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Behavioural observations in nature reveal mating strategies of jumping spiders

—- By Gwylim S. Blackburn & Wayne P. Maddison—-

Animals reveal a lot about their lives simply by the way that they behave. When observed in the wild, they also offer insights to the function of behaviours in a natural context. Capturing these insights just requires a little patience, and attention to the right details.

In a recent study printed in the journal Behaviour, we set out to document Habronattus americanus jumping spider behaviors that would shed light on their ‘mating strategies’—the tactics used by females and males to acquire mates. Specifically, we wanted to know if males show off their flashy displays only to females or also compete directly with each other, if they invest heavily in mate search, and if females are choosy when deciding who to mate with.


An adult male Habronattus americanus jumping spider travels through beach habitat in British Columbia, Canada. The bright coloration on his face and legs is presented to females during elaborate courtship dances. Photo credit: Sean McCann.

To pursue these issues, we followed 41 adults for up to 30 minutes each, and we also staged interactions between an additional 36 male-female pairs, in natural habitat.

Typical Habronattus americanus habitat is fairly flat, well-drained, and sparsely covered with plants, sticks, or pebbles. Photo credit: Maxence Salomon

Typical Habronattus americanus habitat is fairly flat, well-drained, and sparsely covered with plants, sticks, or pebbles. Photo credit: Maxence Salomon

The behaviours of both sexes pointed quite strongly to indirect male competition for choosy females. Males did not display to (or fight with) each other. Instead, they travelled far and wide, eating nothing but displaying to every female they met. Females, on the other hand, focused on hunting rather than travel, and they almost never permitted copulation despite the vigorous courtship efforts of males.

Collectively, these behaviours supply deeper lessons than their individual functions; they also indicate how natural selection might shape several of the traits involved. In particular, our findings suggest that female mate choice may be the key source of selection favouring the evolution of male display traits.

An adult female Habronattus americanus jumping spider in natural beach habitat. Females are avid hunters. Photo credit: Sean McCann

An adult female Habronattus americanus jumping spider in natural beach habitat. Females are avid hunters. Photo credit: Sean McCann

The apparently high investment by males in mate search also represents a potential factor shaping female mate preferences. In a variety of other species, mate search costs have been shown to provide a way for females to judge the quality of prospective mates. This is because males who are able to pay those costs while still producing an impressive display can make better fathers (e.g., by providing better parental care, or by passing along advantageous genes to their offspring). To determine if this is the case in H. americanus, further research will be needed to see how male condition is linked to the quality of their displays and the success of their offspring.

The Habronattus jumping spiders are famous for their stunning array of male displays. It would be fascinating to know how mating strategies, and the natural surroundings in which they unfold, have influenced this diversity. Behavioural observations of different species in the wild will be essential for getting at this question.


Canadian Entomology Research Roundup: March 2015 – April 2015

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

Here’s what some entomology grad students in Canada have been up to recently (Articles published online in March and April, 2015):

Ecology and Evolution

All species are variable and are constantly evolving but we simply do not know how ecologically important this is. Nash Turley and colleagues at the University of Toronto Mississauga showed that genetic variation and evolution over the course of a month in a rapidly reproducing insect herbivore (green peach aphid) plays large roles in shaping the growth of plants they feed on. This suggests that genetic and ongoing evolutionary processes are important to consider when trying to understand the ecological effects of interactions among species. Article link

Top: Different genotypes of the green peach aphid; Bottom: A field experiment to test the effect of contemporary aphid evolution on plants

Top: Different genotypes of the green peach aphid; Bottom: A field experiment to test the effect of contemporary aphid evolution on plants (photos provided by Nash Turley)

Emsen Hamiduzzaman (University of Guelph) and colleagues compared viral infection rates between honey bee colonies with high and low rates of parasitic mite population growth. Article link

Many of the 5,000+ bark beetle species produce acoustic signals to communicate with the opposite sex, but the question that has never before been answered is, what are they trying to say? Amanda Lindeman and Jayne Yack (Carleton University) determined that these signals likely communicate the signaller’s fitness and are the proverbial password that encourages a female to step aside and grant a male admittance to her gallery. Article link

A male red turpentine beetle at the entrance to a female’s gallery. Female is visible blocking the gallery entrance

A male red turpentine beetle at the entrance to a female’s gallery. Female is visible blocking the gallery entrance (photo provided by Amanda Lindeman).

Mating experience matters! Joanna Konopka (Western Univeristy) found that Western bean cutworm moth females with more than one mating experience are ready to go again sooner, with a shorter refractory period and earlier onset of calling. Article link

‘Bee hotels’ are nesting habitat analogues of cavity-nesting bees and wasps. These devices are great research and monitoring tools, but more recently, concern for declining bee populations has led to their commercialization and conveyance as a means to ‘save the bees’ and house native pollinators. In a study conducted by Scott MacIvor (University of Toronto), 600 bee hotels were used to sample populations and found that 50% of colonizers were wasps and another 25% were exotic bees. Further, native bees were parasitized significantly more often than exotic bees. Many native bees use bee hotels but communicating the diversity of occupiers is needed to avoid ‘bee-washing’. Article link

Nestbox JSM

A ‘bee hotel’ nest box (photo provided by Scott MacIvor).

A molecular phylogeny of Taeniapterini (Stilt-legged flies, Micropezidae) created by Morgan Jackson and colleagues (University of Guelph) leads to a reclassification of the large genus Taeniaptera and the resurrection two genera. Article link

Aaron Hall (University of Toronto) and colleagues found that recreational boating pressure affects dragonfly/damselfly community composition and can impact conservation planning. Article link

Thomas Onuferko and colleages (Brock University) found that warmer climate leads to earlier nest initiation and lengthening of the flight season, but not to colony social organisation or queen-worker reproductive skew in a eusocial sweat bee. Article link

Gwylim Blackburn and colleagues at the University of British Columbia investigated the mating strategies of Habronattus americanus jumping spiders by documenting the movements, hunting activity, and social interactions of more than 100 individuals in their natural habitat. Males did not display directly to each other to compete for female mates. Instead, they traveled widely, eating nothing and displaying to every female they met. Females traveled significantly less than males and spent more time hunting. They also appeared picky when choosing mates, rejecting nearly every courting male that they encountered. These findings point to female mate choice as a potentially strong source of selection on male sexual displays. Article link


An adult male Habronattus americanus jumping spider travels through beach habitat in British Columbia, Canada. The bright coloration on his face and legs is presented to females during elaborate courtship dances. Photo credit: Sean McCann.


