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Are you feeling lucky today? Is it possible to improve your “luck” in academia?

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Staffan with Graduate student Jeanne Robert, 2005. Jeanne went on to do a PhD at UBC, then came back to UNBC, where she worked as a post-doctoral fellow and then a Research coordinator for the UNBC NRESi Biodiversity Monitoring & Assessment Program. She is now the Regional Entomologist, Northern Region, for the BC Ministry of Forest, Lands and Natural Resources Operations, Prince George, BC. I was lucky to have a great graduate student. Was she lucky? Only through hard work!

 

The following is a guest post by Staffan Lindgren

When I was about 10 years old I won a competition in a hobby magazine, which landed me a nice race car track. Since then I have not won anything, really. Yet, I consider myself a lucky person, not only because of a great family life, but because opportunities have always seemed to pop up just when I needed them.  But looking back, I would say that my luck was in large part self-made. Over the years, I had made sure I had summer and temporary jobs that gave me appropriate experience, e.g., as a substitute teacher, forest regeneration surveyor, etc.

When I was doing my undergraduate degree in Sweden, the course offerings in the fall of 1973 were not to my liking, so I landed a job as a research assistant to a PhD student studying spiders. But the reason I did, was that I had a longstanding interest in spiders, so I had connected with the student long before that. For example, as a 12-year-old, I wrote to Professor Åke Holm, Uppsala University, after reading a newspaper article posted on a board in my English teachers classroom. Dr. Holm was then Sweden’s pre-eminent spider taxonomist, and had published my first spider book (Holm 1947). His kindness and encouragement has served as a model for me throughout my career. After I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I made a misguided attempt at a PhD  in medical endocrinology, studying testosterone secretion in rats. Apart from five small publications (Carstensen et al. 1976, Lindgren et al. 1976, Damber et al. 1977a, Damber et al. 1977b, Bergh et al. 1982), I came away with a bruised ego and a severe allergy to rats.

After my failed 2-year forage into mammal reproductive physiology, I realized that I needed to re-focus on my first love, which was entomology. The first thing I did was to contact (by which I mean that I wrote a letter ) Dr. Bertil Lekander, professor of forest entomology at the Royal College of Forestry, Stockholm, Sweden. He offered to take me on as a special interest student in the two forest entomology courses offered to future foresters. To make a long story short, this led to a life-long association, albeit informal, with Swedish forest entomologists. For example, I published my Master of Pest Management Professional Paper as a Forest Entomology report (which also has a long story associated with it, the main lesson of which is the old adage “It’s not what you say, but how you say it”), and I had the privilege of spending 6 months as a visiting scientist at SLU in Uppsala in 1993 thanks to the connections I made there. Nevertheless, a few courses did not lead to a specific job, so once that was done I was once again without a firm direction in life. Because I had made many friends and connections in the Department  of Ecological Zoology at Umeå University, in part through the spider job, but also through volunteering every spring and fall on an annual 4-day microtine rodent survey (Hörnfeldt et al. 1986) I got wind of a 4-month Teaching Assistant position in the Department of Health and Environment, which I was offered (notably in competition with another future entomologist, Anders N. Nilsson, who became a world authority on aquatic beetles). This position involved leading a class trip to the Soviet Union, among other things.

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Staffan with a nice rainbow trout from Wicheeda Lake, north of Prince George. Now this may have been luck, because I don’t work hard at my fishing skill!

At the end of that position, I had started the proceedings to go to Canada, which ultimately led me to where I am today. Again, this was not something that happened by accident. In 1968-69, I spent a year in central Michigan as a high school exchange student. This was an extremely formative experience for me. It made me confident that I could succeed in an English-speaking environment, and it shaped me politically (it was the height of the Vietnam War, two political assassinations , Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., had happened earlier in 1968), and there were significant racial tensions throughout the US. Anyway, I had become convinced that applied science was the only worthwhile pursuit in terms of education (see my earlier post here), and had found the Centre for Overseas Pest Research, a British organization. (Remember that there was no Google or internet, so all of this was done through libraries and by asking for information by mail). I received a letter back that they could only offer employment to “British subjects”, but they passed on a brochure about the Master of Pest Management program at Simon Fraser University. This seemed like the ticket to my future, so I wrote to SFU. The response was positive, so I decided to apply. But I needed funding. Fortunately for me, I managed to land a fellowship from the Sweden-America Foundation, and in combination with the relatively generous student loans from the Swedish Government, I all of a sudden found myself in a position to go to Canada! And the rest is history, as they say!

