribution, and behaviour. So Gradish grabbed a net and headed up Mt. Washington, where she spent part of two summers collecting WMA samples for genetic analyses while performing a mark-release-recapture study on the population. She was the first to use genetic analyses to study the WMA, the results of which are presented here.  Find the results of the mark-release-recapture study here.

Angela Gradish collecting

Collecting butterflies on Mount Washington (photo credit: Angela Gradish).

Marshall and Paiero, from the Marshall lab at University of Guelph, gives a new record of a Palaearctic leaf beetle, Cassida viridis, which has been present in Ontario since 1974. Article link

Maguire et al., from the Buddle lab at McGill University, found destructive insect herbivores can positively or negatively impact ecosystem services depending on outbreak conditions. Article link

Biodiversity

Ernst and Buddle discovered that the diversity and assemblage structure of northern carabid beetles show strong latitudinal gradients due to the mediating effects of climate, particularly temperature. Article link

Behaviour and Ecology

The Luong lab at University of Alberta observed that ectoparasitic mites have deleterious effects on host flight performance of Drosophila species. Article link

Therrien et al. from the Erbilgin lab at the University of Alberta found that bacteria can influence brood development of bark beetles in host tissue. Article link

Desai, Kumar, and Currie from the Currie lab at the University of Manitoba conducted the first major baseline study of viruses in Canadian honey bees to show that deformed wing virus has the highest concentration among worker bees. Article link

Baines, McCauley, and Rowe from the Rowe lab at University of Toronto showed that dispersal is a positive function of body condition in backswimmers, but not interactive with predation risk. Article link

Backswimmers can often be seen swimming just under the surface of the water, ventral side up (Photo credit: Shannon McCauley).

Backswimmers can often be seen swimming just under the surface of the water, ventral side up (Photo credit: Shannon McCauley).

Strepsiptera is a peculiar and enigmatic insect order. All are entomophagous endoparasitoids. Unusually for parasitoids, they possess a very broad host range, encompassing 7 orders and 34 families of insects, in various habitats worldwide. Despite their broad host range, and cosmopolitan distribution, surprisingly little is known about their biology. The gaps in knowledge of this group has led to many generalizations about their biology and behaviour. Only recently are studies beginning to uncover a hitherto unforeseen diversity in reproductive strategies. In this review, Kathirithamby, Hrabar, and colleagues discuss the reproductive biology of Strepsiptera: what is known, and what mysteries remain to be solved. Article link

In the Sargent lab at University of Ottawa, Russell-Mercier and Sargent investigated herbivore-mediated differences in floral display traits and found that they impacted pollinator visitation behaviour, but not in female reproductive success. Article link

Techniques

Can you use gut content DNA analysis of a staphilinid beetle to track predation of spotted wing drosophila? Here’s what Renkema et al. found.

Rosati et al., from the Vanlaerhoven lab at University of Windsor, discuss using ImageJ software to quantify blow fly egg deposition in a non-destructive manner. Article link

We are continuing to help publicize graduate student publications to the wider entomological community through our Research Roundup. Find the previous edition here: http://escsecblog.com/2015/05/04/canadian-entomology-research-roundup-march-2015-april-2015/. If you published an article recently and would like it featured, e-mail us at entsoccan.students@gmail.com. You can also send us photos and short descriptions of your research, to appear in a later edition of the research roundup.

For regular updates on new Canadian entomological research, you can join the ESC Students Facebook page or follow us on Twitter @esc_students

, , , , ,

Missed Mandate, Missed Biology: The ongoing “Mother Canada” debacle in Cape Breton Highlands National Park

Opinion Piece – M. Alex Smith, Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph (salex@uoguelph.ca; @Alex_Smith_Ants; www.malexsmith.weebly.com)

—-

Like many Canadians, I have been hearing more and more about the so-called “Mother Canada” development in Cape Breton Highlands National Park (CBHNP). Proposed by a combination of private funding in partnership with the federal government, this enormous 10-storey memorial is meant to “… be a place for remembrance and gratitude” to Canadians who have “fallen as a result of war and conflict”. Parks Canada has expressed direct support for this monument through actual monetary donations. The erection of such a memorial within a Canadian National Park has garnered much recent interest in the Canadian and international press.

Beyond any aesthetic concerns people may have about the specific plans, in my opinion, there are two critical problems with this monument. The first was pointed out in a Globe and Mail editorial of June 24 2015: it is redundant. Every town and city in Canada already has a memorial to those who have served and sacrificed. My second objection is a combined biological and sociological one. It concerns the location of a private funded monument within a Canadian National Park, where it appears very unclear what the ramifications of that action will be on the fauna in and around the proposed site. The mandate of Parks Canada is elegantly expressed in its charter, “To protect, as a first priority, the natural and cultural heritage of our special places and ensure that they remain healthy and whole” while fostering “public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure the ecological and commemorative integrity of these places for present and future generations”. Indeed, 26 former senior Parks Canada managers wrote an open letter to the Minister of Environment Leona Aglukkaq detailing their objections and that such a plan, “is in violation of the site’s Wilderness Zone designation as detailed in the Management Plan for the Park”.

Beyond the effects of the actual physical construction on the park environment, the monument will potentially increase tourist traffic to the area. How will these changes affect the biota (both animal and plant) of the immediate area? Exactly how well known is that fauna? How was the effect on the sites and the adjacent park environment determined?

