by Dezene Huber & Paul Fields
_____________________

Have you ever read a paper and, after digesting it for a bit, thought: “I wish I could play with the data”?

Perhaps you thought that another statistical test was more appropriate for the data and would provide a different interpretation than the one given by the authors. Maybe you had completed a similar experiment and you wanted to conduct a deeper comparison of the results than would be possible by simply assessing a set of bar graphs or a table of statistical values. Maybe you were working on a meta-analysis and the entire data set would have been extremely useful in your work. Perhaps you thought that you had detected a flaw in the study, and you would have liked to test the data to see if your hunch was correct.

Whatever your reason for wishing to access to the data, and this list probably just skims the surface of the sea of possibilities, you often only have one option for getting your hands on the spread sheets or other data outputs from the study – contacting the corresponding author.

Sometimes that works. Often times it does not.

  • The corresponding author may no longer be affiliated with the listed contact information. Tracking her down might not be easy, particularly if she has moved on from academic or government research.
  • The corresponding author may no longer be alive, the fate of us all.
  • You may be able to track down the author, but the data may no longer be available. Perhaps the student or postdoc that produced it is now out of contact with the principal investigator. But even if efforts have been made to retain lab notebooks and similar items, is the data easily sharable?
  • And, even if it is potentially sharable (for instance, in an Excel file), are the principal investigator’s records organized enough to find it?*
  • The author may be unwilling to share the data for one reason or another.

Molly (2011) covers many of the above points and also goes into much greater depth on the topic of open data than we are able to do here.

In many fields of study, the issues that we mention above are the rule rather than the exception. Some readers may note that a few fields have had policies to avoid issues like this for some time. For instance, genomics researchers have long used repositories such as the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) to deposit data at the time of a study being published. And taxonomists have deposited labeled voucher specimens in curated collections for longer than any of us have been alive. Even in those cases, however, there are usually data outputs from studies associated with the deposited material that never again see the light of day. So even those exceptions that prove the rule are part of the rule of a lack of access to data.

But, what if things were different? What might a coherent open data policy look like? The Amsterdam Manifesto, which is still a work in progress, may be a good start. Its points are simple, but potentially paradigm-shifting. It states that:

  1. Data should be considered citable products of research.
  2. Such data should be held in persistent public repositories.
  3. If a publication is based on data not included in the text, those data should be cited in the publication.
  4. A data citation in a publication should resemble a bibliographic citation.
  5. A data citation should include a unique persistent identifier (a DataCite DOI recommended, unless other persistent identifiers are in use within the community).
  6. The identifier should resolve to provide either direct access to the data or information on accessibility.
  7. If data citation supports versioning of the data set, it should provide a method to access all the versions.
  8. Data citation should support attribution of credit to all contributors.

This line of reasoning is no longer just left to back-of-napkin scrawls. Open access to long term, citable data is slowly becoming the norm rather than the exception. Several journals have begun require, or at least strongly suggest, deposition of all data associated with a study at the time of submission. These include PeerJ and various PLoS journals. It is more than likely that other journals will do the same, now that this ball is rolling.

The benefits of open data are numerous (Molloy, 2011). They include the fact that full disclosure of data allows for verification of your results by others. Openness also allows others to use your data in ways that you may not have anticipated. It ensures that the data reside alongside the papers that stemmed from them. It reduces the likelihood that your data may be lost due to various common circumstances. Above all it takes the most common of scientific outputs – the peer-reviewed paper – and adds lasting value for ongoing use by others. We believe that these benefits outweigh the two main costs:  the time taken to organize the data and the effort involved in posting in an online data repository.

If this interests you, and we hope that it does, the next question on your mind is probably “where can I deposit the data for my next paper?” There are a number of options available that allow citable (DOI) archiving of all sorts of data types (text, spreadsheets, photographs, videos, even that poster or presentation file from your last conference presentation). These include figshare, Dryad, various institutional repositories, and others. You can search for specific repositories at OpenDOAR using a number of criteria. When choosing a data repository, it is important that you ensure that it is backed up by a system such as CLOCKSS.

Along with the ongoing expansion of open access publishing options, open data archiving is beginning to come into its own. Perhaps you can think of novel ways to prepare and share the data from your next manuscript, talk, or poster presentation for use by a wide and diverse audience.