What does this history of my formative years have to do with luck? I truly believe that some people have more luck than others. When you buy a lottery ticket, the odds are fixed.  But in the job market, including academia, you can change the odds in your favour, at least to some degree. The points I take home from the experience I have accumulated over my career are:

  1. If people know you, they will pass on information that may lead to your big break.
  2. Treat people with respect, i.e., treat them the way you wish to be treated. If you are well liked and respected, it will make a difference when you are looking for references or recommendations. This is particularly important when dealing with workers. I found that by showing an interest in, and respect for, their experience and knowledge rather than acting superior, you gain their trust and respect, and they will welcome your opinion.
  3. Don’t hesitate to seek help or advice from professors, no matter how eminent or important they are. In entomology in particular, I have been amazed at the kindness and generosity I have encountered from people really had nothing to gain by responding or talking to me. The worst that can happen is that you don’t get a response, or one that makes you steer clear of that individual (which has yet to happen to me).
  4. We all have weaknesses. Work on them. I used to shake like a leaf when having to address an audience. Some of the best scientists and public speakers I know suffer from extreme nervousness, but they have learned to cope with it. If you suffer from nerve problems, seek help, or at least give yourself experience. There are tricks to help you, and you’d be amazed how experience helps!
  5. Never, ever pretend you know something you don’t. Honesty always pays off in my experience.
  6. Finally, and most importantly, follow your heart. If you are passionate about what you do, you are more likely (and able) to build experience, which in turn becomes as important, or more so, in a job interview.

These are some ways to “make you lucky”. Just like an athlete has to put time and effort into achieving their goals, we do as well.

Best of luck!

References

Bergh, A., J.-E. Damber, and S. Lindgren.  1982.  Compensatory hypertrophy of the Leydig cells in hemiorchidectomized adult rats.  Experientia 38:597-598.

Carstensen, H., S. Marklund, J.-E. Damber, B. Näsman, and S. Lindgren.  1976.  No effect of oxygen in vivo on plasma or testis testosterone in rats and no induction of superoxide dismutase.  Journal of Steroid Biochemistry 7:465-467.

Damber, J.-E., H. Carstensen, and S. Lindgren. 1977a. The effects of barbiturate anesthesia and laparotomy on testis and plasma testosterone in rats. J. Ster. Biochem. 8: 217-219.

Damber, J.-E., S. Lindgren, and B. Näsman.  1977b.  Testicular blood flow and oxygen tension in unilaterally orchidectomized rats.  Experientia 33:635.

Holm, Å. 1947. Svensk spindelfauna. 3, Egentliga spindlar. Araneae Fam. 8-10, Oxyopidae, Lycosidae och Pisauridae. Entomologiska Föreningen, Stockholm, Sweden.

Hörnfeldt, B., O. Löfgren, B.-G. Carlsson. 1986. Cycles in voles and small game in relation to variations in plant production indices in Northern Sweden. Oecologia (Berlin) 68:496–502

Lindgren, S., J.-E. Damber, and H. Carstensen.  1976.  Compensatory testosterone secretion in unilaterally orchidectomized rats.  Life Science 18:1203-1205.

 

 

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The excavator spider

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Guest post by Staffan Lindgren (@bslindgren)

The other day I was practicing macro photography (I am still learning after several years of erratic success at best, so please excuse the imperfections) trying to patiently wait out some Halictus sweat bees with my camera. The bees appeared to be much more patient than I was, however, by which I mean that they sat deep in their burrows, apparently staring me down. So I wandered around looking for other potential subjects to practice on. While examining another bee burrow, I saw a slight movement in the dirt in a spot about 10 cm from the bee burrow. A closer look revealed a very attractive wolf spider hiding in a small depression.  In spite of its gaudy colours (for a wolf spider) it was rather well camouflaged against the dirt. As I watched it, it started to move, and to my surprise picked up dirt and moved it to the edge of its little hiding spot. It remained in the depression and continued to modify it by moving dirt as I attempted to take some photographs.  From what I could tell, it looked as if it used its pedipalps to hold the dirt against the base of its chelicerae to move it, rather than only grabbing it between the chelicerae.

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I had no idea what species I was dealing with, so I went to the web to see if I could figure it out. It turned out to be Arctosa perita (Latreille, 1799), which confused me at first since it is a Eurasian species.  A quick check of Bennett et al. (2014) confirmed its presence. I also found the post “The mystery of the burrow-dwelling sand dune spider” about this species on Catherine Scott’s informative blog “Spiderbytes”, as usual illustrated by a number of excellent photographs by Sean McCann.  These sources confirmed that the spider occurs on Vancouver Island, and that it is a species known to make burrows.

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These spiders have some pretty good camouflage, as well as subtle but beautiful colours. Photo by Sean McCann.

Apparently A. perita was introduced in southwestern BC at some point, and it has spread enough that it now seems fairly common, at least in the southwest corner of the province. In fact, we have numerous introduced species of insects and other arthropods in BC, particularly in urban and rural areas. For example, the most commonly seen ground beetles are generally invasives, although we tend to not think of them as such because they don’t impact us directly. They probably do impact the native fauna to some extent, however, albeit not noticeable to our selfserving views. After all, even earthworms (which are almost entirely non-native in Canada) have been labelled harmful to native fauna in forest environments, at least (Addison 2009). Whether or not A. perita has any noticeable effect on native fauna is unknown, but it is an interesting addition to our Canadian fauna.

References

Addison,  J.A. 2009.    Distribution and impacts of invasive earthworms in Canadian forest ecosystems.     Biological Invasions. 11: 59-79.