With no natural enemies in North America, 4-5 generations per year, and early- and late-emerging phenotypes, local swede midge populations can overwhelm established management tactics and cause significant damage to broccoli, cauliflower, and other Brassica crops.  Laboratory experiments by Braden Evans, and his colleagues at the University of Guelph, showed that native (Ontario) strains of the entomopathogenic nematodes Heterorhabditis bacteriophoraSteinernema carpocapsae and Steinernema feltiae,and the entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium brunneum all infected swede midge larvae, pupae and pre-pupal cocoons and all three nematode species successfully reproduced inside swede midge larval hosts.  Field experiments showed some suppression of adult emergence from the soil, suggesting that entomopathogens may hold some potential as a swede midge management tactic for conventional and organic producers. Article link

Adult swede midge, Contarinia nasturtii. Photo credit: D.K.B. Cheung

Adult swede midge, Contarinia nasturtii. Photo credit: D.K.B. Cheung

Haley Catton (UBC-O and AAFC Lethbridge) and colleagues found out that a controversial biocontrol weevil with low host specificity rarely attacks non-target plants in the field. Article link

Rassol Bahreini (University of Manitoba) found that differential Varroa mite removal of different honey bee stocks was possible under low temperature. Article link

Lygus lineolaris is the dominant mirid species in soy, navy, and pinto bean fields in Manitoba, reports Tharshi Nagalingam at the University of Manitoba. Article link

Ground beetles aren’t just important generalist predators – they eat weed seeds! A new review by Sharavari Kulkami (University of Alberta) and colleagues here: Article link

Physiology and Genetics

Genes encoding the peritrophic matrix of Mamestra configurata (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) were expressed in the midgut of feeding larvae and the results were used to update a model on the lepidopteran peritriphic membrane. This work was conducted in part by Umut Toprak at the University of Saskatchewan. Article link

Christina Hodson, Phineas Hamilton and colleagues (University of Victoria) co-authored a review article by on the major consequences of uniparental transmission of mitochondria, and an unusual case of extreme sex ratio distortion in a booklouse. Article link

Two genes from the mitochondria genome have potential as genetic markers for examining the population genetics and phylogeography of black legged ticks reports Chantal Krakowetz and colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan. Article link

Harvir Hans and Asad Lone (McMaster Unviersity) found hormetic agents like metformin may derive significant trade-offs with life extension in crickets, whereas health and longevity benefits may be obtained with less cost by agents like aspirin that regulate geroprotective pathways. Article link

Work conducted by Litza Coello Alvarado and colleagues from the Sinclair lab at Western, found that increased tolerance of chilling is associated with improved maintenance of ion and water homeostasis in the cold for Gryllus crickets. Article ink

We are continuing to help publicize graduate student publications to the wider entomological community through our Research Roundup.  Find the first two editions here and here. If you published an article recently and would like it featured, e-mail us at entsoccan.students@gmail.com.  You can also send us photos and short descriptions of your research, to appear in a later edition of the research roundup.

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

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Costly colouration in a forest moth: the tale of a ten-year research project

As part of the Canadian Entomology Research roundup (the first two posts can be found here and here), we will be sharing more detailed posts from the grad students involved in the published research.

Below is a post from Jessica Ethier, sharing her research experience that spanned an undergraduate and PhD degree.

I just published a paper in Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata. From start to finish, the work only took a decade.

Ten years ago, in the summer of 2005, I had just finished my first year as an undergraduate student at Concordia University. I had no plans yet for what I would do after graduating; really, I was just glad I’d survived that first year. But across the country, unbeknownst to me, traps were being set, insects were being collected, and by the time I was starting my second year of university here in Montreal, a student at the University of Alberta was busy pulling the wings off a bunch of dead moths.

A horrific sight to innocent insect passers-by.

A horrific sight to innocent insect passers-by.

That student was Kevin Lake. He was doing his undergraduate research project on the effects of population density on wing size and colour in the Malacosoma disstria moth with Maya Evenden and Brad Jones. Fast-forward one year to the fall semester of 2006, and I had now transformed (one might say, metamorphosed) into a seasoned third year undergrad dabbling in research for the very first time. In Emma Despland’s lab, I had a freezer-ful of more dead moths just waiting to be de-winged and studied, and (thanks to Maya and Emma) the protocols Kevin used for wing removal and colour scoring. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, it was 2009 and I had just fast-tracked to a PhD from a Master’s for my research on colour polymorphism and wing melanization in the M. disstria moth.

One of the aims of my graduate research as a whole was to try and figure out why there was always so much individual variation in colour within the genetically-based phenotypes. Emma and I developed an experiment for spring of 2010 to see if limiting dietary protein in the larval stage limited the expression of colour in the adult moth. I even had my very own undergraduate student for the project, Michael Gasse, to rear the insects, process the wings, and collect the colour data. But it wasn’t all rainbows and puppies and pulling wings off dead moths. First we had to get the insects from somewhere.

As luck would have it, there was a forest tent caterpillar outbreak about an hour away from the city that year (for some reason, the landowners – maple syrup producers – were not nearly as gleeful about this infestation of their sugar maple forests as all the members of the Despland lab were). So off we trooped in the middle of February, tree clippers, binoculars, and plastic lunchboxes in hand, to go collect as many egg masses as we could get our mitts on.

You thought the lunchboxes were for lunches? Photo by Alison Loader

You thought the lunchboxes were for lunches? Photo by Alison Loader

Then it was back to school, to spend most of April, May, and June in the sub-basement dungeon lab, slaves to the needs of the exponentially-growing, insatiable eating and pooping machines that we called our experimental subjects.