A detailed impact analysis was completed by Stantec Consulting Limited who concluded that the effects of the development are, “generally predicted to be negligible to moderate in magnitude”. Conclusions regarding the effect of the construction and development on the “wildlife” of CBHNP were based on a single terrestrial field survey of the locality and a consultation of a CBHNP sightings database. (Stantec is actually listed as a Partner and Supporter of the development). In the Stantec impact analysis, “wildlife” is exclusively mammals and birds. As an ecologist whose professional and personal life is replete with instances of being overwhelmed and delighted by the diversity of arthropods living coincidentally (and cryptically) with their better-studied vertebrate relatives, this raised some concerns.

So what can I offer? Well in 2009, I spent a wonderful time collecting arthropods in CBHNP as part of the BioBus program out of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph. In fact, four colleagues and I spent a night collecting insects at a site only 3 km away from the proposed development (Black Brook and the nearby Jack Pine Trail). The Jack Pine trail was particularly beautiful! The trail goes through a forest of Jack Pine that is more than 200km away from the rest of its range and has survived fire and spruce budworm infestation. At any rate, since all the data is publicly available online (dx.doi.org/10.5883/DS-ASCBHNP), I thought this would be an opportune time to explore those records in light of the planned “Mother Canada” development.

 

Figure 1: A high resolution GigaPan panorama taken at the Black Brook collection site (http://gigapan.com/gigapans/29312).

Figure 1: A high resolution GigaPan panorama taken at the Black Brook collection site (http://gigapan.com/gigapans/29312).

 

Figure 2: The collection team earlier in the trip in Terra Nova National Park Newfoundland.

Figure 2: The collection team earlier in the trip in Terra Nova National Park Newfoundland.

It was a beautiful night in 2009 (Jul-21) at Black Brook where we collected arthropods using two common methods (UV light (which means lots of moths!) and free-hand active search using insect nets). That night, in about four hours of collecting, we came away with 363 specimens from nearly 200 species (191 named and provisional species based on their DNA barcodes). To put this number in context, CBHNP has 200 species of bird – a total nearly matched for arthropods by our single nights work at one location! This diversity is only a small fraction of the diversity of arthropods currently protected by CBHNP. Via these DNA barcodes, (public on BOLD (www.barcodinglife.org, dx.doi.org/10.5883/DS-ASCBHNP) we can compare them to the > 4 million DNA barcode records representing >400,000 species worldwide on this database.

What we find from this comparison is that some of these species may be exceedingly rare. Despite concentrated collections in this and other National Parks before and since this night* there are four species which have been found only once out of these millions of records. While this diversity is currently protected by Parks Canada, it is within 3 km of the proposed “Mother Canada” development. It is unclear how the changes in traffic and construction from the development will affect this protected diversity.

Why bring this up now? What use is a rapid analysis of a single night’s collections? I decided to bring it up to call attention to numerous small and cryptic species in and around the location of the proposed development about which we know very little. Going ahead with an enormous private development within a National Park is a mistake that flies in the face of the mandate of Parks Canada – and does so without good evidence that it would not have negative effects on the diversity of animals that it was created to protect.

 

Figure 3: This neighbor-joining tree is a graphical representation of the diversity of nearly 200 species of arthropods collected at Black Brook in July 2009. The taxa are colour coded and are followed by the number of specimens we caught.

Figure 3: This neighbor-joining tree is a graphical representation of the diversity of nearly 200 species of arthropods collected at Black Brook in July 2009. The taxa are colour coded and are followed by the number of specimens we caught.

John Barber (a freelance journalist from Toronto) closed his recent article in the Guardian newspaper with a marvelous quote from Valerie Bird, a WWII veteran and resident of Cape Breton, “It is vulgar and ostentatious,” she said. “It certainly doesn’t belong in a national park, and I don’t think its going to do a darn thing for veterans.” “I think the idea of this horrible thing offends veterans,” she added. “I find it difficult to find words. This is a monstrosity.”

Not simply a monstrosity – but one contrary to of the principle mandate of Parks Canada, “to protect, as a first priority, the natural and cultural heritage of our special places and ensure that they remain healthy and whole”. Ultimately, this is the essence of the problem. This issue is more than a simple discussion regarding the aesthetics of a >$25 million, >25-metre tall conglomeration of private and corporate citizens (in apparent partnership with our federal government). If a private group wants to erect a memorial on private grounds and can raise the money for their monument – it is certainly their prerogative. This is a critical discussion about the mandate of Parks Canada and specifically how well they protect the natural heritage resident within that Park.

To place this monument in a National Park is not the right of any private group. To consider placing such a monument in a National Park without careful consideration of the most diverse Park residents (insects, spiders and their kin) is not simply poor planning; it’s poor management and should be stopped.

* -Since that evening in 2009, the BioBus has continued to collaborate with Parks Canada in Cape Breton Highlands National Park and now even more is known about the vast diversity of small and important insects from other areas within this National Park. Collections of arthropods have now been made for 3000 species! For more information about those collections visit the reports section at www.biobus.ca. The author has no current association with the BioBus program. All specimens analysed here are publically available via the public data portal of the Barcode of Life Data System (dx.doi.org/10.5883/DS-ASCBHNP).

Useful websites:

Thanks to Morgan Jackson for helpful thoughts on an earlier draft of this post.
Figure 4 – Shareable infographic outlining information & data presented in this article. Please feel free to circulate.

Figure 4 – Shareable infographic outlining information & data presented in this article. Please feel free to circulate.