Bennett, R., D. Blades, D. Buckle, C. Copley, D. Copley, C. Dondale, and R.C. West. 2014. Checklist of the spiders of British Columbia.  (Web) http://ibis.geog.ubc.ca/biodiversity/efauna/documents/BCspiderlistMay2014FINAL.pdf

Dick Vockeroth and the CNC gang
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The Cobblestone Tiger Beetle

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Cobblestone Tiger Beetle. Photo by Stephen Krotzer, used with permission.

by Mischa Giasson

In 2008, l was asked to participate in a mark-release-recapture survey on the shores of Grand Lake, New Brunswick. My dad and I joined Fredericton entomologist Reggie Webster on a boat to visit three small sites among the rocky beaches surrounding the lake. We were searching for a rare, recently locally discovered beetle that is found nowhere else in Canada: the Cobblestone Tiger Beetle. This experience was the first of many that lead me to the realisation that a career in entomology was an option, fueled by my life-long fascination with insects (and other creepy-crawlies).

The Cobblestone Tiger beetle (Cicindela marginipennis) is an insect in the sub-family Cicindellidae (Coleoptera: Carabidae). This small, pretty beetle is listed as Endangered and placed in Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), which means that the species has been deemed at risk and that there has been development and implementation of protective and recovery measures.

There is no doubt that Tiger Beetles live up to their namesake as extremely beautiful, but equally deadly predators. These beetles run down their prey by sprinting in short, quick bursts. In fact, they run at such high speeds that they temporarily go blind! One species has been recorded moving at 9 km/hr, which is almost 54 times its body length per second. Their antennae are used to prevent any collisions while sprinting and they have a very short reaction time, but they must make frequent stops to take in their surroundings and make sure they’re on the right track.

Both the adults and larvae are predators, the larvae employing a sit-and-wait approach: they wait in ambush from small vertical burrows in the ground, striking out at lightning speed to catch any prey that passes nearby. Prey consists of other insects as well as spiders, which stand no chance against the huge mandibles of the Tiger Beetle. The Cobblestone Tiger Beetle can be distinguished from other Tiger Beetles by the smooth, continuous cream-coloured border along the outer edges of the elytra and by a bright orange/red abdomen that is visible when the beetle is in flight. Their overall colour is most often a dark chocolatey brown, but some metallic blue and green individuals have been observed in the New Brunswick populations.

 

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Cobblestone Tiger Beetle. Photo by Stephen Krotzer, used with permission.

The Cobblestone Tiger Beetle gets its name from its choice in habitat. The eight sites in New Brunswick where it can be found are all cobblestone beaches. This beetle is also found along major river systems in the United States, from Mississippi to Alabama and from Indiana through to New England. Populations are quite small, few and far between. The Canadian population was discovered in 2003 by Dwayne Sabine and is the only known population to also inhabit lakeshore sites, likely due to the riverine characteristics of Grand Lake. There are three known sites on Grand Lake, while the other five are on the shores of small islands in the Saint John River between Woodstock and Bath. These cobblestone habitats are unique to areas with yearly spring flooding which keeps the vegetation from spreading along the beach, maintaining the flat areas of gravel and sand between the stones which are necessary for the larvae to make their burrows. Not much is known of the Cobblestone Tiger Beetle’s specific life history, but it is assumed to be similar to that of other tiger beetle species. The beetles have a two-year life cycle: eggs are laid individually in the sand, where the larvae will hatch and make burrows. The larvae overwinter in their burrows, somehow surviving the spring floods and emerging as adults in June.

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Cobblestone Tiger Beetle. Photo by Stephen Krotzer, used with permission.

Due to their specific habitat requirements, Cobblestone Tiger Beetles are very vulnerable to environmental changes and disturbances. The biggest threat is habitat damage. In New Brunswick, the installation of the Mactaquac dam destroyed many suitable habitats both upstream and downstream. The small beetle populations are also quite vulnerable to over-collection by scientists and insect enthusiasts. The current concerns involve the use of off-road vehicles, as this leads to the alteration of suitable habitat and often directly leads to the death of many larvae present on the beaches. This threat applies mostly to the shores of Grand Lake, where there is increasing development and use of the beaches. The protective measures implemented include developing a stewardship plan, educating the local communities and encouraging their support and participation in the conservation of this special beetle. Decreasing human disturbance is the most important factor in ensuring the survival in our province of the already very small populations of the Cobblestone Tiger Beetle.

References

https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/plans/rs_cobblestone_tiger_beetle_e_final.pdf

http://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=1031

Zurek, D. B., & Gilbert, C. (2014). Static antennae act as locomotory guides that compensate for visual motion blur in a diurnal, keen-eyed predator. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences281(1779): 20133072.

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The Cuckoo Gypsy Bumble Bee: A Species Endangered

 

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B. bohemicus male Image: Magne Flåten via wikimedia.org CC BY-SA 3.0 (B. bohemicus female here)

By Zach DeLong

When people hear of endangered species they often think of large and impressive creatures like the Siberian Tiger or Panda Bear, but we often forget about the smaller, yet no less impressive species that need our help as well. The charmingly named Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee, or as scientists all it Bombus bohemicus, is a member of the family Apidae, in the order Hymenoptera. Though the Species at Risk Act (SARA) currently has no status for the Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee, it has been recognized and listed as endangered by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The term “endangered” is a hot topic, but there may be confusion about what it truly means.  As defined by COSEWIC, an endangered species is “a wildlife species facing imminent extirpation or extinction[1]”. In the case of the Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee, this means the species is at risk of disappearing from the Canadian wilderness.

The Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee is an inquiline parasite of other types of bees, which means the Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee is a home invader. Normally such an invader would be attacked by the workers within the hive, but the Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee produces a variety of chemicals which both disguise it as a member of the host species[2] and inhibit worker aggression towards the invader[3]. The Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee is a generalist parasite and is surprisingly able to successfully invade a number of different Canadian species, namely the Rusty-patched Bumblebee, the Yellow-banded Bumblebee, and the Western Bumblebee[4]. Once inside the nest the Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee engages in a number of dominance behaviours to usurp the host queen, including ejecting host larvae from cells, eating host eggs and even outright attacking the host queen[5]. Coexistence with the host queen is preferable as her suppressor pheromones help control the workers who might otherwise attempt to become reproductively active themselves, so the invading Cuckoo Gypsy queen will often choose to shove or perform faux-stinging behaviour over outright killing her co-matriarch[5]. The Cuckoo Gypsy queen produces no workers of her own.  This means she relies on host workers to defend the nest, rear her young, and forage for food[2]. Instead, all her offspring are reproductive with a 1:1 female to male ratio[6]. Young Gypsy Cuckoo Bumblebees can be seen flying about and feeding on flowers while they wait for their reproductive organs to mature so they can begin looking for a mate and a suitable host nest to invade.

 

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Distribution of Cuckoo Gypsy Bumble Bee throughout North America. Image: COSEWIC

The Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee is widely distributed across a wide range in Canada, with individuals found in all provinces and territories except Nunavut[4], though populations are mostly concentrated in southern portions of Ontario and Quebec, and the Maritime provinces. Its decline across Canada has been attributed to a number of factors. It has been shown that a certain host density must be maintained for cuckoo bee parasites to be able to persist in a given area, and the general decline of bees throughout Canada has subsequently damaged Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee populations[4]. The mass spraying of crops with pesticides, particularly neonicotinoids, and the release of pathogen-carrying exotic bee species have impacted both cuckoo bees and host densities across Canada[4]. If we want the Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebee to recover, perhaps the best way is to make Canada a more bee friendly environment as a whole. If we address issues resulting in the decline of other bee species, we can provide the population density necessary to facilitate persistent cuckoo populations. Additionally, addressing factors such as pesticide usage and the introduction of foreign pathogens would have positive effect on Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebees as this would not only increase the population density of hosts, but also improve survival rates of Cuckoo Gypsy Bumblebees themselves.

 

References

[1]Assessment Process, Categories and Guidelines. COSEWIC. 2005-06-15. 2015-07-08. http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/eng/sct0/assessment_process_e.cfm#tbl5

[2]Kirsten Kreuter, Elfi Bunk, Anna Lückemeyer, Robert Twele, Wittko Francke, Manfred Ayasse(2012). How the social parasitic bumblebee Bombus bohemicus sneaks into power of reproduction. Behavioral Ecology and sociobiology, Vol 66, Issue 3, pp 475-486.

[3]Stephen J. Martin, Jonathan M. Carruthers, Paul H. Williams, Falko P. Drijfhout(2010). Host Specific Social Parasites (Psithyrus) Indicate Chemical Recognition System in Bumblebees. Journal of Chemical Ecology, Vol 36, Issue 8, pp 855-863.

[4]COSEWIC Wildlife Species Search: Bumble Bee, Gypsy Cuckoo | Bombus bohemicus. COSEWIC. 2002-10-21. 2011-11-07. http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/eng/sct1/searchdetail_e.cfm?id=1232&StartRow=191&boxStatus=All&boxTaxonomic=All&location=1&change=All&board=All&commonName=&scienceName=&returnFlag=0&Page=20

[5]R. M. Fisher(1988). Observations on the behaviours of three European cuckoo bumble bee species (Psithyrus). Insectes Sociaux, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 341-354.

[6]Vergara, Carlos H. (2003). Suppression of ovarian development of Bombus terrestris workers by B. terrestris queens, Psithyrus vestalis and Psithyrus bohemicus females. Apidologie 34, pp 563–568

 

 

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The Skillet Clubtail Dragonfly: What you don’t know

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Fig. 1. Skillet Clubtail dragonfly adult; notice the distinctive “skillet” on tail. Photo Credit: David Marvin. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence. 

By Melody McLean

What if I told you that as a New Brunswicker, there are animals in danger of going extinct in your own backyard? Saying that, you’re probably thinking of a cute, fuzzy, little animal with big, sad eyes being displaced from its home.  Well, that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m talking about the Skillet Clubtail Dragonfly (Gomphus ventricosus), belonging to the insect order Odonata. This dragonfly currently has no status under the Species at Risk Act (SARA), but was the only arthropod classified in the 2010 COSEWIC (Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife In Canada) report as being endangered. Simply put, if we don’t do something, they could become extirpated[i] from Canada or even extinct.  When we hear about insects in our province, we often associate them with being pests, like spruce budworm, aphids, or disease spreading agents like mosquitos. But what we don’t often realize is that not all animals at risk of extinction are cute and fluffy. I’m here to shed some light on an underdog of the animal world, who could use a little help from us.