First instar M. disstria colonies in 30mL hatching cups with artificial diet. Those cups are basically the little plastic shot glasses you see at dollar stores. By the time they reach the final instar, the caterpillars are typically longer than those cups are tall. Photo by Alison Loader.

First instar M. disstria colonies in 30mL hatching cups with artificial diet. Those cups are basically the little plastic shot glasses you see at dollar stores. By the time they reach the final instar, the caterpillars are typically longer than those cups are tall. Photo by Alison Loader.

We all survived another research season, and Mike moved on to wing-pulling and colour scoring a few hundred moths. Time flew by, as time will do, but in 2012 I finally finished and submitted my article on nitrogen availability and wing melanization in the Malacosoma disstria moth!

It was rejected.

Undeterred, I chose another journal and submitted again. And again. And again. After the fourth or fifth rejection, I stopped resubmitting. Not because I was giving up, but because I had to write my thesis and graduate. Once that little matter was taken care of, I went back to my pesky paper. Looking at it with fresh eyes, I realized that the two sections I had divided my paper into just did not complement each other, despite being based on the same experiment. Then I had an epiphany. One of the reasons for forest tent caterpillars to suffer nitrogen limitation in real life is high population density.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

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“Thrips” should die

By Dr. Tom Chapman, Memorial University


I used scissor to cut my pant into short. A jarring opening sentence, I know. It is how I use to feel when someone dropped the “s” in “thrips”; it is a plural noun, don’t you know? If you see a solitary individual of these animals it is still referred to as a “thrips”.  I have been quick to correct people that have made this mistake. But lately on this issue, I have become tired of being the grammar pedant.

Art work done by Michael McLeish and Andrew Chaulk.

Art work done by Michael McLeish and Andrew Chaulk.

I don’t mean to be insulting to the readers of this blog, I am assuming you are knowledgeable and enthusiastic about insects, but just maybe you haven’t heard much of thrips. They are members of the insect Order Thysanoptera, and world wide there are at least 5000 species. They are small; in fact, they are typically the size and colour of the commas in this very sentence. These slithering punctuation marks do not commonly attract the attention of insect enthusiasts. However, for a small number of economically important species there is a large and vibrant community of researchers. These scientists routinely gather together to describe and discuss their research outcomes, with their next big event to be held in California (2015, Xth International Symposium on Thysanoptera & Tospoviruses).  Among the dominant applied work that will be presented at this meeting, and those of the past nine meetings, will also be more curiosity driven research.  This group of non-applied thrips-focused researchers could book a table at most restaurants. No more or less important, just a more private club. A club I joined as a PhD student.

Professor Bernard Crespi, in his early career, did a stint in Australia as a Research Associate. His motivation to travel to the antipodes was to answer the challenge, are there social thrips? The evolution of altruism (sub-fertility in part of a population) in the insects was and remains an outstanding conundrum for evolutionary theory. Theoretical attempts made in the sixties and seventies to explain these incidences of self-sacrificing castes appeared to also predict that somewhere within the diversity of thrips species we should also find sociality. There were no ready examples. Crespi had a hunch that social thrips would be found among the gall-inducing thrips on Australian Acacia.  In brief, he was right! Subsequently (Again, drastically shortening the story. Hey, I am not trying to write Crespi’s biography here.), Crespi took a position at Simon Fraser University where his research began with a focus on Australian social thrips. I was the first graduate student he recruited.

I will admit that the thrips played no part in attracting me to the program. Instead, it was Crespi’s strong scientific reputation and the chance to do field work in Australia that was the lure. However, it was several years of working in Canada with preserved and frozen specimens of thrips before I saw their full charm in their native habitat. I was hosted in Australia by Crespi’s major collaborator with the thrips work, Dr. Michael Schwarz, at Flinders University. In this prominent social insect lab I met three students with the same taxonomic focus as me.  Like Tigger in The Tigger Movie, I had started to fear that I was the only one. We connected quickly, and one of the pivotal bonding events happened during a trip to a Nursery outside the city of Adelaide. We needed native Australian plants for an experiment and the Nursery that could provide them was located inside a national park. On the way in we saw a sign warning visitors that they were not permitted to bring in plants or soil for fear of introducing pests. The list of pests included “thrip”. On our way out of the park, we stopped our truck; one of us jumped out with a permanent marker and added an “s”. Having scored one for thrips, we cheered and drove away.

It has been almost twenty years since we vandalized that sign (I hope that is longer then the crime’s statute of limitation). Since then I have continued research on social thrips, and I have given lectures in undergraduate and graduate classes, job interviews, conferences, public lectures and even dinner parties. Many people have engaged me after these events to express further interest in the work. If they said “thrip”, I corrected them. I thought educating people outweighed the potential risk of embarrassing them. My behaviour has certainly lost me a few acquaintances, some people have skin that is thin, but is there any evidence that I have been successful in educating people? I think the answer is no. A student of mine was interviewed a little while ago on the national radio science show, Quirks and Quarks. She corrected the host when he dropped the “s”. Two students and I submitted a paper to an entomological journal, and one reviewer pointed out to the editor the poor grammar of our presentation. The example they used to illustrate our incompetence was our failure to drop the “s”. I am co-writing a book chapter with a longtime friend and colleague, he edited my part by dropping a few of the “s”s. I give up. Not research or a fascination with thrips, just the “s” thing. It is now my opinion that the thrips research community is better off without this plural noun. To the uninitiated it sounds weird to use “thrips” in the singular, and to insist on its proper use is alienating. I don’t know how to change this. Who is in charge? How do you start a revolution? In the mean time, to those that naturally say “thrip” I am sorry I have offended you, let’s be friends.

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Canadian Entomology Research Roundup: January 2015 – March 2015

As a graduate student, publishing a paper is a big deal.  After spending countless hours doing the research, slogging through the writing process, soliciting comments from co-authors, formatting the paper to meet journal guidelines, and dealing with reviewer comments, it’s nice to finally get that acceptance letter and know that your work is getting out there.