—–
* To illustrate this point, one of us (DH) still has access to the data for the papers that stemmed from his Ph.D. thesis research. Or at least he thinks that he does. They currently reside on the hard drive of the Bondi blue iMac that he used to write his thesis, and that is now stored in a crawlspace under the stairs at his house. Maybe it still works and maybe the data could be retrieved. But it would entail a fair bit of work to do that (not to mention trying to remember the file structure more than a decade later). And digital media have a shelf life, so data retrieval may be out of the question at this point anyhow.

By Chris Buddle, editor of The Canadian Entomologist

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The Canadian Entomologists’ latest issue is devoted to Arctic Entomology, with guest editors Derek Sikes and Toke T. Høye putting together an excellent suite of papers on this topic.  This is a very timely issue – there is an incredible amount of Arctic entomology happening around the world, and the Arctic is an area that is undergoing rapid environmental change.   It’s good that scientists are paying attention, and that entomologists are doing high quality research in the north.

Deciding on an “editor’s pick” for this issue was difficult as there were many excellent papers to choose from.  However, I ended up selecting Gergely Várkonyi and Tomas Roslin’s paper titled “Freezing cold yet diverse: dissecting a high-Arctic parasitoid community associated with Lepidoptera hosts”.   These authors, from Finland, have presented a very nice study about some food-web dynamics occurring in Zackenberg, Greenland  – a truly high Arctic field site, and one that has a remarkable history of long-term ecological monitoring.  Their work is focused on unraveling some of the amazing interactions between Lepidoptera and their parasitoids, and this paper provides a “systematic effort to characterise the high-Arctic Hymenoptera and Diptera parasitoid community associated with Lepidoptera hosts”.   This is a great paper, and hopefully continues to inspire continued efforts to study entomology at high latitudes.

Greenlandic field station

I asked the authors some questions about their work and they kindly provided in-depth answers:

Q1:  What inspired this work?

TOMAS: What got me interested in Arctic predator-prey dynamics was the work of my friend Olivier Gilg. His exploration of the predator-prey dynamics among collared lemmings and their few and selected enemies of Northeast Greenland made me realize that in a species-poor environment, the impact of individual species on each other will be oh-so-much easier to disentangle than among the zillions of interactions typical of tropical and even temperate communities. Here if anywhere you can actually work out both the structure and inner workings of full food webs – which is the very the idea that we have now realized in our study. (And well, from a less scientific point of view, after visiting Northeast Greenland I also realized that this is the most beautiful area of the globe, and that there is nowhere else that I would rather work.)

GERGELY: I have been interested in northern insects, especially hymenopteran parasitoids, since a very long time. I did my PhD in a subarctic environment in Finnish Lapland, with the main focus on host-parasitoid population dynamics between periodic moths and their enemies. I first encountered Greenlandic ichneumonids when my former teacher in ichneumonid taxonomy – and current friend – Reijo Jussila worked on the descriptions of some new species from the Scoresbysund area in Northeast Greenland. More than a decade later, Tomas asked me to identify some samples from Traill Island (NE Greenland), where he had initiated a pilot project on Lepidoptera-Hymenoptera food webs. The next step was when he invited me to join his project about to be launched at Zackenberg. The rest is history…

Q2:  What do you hope will be the lasting impact of this paper?

TOMAS: What I hope that we have achieved are three things: to expose the importance of versatile biotic interactions even in a harsh arctic environment, to reveal the massive effort needed to convincingly dissect even a simple food web, and to establish the baseline structure of a food web facing imminent climate change.

GERGELY: Could not say it any better. I can only add that I hope our thorough overview of the taxonomy and natural history of individual parasitoid species will contribute to getting a better understanding of who is who and what roles each species play in this arctic scene.

flowers in containers

Q3:  Where will your next line of research on this topic take you? 

TOMAS: While we have now figured out the structure of the Lepidoptera-parasitoid web, we should remember that this is but a small module of the overall food web of the region. Our current work aims at expanding/zooming out from this core web towards the full food web of the region, which should actually be more realistically doable here than anywhere else on the globe (see above). In this work, we try to make maximal use of modern molecular tools, offering new resolution to documenting trophic interactions.

GERGELY: Apart from the community ecology goals of this project, we will further continue to update what is known about the parasitic wasp fauna of Greenland. I am focusing on the Ichneumonidae, the single most species-rich family of Hymenoptera in both Greenland and the entire World. By combining morphology and molecular methods, I attempt to clarify species boundaries and detect potential cryptic species. The ultimate goal of this research is to compile a modern taxonomic overview of the Ichneumonidae of Greenland.

Q4: Any amusing anecdotes about this research?