Insects-we can’t live with them; we can’t live without them.

  What you may not know is just how thankful we (myself included) should be for insects. They clean up after us, help to provide us with rich soil for our gardens, indirectly provide us with fresh food thanks to their pollination efforts; some, like dragonflies, even keep other insects from bugging us¾like our own personal pest control.

 

The Skillet Clubtail dragonfly is strikingly beautiful, with green, yellow, black and brown markings running along its thorax and abdomen; transparent wings; big dark green eyes; and a distinctive circular flare, resembling a skillet, at the tip of its tail (Fig. 1).

The Biology behind the Insect

The Skillet Clubtail’s  life cycle and biology is very similar to that of other dragonflies. The female lays her eggs by dipping her abdomen into the water to release them. Growing and developing, the shallowly burrowed nymphs take at least 2 years (possibly more) to develop before emerging. If conditions are right, usually in the latter 2 weeks of June, the dragonfly nymphs will find a “settle point” where the water is calm; they’ll climb up onto nearby vegetation to emerge synchronously[ii] as adults. Although the nymphs spend the majority of their lives in the water, the adults spend most of their lives around brush, fields, bogs and in the nearby canopy to forage for other insects.

Home of the Skillet Clubtail

 This stunning dragonfly is restricted to North America. In Canada, it is currently found only in a few select places along the Saint John River, specifically in the Fredericton region of New Brunswick.  Over 60 years ago, the Skillet Clubtail could be found in a few other locations in Canada, including Ontario, Nova Scotia and Quebec. But since there have been no recent sightings there, New Brunswick may be the last known Canadian location. The United States is running into similar problems with this insect too.  It was once found in Pennsylvania and New York but is likely extirpated from both of those areas. The U.S. range extends along the Red River Basin, running from Mississippi, Tennessee, Minnesota, to the northeastern limit in New Hampshire and Maine.

Habitat: Very Important

 This insect is in need of a specific and rare habitat type: a clean, large, slowly running body of water, with fine sediments and substrate, such as clay, silt, or sand, with nearby forested areas for cover. Many of these habitats are only found when the waters run through an area of rich soils, at a low gradient[iii].

99 Problems

 This is where problems arise, as the Skillet Clubtail’s habitat is often prime agricultural land, where possible pollution in the river can occur, and nutrient run-off becomes a concern. Keep in mind, agriculture runoff from fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, are not the only culprits behind river pollution. Accidental and illegal dumping, and everyday toxins such as oil, grease, road salt, contaminants from vehicle exhaust, lawn and garden chemicals, and other harmful substances, all have a tendency to wash off lawns and roadways down to rivers and waterways. This is especially relevant here in Fredericton as the Saint John River is considered to have “marginal” water quality. As this city is literally built on a hill, all that urban runoff must go somewhere.

Although pollution is likely a major factor to this species decline, there is also the problem of sea level rise. As the sea level rises, saline water travels further up stream into the rivers, changing the chemistry of the water. This is likely to impact freshwater aquatic wildlife, as most aquatic species cannot adapt to such rapid change in their habitat. Because the farthest population is just 5 km away from the saline water limit, this is a real possibility. It’s been discussed that the Skillet Clubtail populations further upstream on the Canaan River and Salmon River could be safe from saline influence. However it has also been speculated that the main Saint John River population acts as a metapopulation, supporting the other two populations by providing immigrating individuals to them.

It’s good to note that this species needs the surrounding forest, included in its habitat. Even though mass cuttings of forests in these locations are unlikely to happen right now, we should still keep in mind deforestation has the potential to affect not only the Skillet Clubtail dragonfly, but many other species as well.

 

Why should you care?

 

Maybe you’ve gotten through this whole article and decided that you don’t care about the Skillet Clubtail Dragonfly. That’s fine. But think of it this way: the things that are likely affecting this particular dragonfly should be of broader concern to us. Chemical runoff, deforestation, general pollution and rise in sea level don’t just affect this one dragonfly species; they affect everything living that comes in contact with them, including us. The best way to finding a solution to a problem is by better understanding it through increasing our knowledge.  Don’t be ignorant of the events happening in your community and environment. Take notice and do something about any detrimental events, like pollution, in your area. Dragonflies and other aquatic insects are great indicators of stream and river health, and not much is known about this particular dragonfly. So if you spot the Skillet Clubtail dragonfly, send your recordings and findings to your local Entomological Society. Many little changes have the potential to lead to one big change.

 

[i]  Extirpated: a species that was once found in an area but is no longer found there. This is different from extinction because you can still find that particular species of animal in other areas of the country or world, therefore not totally extinct just extirpated.

[ii] They all emerge at once over a short period of time.

[iii] Low gradient streams are associated with flattened stream beds, with slow moving water and gradual, less steep slopes of surrounding valley

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The sand-verbena moth

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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.

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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.