We are continuing to help publicize graduate student publications to the wider entomological community through our Research Roundup. The ESC Student Affairs Committee is happy to be posting a second roundup of papers authored by Canadian graduate students. If you published an article recently and would like it featured, e-mail us at entsoccan.students@gmail.com.

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

So, what’s hot off the press, you ask? Here’s what some entomology grad students have been up to between 31 January 2015 and 4 March 2015:

Systematics and Morphology

Piophilidae is an important family of flies to forensic entomology: their occurrence on a corpse can help determine post-mortem interval and assist legal investigations. Sabrina Rochefort (McGill University) and colleagues provide an updated key to the forensically pertinent Piophilidae in the Nearctic Region. Article link

Read more in a post on the ESC Blog


Enrique Rodriguez (University of Ottawa) and colleagues put the membrane pacemaker hypothesis to the test for the first time in invertebrates. They found that membrane composition of flight muscle in tropical orchid bees varies with body size and flight metabolic rate. Article link

Behaviour and Ecology

How do bumblebees deal with flowers that are blowing in the wind? Hamida Mirwan (University of Guelph) and colleague found that one species of bee showed no preference between mobile and immobile flowers but motion may be a factor in terms of foraging performance. Article link

Bombus impatiens

Bombus impatiens – By [1] [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Raphaël Royauté and colleagues found that the personality of a jumping spider was affected by sublethal insecticide exposure. Royauté wrote to us,

Jumping spiders exposed to low doses of insecticide show changes in their personalities. Insecticides alter behaviours by jamming neural transmission. Most studies on insecticide toxicity compare how behaviours differ in average between insecticide-exposed and control groups, but they don’t take into account how insecticides affect variation in behaviour (aka personality). Bronze Jumping Spiders exposed to the insecticide had lower amount of personality differences in activity and prey capture behaviours and exposed spiders were in general more “unpredictable”. These effect also varied by sex. Activity differences were more strongly affected in males while prey capture capacities were more strongly altered in females. 

These results suggest that the effects of insecticides on personality differences may manifest before any effects on the population as a whole are detected, in which case scientists may be frequently underestimating the toxicity of insecticides. Spiders play an important role in agricultural fields as they help regulate pest outbreaks. These personality alterations may affect spiders’ capacity to provide this important ecosystem service.

A more detailed explanation of this research is available here » 

Eris militaris

A female jumping spider, Eris militaris (Araneae: Salticidae). Photo by Crystal Ernst; provided by Raphaël Royauté

Matt Yunik (University of Manitoba) and colleagues discovered that unfed American dog ticks have the ability to survive an additional winter. Prior to this research, it was thought that these unfed ticks searching in spring died before the next winter. Article link

Fanny Maure (Université de Montréal) and others found and characterized a new RNA virus of Dinocampus coccinellae, a parasitoid of the ladybird beetle Coleomegilla maculata. The virus appears to be a symbiont of the parasitoid which is stored in the adult wasps’ oviducts and is transmitted by the parasitoid larva to its ladybird host. The virus then moves to the ladybird’s brain and replicates, inducing paralysis and twitching, around the same time that the parasitoid larva emerges and spins a cocoon between the legs of its host. The infected ladybird then acts as a twitchy bodyguard against predators while the parasitoid develops. Then, amazingly, when the adult parasitoid emerges from the cocoon, the viral infection in the ladybird’s brain clears and the host resumes normal behaviour! Article link

A ladybird "bodyguard" protecting its parasitoid from predators.  Photo provided by Jacques Brodeur.

A virally-manipulated ladybird « bodyguard » protecting its ‘puppet master’ from predators. Photo provided by Jacques Brodeur.

Former UdeM student Fanny Maure with her PhD work featured on the cover of National Geographic! Photo provided by Jacques Brodeur.

Former UdeM student Fanny Maure with her PhD work featured on the cover of National Geographic! Photo provided by Jacques Brodeur.

Megan McAuley (University of Guelph) and colleagues found that repeated conditioning with a floral scent is needed for long-term memory establishment in bumblebees. Article link

Murali-Mohan Ayyanath and colleagues show that sublethal doses of an insect growth regulator stimulate reproduction in the green peach aphid. Article link

Myzus persicae

Myzus persicae – By Scott Bauer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Do different pollen-packing behaviours by bees affect the functional value of pollen? PhD student Alison Parker and colleagues found that the pollen transported by non-corbiculate bees remains fully functional whereas the packing behaviour by corbiculate bee species can decrease the functionality of their pollen. This research suggests that non-corbiculate bees may be more valuable pollinators. Article link

A study by Lorraine Adderly and colleague finds that solitary bees are important for pollination in seablush plants in the Gulf Islands and on Vancouver Island. Article link 

Insect Management

Chaminda E. Amal de Silva helped provide evidence for there being high rates of blueberry spanworm parasitism in lowbush blueberry fields in eastern Canada. De Silva and colleagues suggest using augmentative or conservation biological control as a management technique against spanworm. Article link

For a forest moth, colouration is costly—especially under poor conditions (Article link). Coming soon, we will be featuring a post by Jessica Ethier (Concordia University), who took the lead on this long-term project.

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Canadian Entomology Research Roundup: December 2014 – January 2015

As a graduate student, publishing a paper is a big deal.  After spending countless hours doing the research, slogging through the writing process, soliciting comments from co-authors, formatting the paper to meet journal guidelines, and dealing with reviewer comments, it’s nice to finally get that acceptance letter and know that your work is getting out there.

We want to help publicize graduate student publications to the wider entomological community.  Every month or so, the ESC Student Affairs Committee will post a roundup of papers authored by Canadian graduate students.

We don’t anticipate that these lists will be comprehensive (alas, Google Scholar alerts aren’t perfect), but should give a nice ‘taste’ of student entomological research in Canada.  If you want your recently published article featured (or we missed yours last month!), send us an email at entsoccan.students@gmail.com

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

Without further delay, here’s what entomology grad students have been up to lately (articles published online between December 1, 2014 and January 18, 2015):

Behaviour and Physiology

Miruna Draguleasa (University of Toronto) and colleagues found that apparently bumblebees love caffeine just like many sleep-deprived grad students.