TOMAS: Gergely used to wear a handy hiking suit of light coloration. One day he was almost shot as a polar bear after sneaking up on an unsuspecting colleague in the field.

GERGELY: Well, first of all I was not sneaking, just looking for adult wasps in a safe distance from this colleague of ours. She thought my net was a giant paw of a polar bear (!) and she was really scared for a short moment. But she was definitely not about to shoot me!

Mountain

Reference Output from Mendeley using the custom citation style

By Chris MacQuarrie, Natural Resources Canada Canadian Forest Service (Sault Ste. Marie, ON)

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Opa Opa Citation Style! *

I recently switched over to the Mendeley citation manager after many years of being a loyal EndNote user. I’m liking Mendeley, but one thing I lost in the switch was the collection of custom citation styles I had put together during my MSc, PhD and Post-doc.

Mendeley Desktop

Mendeley Desktop

This wasn’t a problem until this week when I was preparing final edits on a manuscript for The Canadian Entomologist. Mendeley didn’t have a style for TCE, but what it does have is the ability to modify existing styles and create new ones.

I started with the existing style for the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences because it’s an old stable-mate of TCE from the NRC press days and has a very similar citation style.

I used Mendeley’s Visual CSL Editor:

csl editor
to modify the CJFAS style to output what TCE requires in it’s reference section.The only ‘big’ difference I could find between is that TCE uses a comma after the journal name where CJFAS does not.

I also made a few changes. For instance, the CJFAS style didn’t have a output for theses so I created one for that reference class. I also modified a few of the settings to delete information that CJFAS needs but TCE doesn’t.

Reference Output from Mendeley using the custom citation style

Reference Output from Mendeley using the custom citation style

You can download the finished product from this link:

http://csl.mendeley.com/styles/18621721/TheCanadianEntomologist

Now, what’s neat, is that Mendeley’s citation styles are based on the open-source Citation Style Language so you can use this style in any citation management program that also uses CSL (e.g., Zotero and Papers).

A disclaimer. I hacked this together in a few hours and didn’t check all reference classes, so your milage may vary! As always, check your references section carefully before submission!

If you do spot an error or have a suggestion let me know here, on Twitter (@cmacquar) or at cjkmacquarrie@gmail.com.

*if you don’t get this reference, see here

By Mark P. Nelder, Public Health Ontario

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William R Maples’ Dead Men Do Tell Tales: The Strange and Fascinating Cases of a Forensic Anthropologist, created a lasting memory for me. Aside from the fascinating science, Dead Men Do Tell Tales underscored that passion and resourcefulness is the key to learning.

With an interest in blowfly ecology and ectoparasites, I set out to study these two fields as side projects during my graduate research at University of South Alabama (MSc) and Clemson University (PhD). Yes, “side projects” is a phrase that can send any supervisor running in fear, but I was lucky.

During my research on black fly larvae and their gut fungi in Alabama, I initially thought that the undersides of bridges (easiest place to look for streams and black flies; #overlyhonestmethods) are where headless white-tailed deer went to die. These morbid scenes of poaching were both a source of amazement and one of convenience – easily accessed streams with black fly larvae accompanied by robust populations of blowflies and louse flies (my first sight of the very cool Lipoptena mazamae). These deer were just a gateway carcass, leading to a downward spiral of seeking out additional species of dead wildlife and their ectoparasites. I was now a roadkill prospector.

Realizing that I needed experience with ectoparasites, prior to starting research on biting flies and ectoparasites of South Carolina zoos, I turned to the sometimes flattened, bloated, and unrecognizable critters I saw on my daily drive to campus. Equipped with latest intelligence on a fresh carcass, all I needed was a garbage bag, latex gloves, and a vehicle.

Roads pose a real threat to animal populations. The numbers are staggering, as reported by @TetZoo or Darren Naish in Dead Animals at the Roadside. In Belgium, an estimated 230,000 and 350,000 hedgehogs fall victim to vehicles per year. Not exploring this biodiversity source would constitute a wasted opportunity.

Insects and roads do not mix either. In Japan, a study of two routes resulted in 5000 dead insects per kilometer, collections dominated by Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, and Diptera (Yamada et al. 2010).

Roadkill are ideal subjects for biodiversity studies (the vertebrate hosts, along with their ectoparasites and internal parasites). As One Health opens the doors to collaboration between the fields of human medicine, veterinary medicine, and the environment, scientists often remain confined in their respective silos. Roadkill offers a potentially important source of data on zoonoses and generate collaboration between veterinarians, entomologists, microbiologists, ecologists, and others.