 

Aedeagus of Polistes parametricus Buck. Vespidae Wasp
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The Five-spotted Bogus Yucca Moth, Prodoxus quinquepunctellus

The Five-spotted Bogus Yucca Moth, Prodoxus quinquepunctellus

By Isaac MacLean

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Mark J. Dreiling via bugguide.net (2) CC BY-ND-NC 1.0

 

The Five-spotted Bogus Yucca Moth (Prodoxus quinquepunctellus) belongs to the family Prodoxidae of the Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). It is a small, nondescript, almost entirely white moth with a few small dark spots on its forewings. Although it can be found in much of the United States, there is only one remaining population in Canada1. This species’ SARA (Species at Risk Act) status is endangered1. An endangered species is one that is very close to being extinct or extirpated. In the case of the Five-spotted Bogus Yucca Moth, it is very close to being extirpated from Canada1 (which means that the species is nearly gone in Canada, but still exists in other locations).

In order to understand where the Five-spotted Bogus Yucca Moth got its odd-sounding name, you need a little background on another moth and the plant it relies on. In Canada, Yucca is found only in Alberta1. It is a small shrub pollinated exclusively by the Yucca moth (not the “bogus” Yucca moth)1. Why do the Yucca moths pollinate Yucca plants? When a Yucca moth lays its eggs on a Yucca, they develop into larvae, and the larvae need something to feed on. The Yucca moth is the only pollinator of Yucca, and as a sort of “thank you” for pollination, some of the seeds a Yucca produces feed the developing moth larvae6.

So where do the Bogus Yucca Moths (genus Prodoxus) come into all of this? They got their “bogus” name because although they also need Yucca for their larvae to survive, they do not aid in pollination and their larvae do not feed on Yucca seeds.6 A female Bogus Yucca Moth will lay its eggs inside the flowering stalk of the Yucca plant. When the larvae emerge, they feed on the stem tissue of the Yucca1.

yucca moth 2

BIO Photography Group/CNC, Biodiversity Institute of Ontario via Boldsystems.org (3)

 

The Five-spotted Bogus Yucca Moth is so fragile because of its complete reliance on Yucca and Yucca Moths. If a Yucca Moth does not pollinate a Yucca’s flowers, no fruit is produced and the flowering stalk withers1. Almost all larvae within a flowering stalk that bears no fruit will be killed when it withers1. This species has been listed on SARA because in Alberta, there are only two populations of Yucca, and only one of them currently supports a population of Five-spotted Bogus Yucca Moths1. There are only an estimated 500 to several thousand Five-spotted Bogus Yucca Moths remaining in Canada1.

To keep this species from becoming extirpated from Canada, we must protect it and the species it relies on. Because of the relationship the Five-spotted Bogus Yucca Moth has with both Yucca moths and Yucca, any threat to the latter two will be an equal threat to the Five-spotted Bogus Yucca Moth. Currently, threats to Yucca and Yucca moth populations include cold weather, consumption by mule deer and pronghorn antelope, off-roading vehicles, and collection of the plant for medicinal use1,5.

Some possible actions that could be taken to minimize these threats are already being implemented through SARA and were outlined in the 2011 SARA recovery strategy for Yucca and Yucca moths. These include plans for habitat protection by limiting public access, fencing to deter mule deer and antelope, and a museum display to promote Yucca conservation6. Further action to protect the species could be implementing regulations on the collection of Yucca for medicine or horticulture. It is important to spread information about the conservation of the Five-spotted Bogus Yucca Moth, its host plant, and the Yucca moth as without public knowledge of threats to them and their habitat the risk of extirpation from Canada greatly increases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

  1. https://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=927#ot18
  2. http://bugguide.net/node/view/631427/bgpage
  3. http://www.boldsystems.org/index.php/Taxbrowser_Taxonpage?taxid=139786
  4. http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=715
  5. Snell RS and Addicott JF. 2008. Limiting the success of stem borers (prodoxus quinquepunctellus) in yuccas: Indirect effects of ants, aphids, and fruit position. Ecol Entomol 33(1):119-26.
  6. http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/plans/rs_soapweed_yucca_moth_0811_eng.pdf

 

 

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Student posts from Bio 3883!

This week the ESC Blog will host posts written by undergraduate students at the University of New Brunswick (Fredericton). In the autumn, the students of Biology 3883 (Entomology) each wrote a blog post-style assignment on an arthropod of conservation concern in Canada. We posted these to our (private) course blog, and five of the students agreed to share their posts here.
We had a few goals in mind when asking the student to do this type of assignment. First, we wanted students to gain experience writing in a different style and for a different audience than a regular course assignment, and a blog post seemed like it might be an interesting format for both the students and ourselves. Second, while the students were aware of many of the ways insects impact human lives (as pests, parasites, pollinators etc.), we wanted to give students the opportunity to learn about the lesser known insects, specifically those of conservation concern, many of which are of such concern directly or indirectly as a result of human activities.
We hope you enjoy the student blog posts as much as we did!
Stephen Heard (@StephenBHeard) and Chandra Moffat (@ChandraMoffat)
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We stand on the shoulders of giants: Reflections by a midget


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Guest post by Staffan Lindgren