Two students, Carling Baxter and Rachael Barnett, and their colleagues at McMaster University found that male fruit flies become less choosy when selecting mates as they age.


Older male fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) are less choosy. Photo by André Karwath aka Aka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Laura Sedra and colleagues at the University of Toronto Mississagua investigated how blood-feeding assassin bugs (Rhodnius prolixus) control their oviduct contractions

Laura Ferguson (University of Western Ontario) helped to determine that modifications of ion balance mediate cold tolerance in Drosophila.

The downside of being a sexy male tree cricket? You might not live very long. Kyla Ercit (University of Toronto Mississauga) and colleagues found that male Oecanthus nigricornis individuals with wide heads and small legs were most attractive, but individuals with narrow heads, large legs, and intermediate pronotum length were most likely to survive.

Rosemarie Vallières (Université Laval) and colleagues found that metabolism and winter survival of temperate hemlock looper populations in Québec will be more affected by fall heat waves (compared to boreal populations), which are increasing in frequency due to climate change.

Hemlock Looper, Bon Echo

Hemlock looper adult. Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Meet Zandawala and Zina Hamoudi (University of Toronto Mississauga) confirmed the identification of the adipokinetic hormone receptor in Rhodnius prolixus. The hormone is known to mobilize lipids, carbohydrates and proline for energy consuming activities.

New research by Fanny Maure (Université de Montréal) found that ladybirds can survive (and even reproduce!!) after parasitism and behavioural manipulation by a wasp. Featured on the cover of the November 2014 issue of National Geographic Magazine, and discussed in a fantastic accompanying article by Carl Zimmer.

Does the Earth’s magnetic field serve as a reference for alignment of the honeybee waggle dance? Short answer: At least local (ambient) geomagnetic field does not act as the reference for the alignment of waggle-dancing bees. Read more on the research conducted by Veronica Lambient and colleagues at Simon Fraser University here.


A recent study by Dorothy Maguire (McGill) and colleagues in a Quebec forest ecosystem finds strong top-down effects of predators on arthropods, but weak effects of fragmentation on predation and herbivory levels.



Students from McGill's Buddle Lab collecting insects using a beat sheet, sampling bird exclosures, and measuring damage on leaves. Photos courtesy of Dorothy Macguire.

Students from McGill’s Buddle Lab collecting insects using a beat sheet, sampling bird exclosures, and measuring damage on leaves. Photos courtesy of Dorothy Macguire.

Guillaume Sainte-Marie (Université du Québec à Montréal) and colleagues found that promoting hardwoods does not appear to reduce spruce defoliation during outbreaks of spruce budworm.

Crisia Tabacaru (University of Alberta) and colleagues determined that competitors and natural enemies may help prevent establishment of mountain pine beetle after fires.

Gun Koleoglu and Tatiana Petukhova (University of Guelph) found that Africanized honey bees may have higher viral resistance than European honey bees following parasitism by Varroa mites.

Researchers at the University of Alberta, including Devin Goodsman, found that the interactions between a lepidopteran defoliator and a bark beetle shifted from facilitative to competitive depending on outbreak severity.

Sean McCann and Catherine Scott (Simon Fraser University) discovered that the red-throated caracara rivals the predatory impact of army ants on some populations of Neotropical social wasps.


A new molecular marker for phylogeographic and population studies of the black-legged tick has been identified by Chantal Krakowetz (University of Saskatchewan) and colleagues. And in a follow-up study, the mitochondrial gene variation could point to origins of tick populations in the United States and the potential risk for Canada.

A deer tick, Ixodes scapularis. Photo Credit : Jim Gathany [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At York University Daria Molodtsova and Brock Harpur, together with colleagues, linked genetic mutations in a transcriptional network to the evolution of complex behaviours in honey bees.

Pest Management and Biological control

Two studies conducted at the Université de Montréal by Julie Faucher-Deslile and colleagues found protein content is not the only factor important in selecting diet supplements for predatory mites and that supplementing predatory mite applications with apple pollen may increase the control of thrips in greenhouses.

Insects used in modern weed biological control programs are highly host-specific to their target weed, but can sometimes exhibit ‘spillover’ herbivory on related nontarget plants. Determining where and why spillover occurs can help us predict its potential to negatively affect native plant populations. Here, Haley Catton (UBC Okanagan) and colleagues used two field experiments to show that a controversial biocontrol weevil exhibits spillover when at high density, but does not find or feed on nontarget plants even a few metres from release points. This is good news, as the more localized the spillover, the lower the chance of negative population-level impacts to nontarget plants.

<i>Mogulones crucifer </i>biocontrol weevils painted for a mark-release-recapture experiment involving target and nontarget host finding.

Mogulones crucifer biocontrol weevils painted for a mark-release-recapture experiment involving target and nontarget host finding. Image by Haley Catton.

Christine Miluch (University of Alberta) and colleagues looked at how to maximize the attractiveness of pheromone traps to diamondback moth males in canola.

An interesting study conducted by Simon P. W. Zappia and Amber Gigi Hoi found that regardless of how energy-deprived they are, DEET will keep mosquitos off your stinky socks!

A Canadian research team from Simon Fraser University, including graduate students Michel Holmes and Jason Draper, has identified the bed bug aggregation pheromone! The discovery was featured at several media outlets, including « Wired ».

Female bed bug

A female bed bug. By Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium (Cimex lectularius (bed bug)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Until next time!

The ESC Student Affairs Committee

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Update from The Canadian Entomologist Editorial Board

The Editorial Board of The Canadian Entomologist (TCE) welcomes the comments that we receive from readers and authors.  We take these comments seriously and implement appropriate changes when possible.  We are pleased to announce three such changes that will further improve the speed, quality and flexibility of the service provided by TCE.

