Articles

, , , ,

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

, , ,

Australia’s call for international researchers: A Canadian entomologist in the Outback

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

—————————————

Cockroach – Photo by Jacob Coates

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

Southern Queensland Red Road – Photo by Jacob Coates

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

Jacob Coates

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

, ,

How was your summer?

Mosquito field trials at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute

Sometimes field work can look a little unconventional, like using large screened tents for a mosquito repellent trial. This original (yet ultimately unsuccessful) idea came from some work I did at the Guelph Turfgrass Institute in 2011.

Another field season has come and gone (mostly, I bet there are some field crop entomologists still out collecting data), and the entomology conference season will soon be upon us. But before you wrap yourself up in a nice warm cocoon of fresh data in preparation for the coming winter, we’d love to hear how your summer went!

The only thing better than obtaining exciting new data is the great story about how you got it! Maybe you traveled to a new location (or had an adventure on the way to your normally-mundane field site), met some interesting new people, took some photos you’re proud of, or did your best MacGyver impression by rigging your equipment together using only duct tape, dental floss and that perfectly shaped twig you found. Being the start of a new semester, maybe you’ve started a new project or joined a new lab and want to introduce yourself, your work, and put out a call for specimens.

Whatever your situation, the ESC Blog is a great place to share your story and earn the adoration of your peers for heroics and valor in the face of p > 0.05! Simply send us an email (entsoccanada@gmail.com) with your story (and a few pictures if you can) and we’ll help bring your story to the masses.

We know you’ll be swapping stories with newfound friends over beer at the ESC meeting in a few weeks, so hopefully you’ll consider sharing them with everyone a little sooner. We promise, we’ll ooh & ahh at all the appropriate moments (and not tell your advisor how the dent in the rental truck really got there)!

, ,

Stupidity is the mother of invention

By Dr. Terry Wheeler, Director of the Lyman Entomological Museum, McGill University

_________________________________

Warning: the following post contains content that makes a university professor and museum director look a bit ridiculous. Readers who wish to cling to the fiction that University Professors are smart, infallible and wise may find this post unsettling.

“Do you have everything?” A logical and reasonable question from The Students as The Professor exits his hotel room in the morning, several bags in hand. Some Students may consider such a question presumptuous, but it’s good to run through these little mental checklists.

Lesson #1 (for Students and Assistants): “Do you have everything?” may be a little too broad a question. A series of questions identifying particular individual items of necessary field equipment might be better. In this case, for example, a question along the lines of “Do you have the sweep net handles?” might have saved much subsequent humiliation and hilarity.

Lesson #2 (for Professors): Pack the gear the night before AND get enough sleep!

We jumped in The Vehicle and headed south for a long day of collecting in the dry prairies of southeastern Alberta. We had our sights set on a few promising collecting spots and it was a sunny day. After an hour or so of driving we arrived at the first site and The Professor disgorged the contents of the several bags as The Students waited to begin doing science. “Where are the net handles?” asked both Students, almost simultaneously. “Well,” replied The Professor “obviously they’re in the $#%#$ hotel in my &#@% red duffel bag.”

Lesson #3 (for Students and Assistants): Do not be afraid to laugh at a Professor, especially when they deserve it.

Lesson #4 (for Professors and Aspiring Professors): You can’t afford to take yourself too seriously. Things happen and people will laugh at you. Pretend you’ve just told a wickedly funny joke. I find that helps.

So, not relishing a long drive back to the hotel in the prairie heat, The Professor was forced to improvise, which he did in a rather unspectacular way, and the Short-Handled Shortgrass-Prairie Sweep Net (SHSPSN) was born.

The short-handled shortgrass-prairie sweep-net, ready for deployment. (Photo by T. Wheeler)

Some readers will recognize the SHSPSN as reminiscent of a short-handled folding insect net commonly referred to as a “National Park Special”, a net that folds up compactly and is easily concealed in a pocket for . . . well . . . ummm . . . inclement weather and increased mobility and the like. In our case (we were not in a National Park or other similarly protected area), the short handle worked quite well to keep us low and out of the high wind blowing across the site. Of course, the actual process of sweeping required a slightly modified stance compared to regular sweeping.

Anna demonstrating excellent SHSPSN technique. Her back will be fine. (Photo by T. Wheeler)

In the end, we collected (very successfully!) at four good sites that day with our lightweight, compact SHSPSN’s. Fortunately, we encountered no other Entomologists (especially Lepidopterists, with their penchant for freakishly long-handled nets) who could have taken advantage of our predicament and heaped ridicule upon us, especially The Professor.

And the next morning, when The Professor emerged from his room, well-rested and laden with several bags, The Students greeted him with a hearty “Do you have the net handles?” and it didn’t sound sarcastic AT ALL.

Lesson #5 (for Students and Assistants): Sooner or later, every Professor is going to do something dumb. Take joy in such magical moments. They are the times that make The Professor appear slightly less than superhuman. It helps to have a camera handy for the more spectacular times. Such photos make great content for retirement celebrations or department Christmas parties.

Lesson #6 (for Professors): The great thing about tenure is that you can actually get away with a lot of really dumb stuff. Just don’t lose any Students in the field – there’s a lot of paperwork involved. I find keeping the numbers low and giving each of them a distinct name helps. Take attendance a lot. Especially at airports.

And if anyone would like plans for making their very own SHSPSN, please contact The Professor.

_________________________

The original post can be found on Dr. Wheeler’s blog, here: http://lymanmuseum.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/stupidity-is-the-mother-of-invention/

We’d love to hear about other people’s (mis-)adventures in the field! Please feel free to send your stories and pictures to EntSocCanada@gmail.com