Interest in roadkill science is about as old as the automobile, albeit slower wildlife succumbed to horse drawn carriages of the 1800s. AW Schorger had more than a passing interest in roadkill, identifying 64 species of birds from 1932 to 1950, on the same roads between Madison, Wisconsin and Freeport, Illinois. Avian roadkill was dominated by English (House) Sparrows (N = 2784), Red-headed Woodpeckers (389), American Robins (310), Ring-necked Pheasants (271), Screech Owls (235), and Northern Flickers (230). Imagine the possible research if Schorger had a curious entomologist to tag along on these trips and to inspect each bird.

Transportation ecology is a relatively new field that looks to study how wildlife interacts with our roads and how road design can minimize wildlife impact. The University of California Davis and partners have established a citizen-science project that allows the public to report roadkill on California highways, California Roadkill Observation System (see Maine and Idaho). Championed by the Toronto Zoo, the Ontario Road Ecology Group looks to combat the impact of roads on biodiversity in southern Ontario. Yet another is the South African initiative Wildlife Road Traffic Accidents – A Biodiversity Research Project. These programs offer an existing infrastructure that provides the basis for longitudinal studies of ectoparasites and their hosts.

Aside from the basic understanding of host-ectoparasite relationships, roadkill are increasingly becoming a tool for hypothesis testing. A few examples are worth mentioning here. The Cardiff University Otter Project provided road-killed otters to test hypotheses surrounding otters, ticks, and climate. The prevalence, but not intensity, of the tick Ixodes hexagonus infestation on otters was associated with higher Central England temperatures, while both prevalence and intensity were associated with positive phases of the North Atlantic Oscillation.

Without roadkill, we would not know that as lice burden increases in barn owls, the number of pectinate claw teeth decreases and bill hook length increases (Bush et al. 2012). Bush and colleagues also noted rodent ectoparasites on barn owls; e.g., the louse Hoplopleura acanthopus (normally found on rats) and the flea Malaraeus telchinus (from mice and voles). Is this a potential example of incipient evolution through host switching?

Roadkill prospecting excited me (and still does)….not unlike an unexplored stream has excited many a black fly expert, as an illuminated cloth at night for the moth lover, and as CDC light trap the mosquito ecologist. As Dr. Diane Kelly said in her excellent Story Collider tale Confronting Death on the Road

When you open up an animal, there is all kinds of awesome in there.

A belated Happy New Year to all!

Buggy is back for his first post of the year. This is also my first post in a while; put that down to a combination of conference season, project planning season and too much holiday cheer.

I recently had an exchange on Twitter exchange with a colleague (and yes, before you ask we are allowed to use social media at work) about where scientists could deposit their data on the web at the end of a study. I had a few suggestions (and, as usual, a few opinions) about how, where and why we should be depositing our data.

As science moves towards a more ‘open source’, philosophy making data available as part of the publication process is becoming more common. Of course the taxonomists, systematists and gene-jockies amongst us have been doing that for a while, using systems like NCBI’s GenBank. Where the revolution (if I could be so bold as to use that word) is coming is in the ecological sciences. Expectations amongst publishers and in the broader scientific community are changing twoards expecting that data will be made available online and in an accessible format. To accommodate this, a number of projects have been launched that are meant to be a place for us to publish data sets.

But why publish your data? In theory raw data was always available: you just needed to ask for it. In practice, people can refuse, move on or pass away; data can be lost, formats can change and software can go obsolete which makes the reuse of data difficult. Publishing your data solves this problem.

Publishing your data also makes your work reproducible. With access to your data and your analysis code, anyone can repeat your work – or better yet, extend your work and gain new insight. In fact, in a great many fields your paper will not be published until you deposit the data (see here, for instance). I’d also argue that if your research is publically funded you have an obligation to make your data available. Of course, that is, after you’re done with it!

So why don’t more of us share our data? Well the biggest fear, of course, is that you might get ‘scooped’. That’s reasonable, but I think it’s unfounded, and here’s why: we expect that if someone wants to use our ideas, they will cite us. Otherwise it’s plagiarism (or at least bad manners), and there are ways to deal with that. So, extending that logic,  It’s reasonable to expect that if someone wishes to use our data, they will cite us as well (and now you can even track those citations!)