  • Simplified submission requirement.  Authors previously were required to submit papers with abstracts in both French and in English.  Although they can still do so, authors now need only submit an abstract in the language of the submitted paper; i.e., French or English.  This change eliminates delays associated with having abstracts translated, which will accelerate manuscript publication.
  • New open access option.  Although TCE has no page charges, there has always been a subscription fee.  As of 2014, authors now have the option of paying a one-time open access (OA) fee.  Payment of the OA fee makes articles freely available as soon as they are published online to anyone with internet access.
  • More content.  Elimination of page charges has increased submissions to the journal, with a consequence increase in the number of papers being accepted for publication.  In response, TCE is expanding its content by 10%.  This equates to an annual increase of 72 pages, or approximately 1-2 additional papers per issue.

In addition to the above changes, there are several other items that may be of interest.  ‘Instructions to Authors’ were revised in March of this year.  Revisions include instructions for the submission of ‘Supplementary Material’ and a link to third-party services that specialize in language editing.

You also may wish to read “Open access, predatory publishers, The Canadian Entomologist, and you”.  This article appears in the Bulletin of the ESC (Sept. 2013, p. 131), and examines issues that should be interest to anyone publishing in scientific journals.

In closing, we note that Dr. Chris Buddle (McGill University, Montreal, QC) will be completing his tenure as Editor-in-Chief this fall.  Dr. Kevin Floate (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Lethbridge, AB) is the incoming Editor-in-Chief.


We thank you, the authors and readers, for making TCE an ongoing success.

Chris Buddle

Kevin Floate

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African fig fly shows up in Canada: first occurrences of another fruit-infesting fly and potential pest.

By Justin Renkema, Post-Doc, University of Guelph


It was an early morning after a long drive from Guelph to a small fruit farm in Chatham-Kent where my undergraduate student, Caitlyn, and I were conducting a small-plot spray trial to test the effect s of repellents against Drosophila suzukii (Spotted Wing Drosophila), a recent invasive and serious fruit pest.  I knew the raspberry patch was heavily infested with D. suzukii so before getting to work, to amuse ourselves at the start of the day, I started gently shaking canes, and we watched the swarms of fruit flies disperse and hover over the fresh fruit.  However, as I went to grab a branch low to the ground, I noticed something different about one of the fruit flies sitting on a leaf.  It had characteristic white “racing stripes” along its thorax, unlike any other fruit fly I had seen.  This was it!  This was very likely Zaprionus indianus or African fig fly, another invasive and potential fruit pest that we knew was moving northwards from the southeastern USA.  Caitlyn grabbed a vial and we successfully had, on 10 September 2013, what we thought was the first capture of this fly in Ontario and Canada.

Zaprionis indianus photographed by Dr. Stephen Marshall in Africa. (Photo C Stephen A. Marshall, used with permission)

Zaprionis indianus photographed by Dr. Stephen Marshall in Africa. (Photo © Stephen A. Marshall, used with permission)

 Indeed the fly was Z. indianus, as determined by Meredith Miller, a M.Sc. student at the University of Guelph working on taxonomy of Drosophila spp. in Ontario.  Through contact with Hannah Fraser at Ontario Ministry of Agriculture Food and Rural Affairs, we learned that their Ontario-wide monitoring program for D. suzukii had also picked up some African fig flies in apple-cider vinegar traps, and a few at an earlier date than our find in Chatham-Kent.  Colleagues in Quebec (Jean-Phillipe Légaré and others at MAPAQ) had also found what they believed were Z. indianus.  Once all the material was collected and examined by Meredith, we submitted a scientific note documenting our Z. indianus discovery in Canada that was published by the Journal of the Entomological Society of Ontario.

Zaprionus indianus is native to the Afrotropical region.  It was found in Brazil in 1998 where it was given its common name because it became a significant pest of figs.  In 2005, Z. indianus was discovered in Florida and has since been found successively further north and west in the USA (see a map of its distribution here).  It is likely that the North American infestation did not come from the Brazilian population.  Zaprionus indianus is the only member of Zaprionus present in Canada, and therefore the reddish-brown head and thorax and particularly the silvery stripes that extend from the antennae to the tip of scutellum can be used as distinguishing features.

Zaprionis indianus dorsum showing characteristic white stripes

Unlike D. suzukii (thankfully!), female Z. indianus do not possess heavily sclerotized and serrated ovipositors and are not currently seen as a serious threat to temperate fruit crops.  They have been reared from a number of tropical, tree-ripened fruits in Florida and there is concern in vineyards in the eastern USA, where sometimes they outnumber D. suzukii in traps. It is possible that Z. indianus can use fruit that has been oviposited in by D. suzukii, thus increasing damage and possibly complicating control measures.  In Canada, particularly Ontario and Quebec, winter temperatures may preclude establishment of African fig fly, and yearly re-infestation from the south would be necessary for it to show up in future years.  At all but one site, we found just 1-4 flies during late summer and early fall per site, so it will be interesting to see what happens to numbers this coming growing season.  In tropical and sub-tropical locations much larger populations have been detected the year following first detection.

For the past 1.5 years I have been working as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Guelph with Rebecca Hallett on D. suzukii.  We are developing a push-pull management strategy using volatile plant compounds to repel and attract this pest.  With the occurrence of Z. indianus and possible reoccurrence  in larger numbers in the future, we may have a unique opportunity to study how two recent invaders using similar resources interact, and also, perhaps, a more significant challenge ahead of us  in developing management strategies.  If you are interested in this topic or have current or future experiences with Z. indianus, I and co-authors on the scientific note would appreciate hearing from you.  You can contact me at renkemaj@uoguelph.ca.


Renkema J.M., Miller M., Fraser H., Légaré J.P. & Hallett R.H. (2013). First records of Zaprionus indianus Gupta (Diptera: Drosophilidae) from commercial fruit fields in Ontario and Quebec, Canada, Journal of the Entomological Society of Ontario, 144 125-130. OPEN ACCESS [PDF]

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The W5 of Deciding about Graduate School

B. Staffan Lindgren is a professor of entomology at the University of Northern British Columbia, and 1st Vice-President of the Entomological Society of Canada. He has been the senior supervisor of 11 M.Sc. students and one Ph.D. student, co-supervisor of two M.Sc. students, and participated on more than 20 supervisory committees.


