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ESC Blog Classifieds – MSc opportunity for prairie ecosystem research

 MSc – Role of dung-breeding insects in pasture ecosystems

Applications are invited for an MSc position to begin January or May of 2017.  Research will examine the role of dung-breeding insects in pasture ecosystems in southern Alberta.  This is a collaborative project between Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the University of Lethbridge (U. of L.), both based in Lethbridge, Alberta.

The project will include insect surveys using dung-baited pitfall traps from May through September on native pastures in southern Alberta, Canada. The role of dung insect activity will be assessed for effects on dung degradation, soil nutrients and micro-fauna, and greenhouse gas emissions.  Dung beetles will be examined as potential vectors of parasites affecting livestock.

The ideal applicant will have recently completed an undergraduate degree in biology or related program with courses in entomology and ecology.  They will be enthusiastic, innovative, and have excellent communication skills (written, oral) in English.  They must be able to work independently and as part of a team.  They must have a valid driver’s license and meet the scholastic qualifications required for acceptance into Graduate Studies at the U. of L.

The successful applicant will be jointly supervised by Drs. Kevin Floate (AAFC) and Cam Goater (U. of L.).  Under the supervision of Dr. Floate, the student will be based at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre (AAFC), where they will perform the main body of their research.  The Floate lab studies diverse aspects of insect community ecology with particular emphasis on prairie ecosystems (https://sites.google.com/site/dungins/homepage). Under the supervision of Dr. Goater, the student will be enrolled in an MSc program in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Lethbridge.  Research in the dynamic Goater lab focuses on the ecology and evolution of host/parasite interactions, and on prairie biodiversity and conservation (http://scholar.ulethbridge.ca/cpg/home).

Informal communication with Dr. Floate prior to application is encouraged.  To apply, please send a cover letter detailing your fit to the position, a CV, a copy of your most recent transcripts, and the names and contact details of three referees to Dr. Kevin Floate (Kevin.Floate@agr.gc.ca).  The deadline for application is November 1, 2016.

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Ants of Alberta – Technical Editor’s Pick CJAI 22

Earlier this summer, a new key and review of the Ants of Alberta was published in the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification. James Glasier, the lead author, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the work, and share some of the species he thought were particularly interesting.

Couplet 3 from Glasier et al. 2013

1. What inspired you to produce this key?

The key was inspired by the difficulty of finding coherent, up to date, and all-encompassing keys for the ant fauna of Alberta. It started as a side project, to help me better understand the differences among ant species I was finding during my thesis research.  As it developed, we realized that a key formatted for the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification would greatly benefit anyone who wanted to study ants in the province. So with the help, guidance, and contributions of my co-authors, we developed to identify all known ants from Alberta.

2. Who do you think is most likely to use your key to the Ants of Alberta?

The coauthors and I hope that anyone who is interested in ants uses the key.  We think that in Canada, ants are too often ignored in biological studies and with this key we hope more people will include them in their research.

3. Rather than provide individual accounts for each species, you’ve linked out to the species profiles in AntWeb. Why did you decide to do it this way, and what advantages does AntWeb have over traditional publishing?

We decided to link the key to AntWeb, because AntWeb has fantastic photos of ant specimens and they are always updating their photo catalog.  It is hoped that these photos work in concert with the key we have developed and better aid identification of ant specimens.  Additionally, AntWeb has an online specimen catalog and natural history sections, which is easily accessed and continually updated to provide current information about each ant species.

4. Were there any ants that you were surprised to find in Alberta?

The most surprising was species was the neotropical ant Brachymyrmex obscurior; found in the Olds University Atrium by Dr. Ken Fry.  For better or worse, the colony seems to have died out. Another surprising ant species was found by John Acorn, Dolichoderus taschenbergi. This ant is a rather obvious ant when you are out in the field; workers are black and very shiny, and in the morning will all congregate on their nest to sun themselves.  The effect of hundreds of workers covering a ~30cm2 area is an obvious sparkling mass of black.  Yet, with over 30 years of work by multiple researchers in the Opal Sand Hills, including John, no one recognized that this species was present until our ant project began.

Dolichoderus taschenbergi – Photo by April Nobile, courtesy of AntWeb.org (CC BY 3.0)

Glasier, J.R.N., Acorn, J.H., Nielsen, S., Proctor, H. 2013. Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of Alberta: A key to species based primarily on the worker caste. Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification No. 22, 4 July, 2013. Available online at http://www.biology.ualberta.ca/bsc/ejournal/ganp_22/ganp_22.htmlhttp://dx.doi.org/10.3752/cjai.2013.22

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Backyard moth’er

By Ian Maton,  Member of the The Alberta Lepidopterists’ Guild and the Altaleps discussion list, BugGuide editor and contributor to the Moths Photographers Group (MPG)
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Great Tiger (Arctia caja)

My two light traps

My journey into live moth trapping started a relatively short time ago towards the end of 2007.  My brother, who lives in the UK and has been live moth trapping since 1999, frequently encouraged me to buy a light trap and in August of 2007 I finally gave in and purchased a small 12V portable, 6W Heath trap at the British Birdfair while on vacation in the UK.  As this point I should explain that live moth trapping has become quite popular amongst bird watchers in the UK (my other hobby), to the extent that you can now purchase quite a lot of entomological paraphernalia at the annual Birdfair.