I’d go further and state that the benefits to publishing data outweighs the pitfalls. From an ‘economic’ perspective we can gain professional currency in the form of citations (see here and here), which have value in application, tenure and promotion packages.

Professionally, publishing data can help you attract new collaborators and new research opportunities. Publishing your data is just one more way people can become aware of you and your work and that awareness is important.  There is the old saying that data without context is just noise. If your data can be applied elsewhere, only you as the collector can provide that additional insight into the specifics of your system. That insight can help to explain new results, but it can also lead to new hypotheses and collaborations with people you may never have otherwise interacted with (or who would have never read your paper).

Personally, I think that the potential for greater insight resulting from others ‘playing around’ with your data can only result in a deeper understanding of your own system. And really, isn’t that something we’re all after?

Below is a list of some places where you can publish your data. Do you have any other suggestions, or want to share your experiences with publishing data? Let me know in the comments.

Buggy.

(With thanks to Simon Bridge of Natural Resources Canada Canadian Forest Service for suggesting I write this up.)

_____________________

Dryad 

From their about page: “Dryad is both an international repository of data underlying peer-reviewed articles in the basic and applied biosciences, and a membership organization, governed by journals, publishers, scientific societies, and other stakeholders. Dryad welcomes data submissions related to published, or accepted, scholarly publications.”

The Ecological Society of America’s Data Registry  

A data repository for articles published in the ESA’s journals)

treebase

A repository for phylogentic trees and data

Or find a journal where you can publish the data as a digital appendix like I did here.

By Sean McCann, PhD Canidate in Biological Sciences at Simon Fraser University

9/10 ant-mimicking mantids recommend tropical fieldwork for prevention of insect withdrawal.  (Photo: S. McCann)

9/10 ant-mimicking mantids recommend tropical fieldwork for prevention of insect withdrawal. (Photo: S. McCann)

At this stage of the long dark Canadian winter, thoughts of tropical fieldwork should be going through the heads of all sensible entomologists…If you find yourself longing for the moist and insect-filled paradise of the Neotropics, or even if that is what your research plans call for, let me introduce you to the wonders of French Guiana.

Topography near the Inselberg Camp.  (Photo: S. McCann)

Topography near the Inselberg Camp. (Photo: S. McCann)

French Guiana is situated just north of Brazil on the Atlantic coast of South America, and remains to this day an overseas Department of France.  Both French and Creole are spoken, so Canadians should feel right at home.

French Guiana truly shines as a biodiversity and natural areas hotspot because unlike many countries in the Amazonian forest region, it has not experienced extensive deforestation. The immense expanses of unlogged rainforest are truly impressive.

The Inselberg des Nourages on a clear day.  View not guaranteed, depends on the season. (Photo: S. McCann)

The Inselberg des Nourages on a clear day. View not guaranteed, depends on the season. (Photo: S. McCann)

There is quite active citizen science in Guyane as well, of particular interest is the SEAG, or Société Entomologique Antilles Guyane: http://insectafgseag.myspecies.info/. This society has conducted numerous expeditions focused on collection and identification of many insect taxa, and represents a great resource of local knowledge of the insect fauna.

Finding a cryptic owlfly nymph is always a nice surprise (unless you are a cricket) (Photo: S. McCann)

Finding a cryptic owlfly nymph is always a nice surprise (unless you are a cricket) (Photo: S. McCann)

I have done all my tropical fieldwork at the Nouragues station, supported by an annual grant program that seeks to assist visiting scientists with the travel and logistical expenses involved with a tropical field season. My work has centred on a bird which is a specialist predator of social wasps, the Red-throated Caracara.

Red-throated Caracaras are specialist predators of social wasps, and a common resident of the Nouragues Reserve. (Photo: S. McCann)

Red-throated Caracaras are specialist predators of social wasps, and a common resident of the Nouragues Reserve. (Photo: S. McCann)

The 1000 km 2 Nouragues reserve is located approximately 100 km SSW of Cayenne, and was established in 1995 to be both a refuge free of development and to facilitate research on Neotropical forest dynamics.

Army ants (Eciton spp.) are one of the wonders of the Neotropical raindforests. Go. See. Them. (Photo: S. McCann)

Army ants (Eciton spp.) are one of the wonders of the Neotropical raindforests. Go. See. Them. (Photo: S. McCann)

There are two research camps, the Inselberg Camp, situated just beneath a 420 m granite mountain, the Inselberg des Nouragues, and the camp at Saut Pararé, situated just below a series of high rapids on the Arataye River. The camps are accessible by helicopter, or you can take a motorized canoe (pirogue) to the Saut Pararé camp.  Both camps are administered by the CNRS (Centre Nationale de Recherche Scientifique) which has an office in Cayenne. Field costs are €20/day for students and postdocs and €35 per day for established researchers. Travel to the station can be expensive, but sharing the cost of helicopters/pirogues with other researchers can bring the costs down considerably.