On a rainy, blustery day I am sitting in my new home in Nanaimo, BC, and thinking about my professional career, which is about to come to an end in the next few weeks, at least officially. I have been doing a fair bit of reading lately, and the last 2 books have been by and about Charles Darwin. Both are books I probably should have read a long time ago. The first book was Darwin’s “The voyage of the Beagle”, which is essentially a travel diary of the four-year journey Darwin took as a young man. The second book was “Darwin and the barnacle”, by Rebecca Stott, which is about Darwin’s struggles to formulate his Magnus OpusOn the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection”, which essentially changed biological sciences, and perhaps society, forever. The “Voyage” gave me an appreciation of the incredible breadth of knowledge that Darwin acquired. Much of the book deals with geology and the effects of seismic activity on the environment rather than the biological focus I had expected. Stott’s book is a somewhat fictionalized portrait of Darwin’s life in the period between his return from the Beagle voyage and the publication of his final of a four volume monograph on the barnacles (Cirripedia). The book is largely based on correspondence and publications, and luckily Darwin seems to have recorded pretty much everything he did, although Darwin’s actions and thoughts may have been embellished somewhat by the Stott’s imagination. For me, it worked quite well, though. I felt as if I got to know the man much better, and particularly I felt that I got an appreciation of the monumental barriers that Darwin overcame, both because of the rather crude technology available to him (fairly rudimentary microscopes, correspondence by “snail mail” etc.), and his poor health.  I was amazed to find out that he suffered from sea sickness during his voyage on the Beagle, and anyone who knows what that is like (I have been lucky, but have been close enough a couple of times) would perhaps understand how difficult it would be to work productively while sea sick, let alone in the cramped quarters on the ship. Darwin’s “lab” was in the “poop cabin”, which conures up some interesting images for us landlubbers, but actually only refers to the cabin in the elevated “poop deck” at the front of a ship”. Darwin also had bouts of illness during his voyage, but most notable he suffered chronic problems after his voyage. This may have been due to Chagas’ disease, which was unknown at the time.  During a trip across the Cordillera (he made numerous such excursions during his voyage), Darwin describes a night spent in Luxan (now Luján de Cuyo), in the western Mendoza Province, as follows: “At night I experienced an attack (for it deserves no less a name) of the Benchuca, a species of Reduvius, the great black bug of the Pampas” .  Chagas’ disease is widespread in that area.

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Scientists back then were either independently wealthy, like Darwin, or employed as clergymen or physicians, or more rarely as lecturers at universities. Linnaeus for example, was a physician as well as a naturalist. It has always been my assumption that this allowed them virtually endless amounts of time. Darwin, however, spent only 2-3 hours a day on his barnacles due to a rigorous water cure he used to overcome his illness. In spite of this, he published rather prolifically on geology, volcanoes, coral reefs, plants, domestic animals and humans. In the title I refer to myself as a midget, and after reading about Darwin I really do feel rather insignificant!

I enjoy retrospective mind-journeys. Another scientist that I have a particular interest in was one of Linnaeus disciples, Daniel Solander. His name rarely surfaces, however, because he did not publish his work for various reasons (apparently in large part in deference to his friend and financier Joseph Banks, but also because he died of a stroke at age 49). He is of particular interest to me because he grew up about 6 km from where I grew up in a small town in northern Sweden, so it is likely that I spent my naturalist beginnings in the same areas that he did. He was a naturalist on James Cook’s first voyage on the Endeavour, and was therefore one of the first scientists to see the odd marsupials of Australia, for example.

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Science today is very different. Naturalists, systematists and taxonomists, which is what old-school scientists were, are not valued the way they were even as late as the mid-20th Century. Our publications tend to be short and to the point, lacking the wonderful context that older literature often provides. Looking at the publications of my entomology professor, Bertil Kullenberg, who was active into the mid-1990’s, it is striking how often the title includes “Observations on…”, “Studies on…”, or something similar, particularly early on. Of course, if current publications were as prosaic as they were back then, the task of keeping up would be even more daunting with hundreds or thousands of papers published on the most important (to humans) taxa. But perhaps they would be more enjoyable to read?

With the processing power of present day computers, we can now do in seconds what would take weeks or months in the past, if it was possible at all. One aspect of science (specifically entomology in my experience) that remains constant today is the camaraderie among scientists. Darwin understood the importance of networking, and depended to a large extent on his friends and colleagues for specimens, reviews, and discussion: “if a person wants to ascertain how much true kindness exists amongst the disciples of Natural History, he should undertake, as I have done, a monograph on some tribe of animals, and let his wish for assistance be known.”  To me, it is gratifying that one of the greatest minds of science, also appears to have been a genuinely kind and considerate person. That is something I admire greatly, and as I look back at my own rather modest career (particularly in light of giants like Charles Darwin) it is the friendships with colleagues that I value the most. A most appropriate reflection as the holiday season approaches. Happy holidays everyone!

Sources

Darwin, C. 1962. The Voyage of the Beagle. Natural History Library edition, edited by Leonard Engel.

Stott, Rebecca. 2003. Darwin and the Barnacle. W.W. Norton & Co., New York

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Travel awards for ICE 2016 in Orlando

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Remember: Florida insects are awesome! Here is Oncometopia nigricans, a beautiful leafhopper!

