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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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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.

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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.

Why?

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).

Where?

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.

Who?

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.

What?

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!

When?

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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When friends work together: The evolution of a review paper on the evolution of tree-killing in bark beetles. — TCE Editor’s Pick for 145(5)

By Dr. Chris Buddle, McGill University & Editor of The Canadian Entomologist

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This Issue’s Editor’s pick for The Canadian Entomologist is Staffan Lindgren and Ken Raffa’s paper, titled “Evolution of tree killing in bark beetles: trade-offs between the maddening crowds and a sticky situation”.  This is a key review paper that provides comprehensive and in-depth coverage of a critically important topic, especially for forest entomology in North America.  Bark beetles are often in the news because of the economic consequences of their population increases as we have seen in recent years. Behind this, however, are fascinating life history traits and a story about their tree killing habits. This is where the paper by Staffan and Ken comes into play. These two exceptional scientists have decades of experience on the topic of tree killing in bark beetles, and they bring this expertise forward with this paper.

I asked Staffan and Ken a few questions about their paper, and here are the responses:

Q1:  What inspired this work?

The scientific inspiration came from many years of reading about and studying these amazing insects. Over time, it became clear that « aggressiveness » is a relative term with respect to tree-killing beetles, because they generally appear to be very poor competitors. The same also seemed to be the case with tree-killing root diseases, so a pattern of trade-offs became apparent. Given the potent defensive capability of most conifers, the question naturally arose « why would a beetle risk its life attacking a live tree rather than utilizing a dead or dying tree? » It seemed that the answer had to be linked to trade-offs between the selection pressures exerted by competitors and host tree defenses. The inspiration to write these ideas up evolved through many years of developing a friendship with each other, and we tossed the idea around in a number of discussions we had. The opportunity to act came when the former editor of TCE, Robb Bennett, extended an invitation to submit an article as a CP Alexander Review.

Staffan (R) and Ken (L) (photo by C Raffa)

Staffan (R) and Ken (L) (photo by C Raffa)

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

The main objective was to put the idea out and to stimulate debate and perhaps generate new research ideas that will contribute to an increased understanding of bark beetle ecology and management. Whether or not we are proven right or wrong is really less important. Based on some feedback we have had already, it seems that the paper has had the desired effect in terms of stimulating thought. I also thought this was a great opportunity to work together on a project: we admire each other as scientist and are friends

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

We are working with another great friend of ours, Jean-Claude Grégoire, on two chapters in an upcoming book about bark beetles, so there may be some other ideas emerging from that collaboration.

Q4: Any amusing / interesting anecdotes about this research?

(from Staffan): From my perspective one of the most amusing things is that I can claim the unique experience of having Ken Raffa as a nurse. He is very good at that too, as it happens! The last time I visited him in Madison to work on this paper, I caught a bad cold. So we worked from home that week, with me intermittently resting and writing. It was embarrassing at the time, but now I find it rather amusing.

Cambridge University Press has made Staffan & Ken’s paper freely available worldwide until November 30 for being recognized as the Editor’s Pick. Thanks CUPress!

Citation:

Lindgren B.S. & Raffa K.F. (2013). Evolution of tree killing in bark beetles (Coleoptera: Curculionidae): trade-offs between the maddening crowds and a sticky situation, The Canadian Entomologist, 145 (05) 471-495. DOI:

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Open Data

by Dezene Huber & Paul Fields
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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.

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* 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.

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Canadian Entomologist Editor’s Pick – March 2013

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

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Formatting your references for The Canadian Entomologist using Mendeley

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

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Roadkill Do Tell Tales: Macabre, Yet Customary, Research of a Medicoveterinary Entomologist

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.

,

Dear Buggy: a discussion on data

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.

, , , ,

Tropical fieldwork in France: the Nouragues station in French Guiana

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).