Access to various parts of the forest is facilitated by an extensive trail system . Data on tree species and flowering/fruiting phenology in two large research plots at the Inselberg Camp are available. At the Pararé camp, there are also many trails, although not as extensive as at the Inselberg camp, as well as access to riverine and palm swamp habitats. Lists of species of birds, bats, fish and trees are available, and there is an impressive list of scientific data already published:  http://www.nouragues.cnrs.fr/F-publications.html.

SM7

UV lamps attract a nice variety of insects. These are particularly fabulous. Start your collection today! (Photo: S. McCann)

The camps are comfortable, with covered shelters (carbets) for sleeping and eating, and there is electricity and running water at each station (it is the rainforest!). There is also a satellite internet connection which is adequate for email and keeping in touch with labs and colleagues. Food is provided, and is quite good (as one might expect at a French field station!), cooking/cleaning duties are shared.

The kitchen carbet by moonlight. (Photo: S. McCann)

The kitchen carbet by moonlight. (Photo: S. McCann)

If you are a student or a researcher at the planning or pre-planning stages of a Neotropical research program, there is no better time than now to submit a research proposal to the scientific committee of the station. The recently announced call for proposals will fund projects to a maximum of €9000, which would nicely cover the transportation and field costs for a several-month expedition. The deadline is Feb. 14, 2013. For more information, the details are available here: http://www.nouragues.cnrs.fr/indexenglish.html

, , , Orchids, whiteflies and an impostor…

One of the fringe benefits of running the ESC/ESAB JAM 2012 photo competition was getting a glimpse into what other people where interested in. One of the most unusual images we received was submitted by Marilyn Light, entitled “Trialeurodes sp.”.

Trialeurodes sp. with impostor…

The photomicrograph (a focus-stacked image, produced with Zerene Stacker) shows a fourth stage whitefly pupa case. Whitefly are hemipteran herbivores that are often found feeding on the underside of leaves.The species we know most about is the greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum), a pest that damages food crops by feeding on them and by spreading viruses. To control whitefly, growers resort to using the wasp Encarsia formosa. In this photograph we see a species of whitefly that was found on a wild orchid, the showy lady’s slipper (Cypripedium reginae Walter). The glassy spines are typical of some whitefly pupa, but what is amazing about this picture is that the creature inside is not a whitefly. Looking closer at the lower left of the image you can see the brownish-orange eyes of the head of a parasitoid wasp, with the thorax and abdomen almost filling the case. Marilyn has included the following information with the image:

"Lady Slippers, Cypripedium reginae found along the Jordan Valley Trail, East Jordan Michigan" from Wikipedia

The showy lady’s slipper orchid, Cypripedium reginae Walter, forms large colonies in fen wetlands. The insect herbivore assemblage of this orchid includes Trialeurodes sp. Cockerell (Hemiptera: Sternorrhyncha: Aleyrodidae) which was first observed by us in 2009 on orchids growing in stressed habitat. Eric Maw, CNC, determined this whitefly to be an undescribed Trialeurodes. Subsequently, we have found isolated infestations in a second orchid population which is less subject to drought stress. The whitefly is parasitized by Encarsia sp. Förster (Hymenoptera: Chalcidoidea: Aphelinidae). During microscopic examination of one 4 th stage nymph (pupa) case that had been removed from a freshly collected orchid leaf on September 22, 2012, I photographed a parasitoid that was soon to emerge. About half of the other cases examined had been parasitized.

Of course, being who I am, I was curious not only about the image, but also about the person who took it. I asked Marilyn to tell me a bit about herself and how the image came to be…

“I am a member of the ESC but do not earn my living through entomology. I am retired from the University of Ottawa Professional Training Service.

My interest in insect population dynamics begins with my experience in 1948-49 during an eastern tent caterpillar outbreak in Montreal: I was 7 years old. My dad showed me the the stages and how to distinguish male and female moths. My first teaching opportunity was with my Grade 2 classmates on the insect and its life history. Ever since I have been learning so I can teach others. In 1951, after the outbreak was subsiding, I observed a large caterpillar walking alone on a twig. It burst when touched, exuding pink fluid. I was to later learn that it had been infected with a virus. I remain fascinated by the delicate balance in nature, between plants and herbivores, and between herbivores, their pests and diseases.