 

OK all you students and early career professionals, the time to apply for travel funding for the 2016 ICE conference in Orlando is running out! Apply for these awards! I have copied the text (both English and French) of the instructions to apply below, but if you prefer to download….

Here are the application instructions in English

et voici les instructions d’application en francais

Entomological Society of Canada Travel Awards for the 2016 XXV International Congress of Entomology

 

The 2016 Entomological Society of Canada (ESC) meeting will be held in conjunction with the International Congress of Entomology (ICE) in Orlando, Florida, from September 25-30, 2016. Thanks to the generous support of Enterra Feed Corporation and Dow Agrosciences Canada the ESC is offering 14 cash awards of $750 to provide financial assistance for students and early professionals to travel to ICE 2016.

 

Eligibility:

  1. The competition for the ESC ICE Travel Awards is open to students in a graduate program at a Canadian university, and to early professionals. Early professional membership applies to persons within 3 years (based on the calendar year) of graduation from their highest educational degree. Awardees must be members in good standing (dues paid) of the ESC at the time the award is given.
  2. Graduate students or early professionals must present a paper or a poster at ICE 2016 on their own original research.
  3. Individuals can accept either the ESC ICE travel award or an ESA STEP travel award (which will be announced around Dec. 1st 2015).

 

Deadline: December 21st 2015

 

Applications to be submitted by email to: jsc21@sfu.ca with the following in the subject line – Your last name and ICE 2016. The application must contain the following 3 documents in this order and be in a single pdf file. Any applications not meeting this format will not be reviewed

 

Applications will be evaluated on:

 

  1. A short Curriculum Vitae (no more than 2 pages), that includes contact information, education, employment history, the most relevant publications, presentations, awards, grants and scholarships, other activities, outreach and service.

 

  1. A one-page statement of significance which describes the scope and importance of the work to be presented and how attending the meeting will benefit the applicant.

 

  1. Details of estimated costs for ICE 2016, indicating other sources of funding, either confirmed or applied for.

 

  1. In addition, arrange for a one-page letter of recommendation from your supervisor or a faculty member who is familiar with your research to be emailed to jsc21@sfu.ca with your name in the subject line. This should also be a pdf.

 

Applications will be reviewed by the Students Awards Committee of the ESC. Winners will be notified by mid-January (i.e. before the deadline for abstracts).

 

 

Bourses de voyage de la Société d’entomologie du Canada pour le XXV International Congress of Entomology 2016

 

La réunion annuelle 2016 de la Société d’entomologie du Canada (SEC) se tiendra en concomitance avec l’International Congress of Entomology (ICE) à Orlando, Floride, du 25 au 30 septembre 2016.  Grâce au soutien généreux d’Enterra Feed Corporation et de Dow Agrosciences Canada, la SEC offre 14 bourses en argent de 750$ pour fournir une aide financière aux étudiants et jeunes professionnels pour se rendre à l’ICE 2016.

 

Éligibilité :

  1. La compétition pour les bourses de voyage SEC ICE est ouverte aux étudiants dans un programme de cycle supérieur dans une université canadienne et aux jeunes professionnels. La catégorie de membre jeune professionnel s’applique aux gens ayant gradués de leur plus haut diplôme il y a moins de 3 ans (selon l’année de calendrier). Les récipiendaires doivent être membres en règle (frais d’adhésion payés) de la SEC au moment où la bourse est remise.
  2. Les étudiants gradués ou jeunes professionnels doivent présenter un oral ou une affiche lors de l’ICE 2016 sur leurs propres recherches originales.
  3. Les individus peuvent accepter la bourse de voyage SEC ICE ou une bourse de voyage ESA STEP (qui sera annoncée autour du 1er décembre 2015).

 

Date limite : 21 décembre 2015

 

Les applications doivent être soumises par courriel à jsc21@sfu.ca avec pour objet – Votre nom de famille et ICE 2016. L’application doit contenir les 3 documents suivants dans cet ordre et dans un seul fichier pdf. Toute application ne rencontrant pas ce format ne sera pas évaluée.

 

Les candidatures seront évaluées sur :

 

  1. Un court Curriculum Vitae (pas plus de 2 pages) incluant les informations de contact, l’éducation, l’historique d’emploi, les publications les plus pertinentes, les présentations, les prix, subventions et bourses, les autres activités, la diffusion et les services.

 

  1. Une déclaration de valeur d’une page décrivant la portée et l’importance du travail qui sera présenté et de la façon dont la participation à la réunion sera bénéfique pour le candidat.

 

  1. Un estimé détaillé des coûts pour l’ICE 2016, indiquant les autres sources de financement, confirmées ou demandées.

 

  1. Vous devez vous assurer qu’une lettre de recommandation d’une page de votre directeur ou d’un membre du département qui est familier avec votre recherche soit envoyée à jsc21@sfu.ca avec votre nom dans l’objet. Ce document doit être en pdf.

 

Les candidatures seront évaluées par le comité des prix étudiants de la SEC. Les gagnants seront avisés au plus tard mi-janvier (i.e. avant la date limite de soumission des résumés).