My backyard photographic setup

So it was, with some trepidation, that I put my light trap out for the first time in Lethbridge, Alberta, at the end of August 2007.  My camera equipment was fairly basic but I did manage a few photographs and I think it is safe to say that I was completely hooked from that point on.  I was able to identify a few of the moths but, although the situation has improved in recent years, identification guides were hard to find.  In the UK there were already a good number of handbooks to help with moth identification but this did not appear to be the case in North America.  I did buy some of the “Moths of North America North of Mexico” series and the Peterson guide “Moths of Eastern North America” but initially, my main aid to identification was BugGuide.net.  Not being able to separate the moths into their respective families meant that identifying any moth could take me several hours and sometimes involved my scanning through 300 plus pages of Noctuids on BugGuide!  This was not all bad as it forced me to become somewhat familiar with the family names and gave me a great sense of achievement when I did identify a moth.  However, in April of 2010, something happened which dramatically changed all this.

Delphinium Leaftier (Polychrysia esmeralda)

I had started to submit one or two photographs to BugGuide and one of these was Delphinium Leaftier (Polychrysia esmeralda).  While there were pinned images of this moth, there were very few live images in North America and I was contacted by Bob Patterson who asked for permission to display my photographs on the Moth Photographers Group (MPG) website.  Shortly after this it became apparent that I was photographing some moths that were not yet in BugGuide.  Bob created a couple of guide pages for me so that I could upload my photographs to the correct taxonomic spot but quickly suggested that I be given editor privileges on BugGuide.  All this was extremely exciting to me and added an entirely new dimension to my hobby.  In addition to this, Bob put me in contact with Gary Anweiler who, based in Alberta, is one of the premier experts on Noctuids in North America.  Since then Gary has been instrumental in helping me to identify moths.  Always patient and quick to respond I can’t thank Gary enough for his help and advice over the last few years.

Bilobed Looper (Megalographa biloba)

2010 was a very big year for me with regards to moth trapping.  A major highlight occurred in October of 2010 when my wife (I was then working long hours and had convinced her to help out with the moths) picked a Bilobed Looper (Megalographa biloba) out of the trap.  It was immediately identifiable and seemed to be an unusual sighting.   Indeed, Gary Anweiler confirmed that there had been only two previous records in Alberta and only two additional records for western Canada.  I can’t think of a better way to end the 2010 mothing year!

White-lined-Sphinx-(Hyles-lineata)

Since then I have continued to add photographs to BugGuide and I am pleased to say that a good number of them have been picked up and added to the MPG website.  I have also pieced together a database of the moths I’ve seen which now includes 245 species.  2011 was another landmark year when I attempted to record the number of each moth species that had been in my trap.  This had been practically impossible until I become familiar with the more common species I was getting.  Consequently, I can now say that my most common moth in 2011 was, by far, Thoughtful Apamea, followed by Glassy Cutworm, Olive Arches, Bronzed Cutworm and Bristly Cutworm.  This was a very nice personal achievement.  Most recently I have started a blog “Moths of Calgary”.  I have to admit that I got the idea from my brother who created a blog “Moths of Boughton-under-Blean”.  Apart from the enjoyment I get from posting my latest sightings, I’m hoping that it may help to advertise live moth trapping as an interesting hobby in Canada.

So far, the highlight of 2012 was my first Silkmoth seen in the Twin Butte area of Southern Alberta while on a short vacation.  Glover’s Silkmoth (Hyalophora gloveri) is a species that I’ve been trying to see for a number of years and there they were, in daylight, perched on the side of our cabin when we arrived!  Other colourful and unexpected species that I’ve seen include my first backyard Sphinx moth, a White-lined Sphinx (Hyles lineata) and a Great Tiger Moth (Arctia caja).

Glover’s Silkmoth (Hyalophora gloveri)

For me there are two things which make live moth trapping a really great hobby.  Firstly, you never know what you are going to get!  It may be a while before you see some of the more eye-catching moth species but that’s all part of the appeal.  Secondly, it’s something that you can do without venturing further than your own backyard!

While, at first, identification was a bit of a struggle, the sense of achievement gained when I did identify a new moth, for me, more than compensated for the time spent getting there.  Live moth trapping is a fascinating hobby and it is my hope that, over time, it will become a more popular, eventually contributing to the knowledge of moth movements and distribution throughout Canada.