My husband and I have been tracking wild orchid populations since 1985, examining how they are impacted by climatic variables, disturbance, pollinator behaviour, and insect herbivores. The dynamic of insect herbivore populations with their respective biological controls and the orchids is a natural extension of the work.

There is a paucity of information about insect biology except with species of economic importance or conservation value. Our investigations will hopefully serve to fill this gap. We publish regularly in both peer-reviewed and popular media.”

Professional work by dedicated ‘amateurs’! More of Marilyn’s work can be seen in the study, Potential impact of insect herbivores on orchid conservation. (Light, M. H. S. and MacConaill, M., 2011. European Journal of Environmental Sciences: Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 115–124) and Possible Consequences of Walking off the Trail (Light, M. H. S., and M. MacConaill, 2008. Orchids: 77: pp 128-133). She is well known in the orchid community in Canada and abroad, and is author of the book, Growing Orchids in the Caribbean (Macmillan Caribbean, 1995).

Female of Polistes parametricus Buck Vespidae Wasp

By Matthias Buck, Royal Alberta Museum, Edmonton

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For many of us who are working as taxonomists, describing new species has become somewhat of a routine. Sometimes it can even become a burdensome chore: I am thinking about those of us who work on hyperdiverse groups of insects in the tropics where almost every species is undescribed (case in point: one of my former lab mates recently described 170 new species of a single genus of Diptera in one paper!). However, the feeling is very different when new species unexpectedly show up in iconic groups that were thought to be well-known. Suddenly, common and familiar creatures turn into an exciting new research frontier, providing a fresh rush of adrenaline!

Mug shot of a female of Polistes hirsuticornis Buck. Vespidae Wasp

Mug shot of a female of Polistes hirsuticornis Buck. The hairs on the basal articles of the flagellum are longer than in related species (Photo credit D.K.B. Cheung & M. Buck).

This is what happened a few years ago when I started working on the vespids of the northeast. The family Vespidae (which includes mason wasps, paper wasps, yellowjackets and hornets) is most diverse in warmer parts of the World, as is the majority of stinging wasps. Doing a review of the northeastern Nearctic fauna therefore didn’t seem to be a very promising project for taxonomic novelty. Especially considering that the fauna of the eastern half of the continent is significantly less diverse and far better known than that of the west.

To my utmost surprise the study (published 2008 in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification) not only turned up four new species of mason wasps but also two new paper wasps (Polistes). As you know, paper wasps are some of the most iconic species in the world of wasps, almost as much as their odious relatives, the yellowjackets. Further to that, they have received great attention as model organisms for the study of social behaviour and its evolution in insects. Finding not only one, but two new species in a group like this was beyond what I expected in my wildest dreams.

So how did it come to pass? As a novice to paper wasps I expected that reviewing the taxonomy of such a high-profile group would be like a walk in the park. Weren’t there scores of scientists before me who seemingly had no difficulties in identifying these sizeable and handsome insects for their behavioral studies, filling up cabinets of specimens in collections across the continent? Or so I thought! After months of fruitless staring through the microscope my nonchalant attitude gradually turned into frustration. One of the species, the common and widespread Northern Paper Wasp (Polistes fuscatus), was so variable that it blended virtually into almost every other species in the same subgenus. Previously published keys gave me a pretty clear sense of what typical specimens of each species look like, but where were the objective criteria that would allow me to identify the numerous intermediate forms? Truly, I found myself in a taxonomic quagmire!

Aedeagus of Polistes parametricus Buck. Vespidae Wasp

Aedeagus (penis) of Polistes parametricus Buck. The size, shape and position of teeth is diagnostic with regard to P. fuscatus and P. metricus, with which this species was previously confused (Photo credit D.K.B. Cheung & M. Buck).

Grasping for straws I turned to three taxonomic methods that had not been applied to Polistes before: DNA barcoding, detailed study of male genitalic features and morphometric analysis. During the previous months, I had rounded up a number of puzzling specimens which represented the spearhead of my taxonomic headaches, and submitted them for sequencing. The results came back like a thunderclap, turning my anguish into cautious excitement: the DNA barcodes of these troublemakerswere clearly different from any of the described species. With renewed energy I launched into a detailed morphological study which led to the discovery of several new diagnostic characters, confirming the distinctness of these wasps beyond a doubt. A lot of hard work had finally paid off, and I was looking at the first newly discovered species of paper wasps in eastern North America since 1836 when Amédée Louis Michel Lepeletier de Saint-Fargeau described Polistes rubiginosus!