Recently I have been approached by several students asking about how to go about applying for graduate school. Furthermore, I and a colleague are doing a brownbag lunch discussion for the local student chapter of The Wildlife Society on this topic this week, and this got me thinking about what considerations a student should have. My conclusion is that you can break down the approach into a consideration of W5 (Why, Where, Who, What, and When) to optimize the chances of being successful.

In this post I will go over my thoughts on these W’s, and relate some of my own experiences, both as student and supervisor. I have not consulted the literature, but base this on personal experience alone, so you have to bear that in mind. For the record, I have not supervised a large number of graduate students, and all but one have been at the Master’s level. On the other hand, I have only “failed” as a supervisor once, which just means that I blame myself for the student’s failure to complete. On the other hand, I have also failed as a graduate student once, so I feel I have some relevant qualifications for writing this.


This question may seem somewhat redundant, but I believe it is an important first step. It is surprising how many students go into graduate school “to get a better job”. In my opinion, that is not a good reason at all. It is very possible, or in fact likely, that you can land a better job after completing a graduate degree, but there is no guarantee for advanced degrees automatically leading to better jobs. I have two examples. One of my more successful graduate students told me long after she graduated that she went into graduate school for this very reason. Somewhere along the way, she realized that she loved research, and her passion for it grew as a result. She subsequently carried on with a PhD, and now holds a very good research position. So in her case doing a graduate degree led to exactly what she set out to do to begin with, but it wasn’t graduate school per se that lead to her success, but rather her passion for what she was doing, along with some very hard work. My second example relates to my first, and failed attempt at graduate school. I was more worried about funding than topic, and opted to do a PhD in Endocrinology. I had really enjoyed my coursework in zoophysiology, so it seemed like a logical choice at the time. I was in a good lab, had a great colleague (who is now a professor with more than 300 authored or co-authored publications). As it turned out, it was not for me, however. The reasons were many, but a lack of passion for the subject area certainly contributed (see below).


Different institutions have varying reputations, and particularly if the ultimate goal is an academic position, it may make a difference whether you hold a degree from a major research university or primarily undergraduate teaching institution. However, there may be pros and cons with joining big labs. An obvious benefit is that a large institution is likely to have lots of infrastructure and resources. On the other hand, you may end up in a lab where your supervisor plays only a limited role in your actual supervision, i.e., you may be viewed more as a small cog in a large wheel than as an important individual. To avoid this, you have to ask the next question.


The supervisor is of critical importance in my opinion. All supervisors are not made equal, and they often have their own agendas and biases! Some may expect you to work things out for yourself, while others like to treat you like an employee. Depending on your personality, you may like one or the other, or somewhere in between. Highly productive, “big name” researchers are not necessarily the best supervisors! Moderately productive scientists at small institutions may provide a much better environment, particularly for graduate students lacking prior experience, e.g., Master’s students. I went into my first two graduate degrees (including the initial failed PhD in Sweden) pretty much blind. The endocrinology attempt was uncomfortable because of an internal schism between my supervisor and the head of the department, but other than that I was fortunate to get a very approachable and helpful supervisor. My supervisor for my Master of Pest Management and PhD degrees at Simon Fraser University was as good as they come; I learned an enormous amount from him, and model my own approach to supervision on that experience.  However, he did not suit everybody. The problem is matching your own needs and preferences with a suitable supervisor. I recommend all prospective graduate students to contact both former and current students of potential supervisors and ask what it is like to be a graduate student. I even recommend students expressing interest in me as a supervisor to do the same – I think of myself as a good supervisor, but I am clearly biased, and in control of the situation, whereas a graduate student would be dependent on my actions. Raise up front issues of support (not just salary, but field assistant, transportation, accommodation in the field, expectations). Ask about how the supervisor deals with authorship – believe it or not, there are supervisors who are prone to self-promotion. A good supervisor promotes his/her students, not themselves. Once you are in a graduate position, it is much more difficult to adjust things, so do your homework up front. I also recommend students to be frank with a potential (or existing) supervisor if there are issues. If you can’t communicate with your prospective supervisor before you are his/her graduate student, it is likely that you won’t be able to later. Sometimes this is just due to personality incompatibility, but it really doesn’t matter what the reason is if you end up in a bad situation. You are never going to go into a graduate position with 100% confidence that it will be perfect, but you can optimize the chances that it will be by doing some basic research.

A successful supervisor-student relationship can turn into a lifetime relationship: Staffan Lindgren (PhD 1982), Lisa Poirier(PhD 1995) and Dezene Huber (PhD 2001), gave back to their supervisor John H. Borden by successfully nominating him for an honorary doctorate at UNBC in 2009 in recognition of his enormous impact on forest insect pest management in British Columbia. Photo by Edna Borden.

A successful supervisor-student relationship can turn into a lifetime relationship: Staffan Lindgren (PhD 1982), Lisa Poirier(PhD 1995) and Dezene Huber (PhD 2001), gave back to their supervisor John H. Borden by successfully nominating him for an honorary doctorate at UNBC in 2009 in recognition of his enormous impact on forest insect pest management in British Columbia. Photo by Edna Borden.


This is perhaps the most important decision you have to make, and it is closely linked to the first W (Why?). In my experience, the most successful students are not those who come in with the highest GPA or with the most funding (although it is easier to get accepted with those qualifications as it relieves the supervisor of some obvious burdens). Rather, they are the students with a burning interest in a specific type of project, or specific organisms. A great way to find your bearings is to get involved in research as an undergraduate student. When I was a PhD student, I had three undergraduate research assistants over the years. All three went on to get a PhD, one is now a research scientist with Forestry Canada, one is a conservation biologist with a consulting company (after Environment Canada was brought to its knees by the current government), and the third is a professor at a large institution in the United States. A number of students I have hired as undergraduate summer research assistants have successfully pursued successful careers. Decisions you make as a young person can profoundly affect your future. I went to the United States as a high school exchange student – without that experience I may have lacked the confidence to come to Canada for graduate school. As an undergraduate student, I participated in annual vole surveys and spider research, which taught me something about what types of activities I enjoy. When I first wanted to pursue graduate school, I failed to use that experience. My primary interest was entomology, but funding was hard to come by, so I opted for endocrinology because that graduate position came with a stipend. This decision turned out to be a huge mistake, and after 1 ½ years I had to give up. Essentially, I selected what to do for the wrong reason. (Thanks to my brilliant graduate student colleagues, I still ended up with five publications, which probably helped me get accepted at Simon Fraser University, so it wasn’t a complete waste of time, however).  At SFU, my MPM supervisor offered me a funded project that would have been applicable to Sweden, and he gave me 8 months to think about it. I eventually made the decision to take that on, and I have never looked back. Thus, once I reset the career compass to my original goals, I ended up where I always wanted to be, which is in forest entomology!