Female of Polistes parametricus Buck Vespidae Wasp

Female of Polistes parametricus Buck nectaring on goldenrod in West Virginia (Photo credit: Donna Race).

Since molecular methods, and in particular DNA barcoding, have received a lot of attention in recent years, it seems opportune to share some of my experiences working on Polistes. Unlike a few other taxa (such as spider wasps, Pompilidae), vespids sequence nicely and easily from pinned specimens, which makes them an ideal group for this kind of study. I found the sequence data extremely helpful but they certainly did not provide the cure of all taxonomic confusion. Barcoding uncovered an unexpected genetic diversity below the species level, which proved to be hard to interpret in the absence of other data. In Polistes there is no hint of a “barcoding gap”, which postulates that genetic distances between individuals of the same species are (nearly) always greater than those between conspecific individuals. In fact, some of the species were genetically so similar that they differed by a mere 2 base pairs (out of 658). Nonetheless, the combination of molecular data with fine-scale morphology resulted in a quantum leap forward for Polistes taxonomy. Just days ago, I found out that a group of researchers in Germany and Switzerland are making similar progress on European paper wasps using a nearly identical approach.

My research paper on eastern Nearctic Polistes, including formal descriptions of Polistes hirsuticornis Buck and P. parametricus Buck, was published in the journal Zootaxa on October 1st.
Matthias Buck, Tyler P. Cobb, Julie K. Stahlhut, & Robert H. Hanner (2012). Unravelling cryptic species diversity in eastern Nearctic paper wasps, Polistes (Fuscopolistes), using male genitalia, morphometrics and DNA barcoding, with descriptions of two new species (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) Zootaxa, 3502, 1-48 Other: urn:lsid:zoobank.org:pub:6126D769-A131-49DD-B07F-0386E62FF5B9

Hi, my name is Holly Caravan and I am a PhD student in Dr. Tom Chapman’s social insect lab at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Currently my work is focused on galling aphids and their potential for antimicrobial activity within the gall. This past summer I visited Dr. Patrick Abbot’s lab at Vanderbilt University (Nashville, TN) where I was able to access three species of galling aphids. But, to address the ultimate goal of my research, I want to include the species Pemphigus spyrothecae which produces spiral galls on Lombardy poplar, Populus nigra. This species has a soldier caste which is morphologically specialized, different from the other three species I have already researched. I am looking for any information on locations of this aphid species in Canada; Newfoundland would be ideal, but my hopes are not high! Attached are links with pictures of the host tree and the spiral galls produced by the aphids. Any information would be greatly appreciated! I can be contacted at holly.caravan@gmail.com or hcaravan@mun.ca!

http://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/pemphigus-spyrothecae

http://www.parkwoodpines.com.au/html/lombardy_Poplar.html

Jacob Coates is an MSc student in the Chapman Entomology Lab at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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Cockroach – Photo by Jacob Coates

If you’ve never thought of visiting Australia, you’re making a terrible mistake. I just recently returned from a 6 month stint in Sydney based out of a Lab in Macquarie University. I carried out lab and field work on several species of gall-inducing thrips. I owe this great trip to the Australian Endeavour’s Awards, An Australian government run program which takes applications from students all over the world and to those lucky enough to be accepted, ships you to an Australian University with a wage, living allowance and travel cash. On top of getting some serious work done I enjoyed snorkeling around the many beaches, hiking in the Blue Mountains, and took part in the City 2 Surf road race where over 80,000 individuals take to the streets of Sydney to run the largest road race in the world.

Southern Queensland Red Road – Photo by Jacob Coates

In early June I completed a field trip into Southern Queensland to collect insect samples. Tenting through the outback presented some difficulties like torrential downpours, cold nights, and very sloppy road conditions (Nearly sinking a 4×4 in a flooded dirt road). Despite the problems, after nearly 2500 kms and 10 days of driving I returned to Sydney with thrips samples in hand and a very dirty truck to clean. Amazing wildlife, epic landscapes and great people await everyone in the outback, without a doubt the best trip of my life.

Jacob Coates

For those interested about the Endeavour’s award go to http://www.deewr.gov.au/International/EndeavourAwards/Pages/Home.aspx It’s well worth your time.