Strangely, this question relates to both “Why” and “What”, although there is considerable variation among students in terms of what is right for each individual. In my experience, however, the most successful graduate students tend to have a little bit of “real world” experience before they pursue a graduate degree. In part, this may be because they have more experience, and therefore are more confident about their abilities, and possibly more aware of their weaknesses than someone fresh out of an undergraduate degree would have. These individuals have also had time to formulate what they are really passionate about, and in my mind, passion is the most important ingredient in a successful graduate degree. Yes, you need some basic skills (communication (written and oral), quantitative skills), a modicum of intelligence, and lots of patience for endless tedium (most research is 90% tedium, 5% frustration, and 5% elation), but you don’t have to be an A+ student. As a graduate student, a passionate B student will do better than a moderately interested A+ student any day. You would be surprised how many professors and successful scientists were relatively average in high school. If the timing is wrong, you may not be happy. For example, when I first tried to pursue graduate school and ended up in the wrong program, I could have waited 2-3 years and I may have had perfect opportunities in Sweden as a huge project on insect pheromones was initiated a year after I went to Canada. I had in fact contacted several of the professors that led that project, but at the time they didn’t have the funds in place.

I mentioned at the beginning that I failed as a supervisor once. This was a combination of not matching the student with an appropriate topic, and personal incompatibility. Both resulted from inexperience, as it was one of my very first graduate students. Even supervisors learn from experience.

I hope these musings are helpful you decide to pursue a graduate degree. Good luck!

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From filing cabinets to fieldwork: an investigation into Aphid population variability

By Chris Buddle, Editor of the Canadian Entomologist


I am pleased to present the “Editor’s Pick” manuscript for the current issue of The Canadian Entomologist. This pick was a paper by Bob Lamb, Patricia MacKay and Andrei Alyokhin, titled “Seasonal dynamics of three coexisting aphid species: implications for estimating population variability

I had always admired the ongoing work on aphids, spearheaded by Bob and Pat. Their work is always relevant, meticulous, framed in an important and broader ecological context, and they have a ‘model system’ to work with. This is the kind of researcher many more junior entomologists look up to.  The current paper is no exception. In this work, Bob and Pat joined up with Andrei Alyokhin and present a careful study of population variability and effectively use this metric to better understand population dynamics over time.  For me, I see much value in this approach, and can see how this kind of work could effectively be used in teaching students about how to best describe, understand, and quantify population dynamics.  I’m also inspired to see long-term data with arthropods. These kinds of data are so useful, but relatively rare. It’s great to see Bob, Pat and Andrei publish thoughtful and important work using such data.  I may also look around some old filing cabinets at my University…

Bob was kind enough to answer a few questions about this work, with input from his co-authors.

What inspired this work?

When Pat MacKay and I were anticipating eventual retirement from paying jobs as entomologists, we decided to begin a study of an aphid population that could be pursued as long as we could walk trails and count aphids. Our goal was to figure out why aphid populations seem to be so unstable. Eventually we wrote up our findings on the stability of one native species over the first 10 years of a study we hope will go on for at least another 10 years. A few years ago we realized we needed comparative data, but were too old to start on a 20-year study of another aphid species. The solution was to write to colleagues who also had long-term data sets, to see if they were interested in looking at their data from this perspective. So far the colleagues we have contacted have been enthusiastic collaborators. The first was Andrei Alyokhin our coauthor on the current paper. He gave us access to 60 years of data on three aphid species. The first paper on the stability of these aphids was published in the Canadian Entomologist two years ago. The current paper extends that earlier work, looking now at how aphid seasonal biology affects our estimates of stability.

Bob Lamb, sporting "aphid hunting gear"

Bob Lamb, sporting « aphid hunting gear »

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

We hope that this paper will help convince other researchers that Joel Heath’s metric, PV, which we use to quantify population variability, is a robust way to quantify one aspect of the stability of populations. If more researchers adopt this metric, ecologists will have a much greater opportunity to apply a comparative approach and identify factors that contribute to stability or instability of populations.

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

Pat MacKay and I continue to extend our time series on the abundance of a native aphid, and are now focusing more on the ecological processes that cause our five populations to rise and fall. We also hope to expand our studies of stability to still more aphid species, but also species with very different life histories. At the moment I am working with a colleague, Terry Galloway, University of Manitoba, on several time-series of ectoparasite abundance on birds.

Do you have any interesting anecdotes about this research?

One of the most interesting aspects of the work on aphids from potatoes is the source of the data – 60 years or more of weekly aphid counts. The data for the early years were discovered by Andrei Alyokhin in an abandoned filing cabinet stored in a barn at the University of Maine. Andrei was a new faculty member at the time exploring his research facilities. His predecessors had maintained meticulous records of aphid densities in potato plots since soon after World War II. Andrei was quick to recognize the value of this data, and more importantly recognized the need to go on collecting the data in the same way. The result is an amazing data set, one of the longest continuous records at one location of the dynamics of multi-voltine species.

Lesson 1: newly-hired entomologists should begin their careers by searching old filing cabinets.

Lesson 2: meticulous long-term records can be invaluable, sometime in ways that you might not anticipate.

Andrei discovering data in old filing cabinets

Andrei discovering data in old filing cabinets

Lamb R.J., MacKay P.A. & Alyokhin A. (2013). Seasonal dynamics of three coexisting aphid species: implications for estimating population variability, The Canadian Entomologist, 145 (03) 283-291. DOI: