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From inquiring students to published authors: an adventure in the Arctic

by Amanda Boyd and Kate Pare

The field course in Arctic Ecology (BIOL*4610), offered periodically by the University of Guelph, explores ecological relationships in a sub-arctic environment. Based out of the Northern Studies Research Center, the 2-week course takes place in Churchill Manitoba and the surrounding area. That was what we, the students, knew going into the course. What we didn’t know was that course would be, for many of us, a once in a lifetime experience!

Students in the Arctic Ecology field course learning from Hymenopterist extraordinaire Alex Smith

Students in the Arctic Ecology field course learning from hymenopterist extraordinaire Alex Smith. (Photo by Eric Scott) 

There are only three ways of travelling to Churchill, Manitoba: by boat, by plane or by train. Since we wouldn’t be taking the boat route, two options were left: an hour and forty-minute flight, or a three-day journey by rail. The latter is where most of our adventures began (particularly when some of us didn’t purchase a sleeper ticket). There is much to be learned from a long northward trek, from changing ecosystems and changing cultural environments to increasing price tags. Eventually though, the journey’s end came with a comfortable bus ride and an incredibly delicious meal at the Northern Studies Centre. From there on out, it was down to business.

The first week of our course was spent roaming the rugged landscape, learning about the diverse ecosystems the region has to offer while simultaneously trying to prevent ourselves from being carried off by the swarms of (seemingly) abnormally-sized horse flies. We visited sphagnum bogs, fens, the coast (which may have involved kayaking with belugas), a cranberry-laden moraine and the northern extent of the boreal forest. We explored Krummholtz and bluffs, learned that sedges have edges and learned to always be on the lookout for polar bears (at least 2 bear guards please!). The second week however, allowed us the liberty of designing and conducting our own studies.

As a real world example of scientific research in action, the first day of week-two was spent sampling in the footsteps of Robert E. Gregg and collecting ants from his original 1969 study sites (Gregg 1972). Armed with basic instructions on the identification of the 1969 sampled ant species and genera, we visited a total three sites: Cape Merry, the Churchill Welcome Sign, and Goose Creek Bog. At each site, we spent approximately three hours actively searching for ants, breaking open woody debris and digging into moss hummocks. This was true for all but the Goose Creek site where our (brand new bus) tire sprung a leak and we had no choice but to wait there (which may have resulted in a thoroughly sampled population of Odonates) until Alex Smith, one of the instructors walked into town to radio the Churchill Northern Studies Centre for Plan-B transportation. From there it was back to the lab for a crash course on identifying ants to morphospecies, and for many of us, a valuable lesson that all individuals of a species do not look the same (due to individual variation and cryptic diversity). The rest of week-two was spent with groups of students at every site chasing a variety of six-legged, sub-arctic mysteries. Of course, as students of the natural world, no curiosity was overlooked and no opportunity for fun either! Many an hour was spent bluff jumping, polar bear sighting, investigating the Ithaca shipwreck, and in the case of some students, completing a partial reconstruction of an arctic fox skeleton. Needless to say, it was a very short two weeks that passed with discovery and awe.

One of the many species collected - an ant in the Leptothorax muscorum complex, collected at Cape Merry (Photo by Chelsie Xavier-Blower)

One of the many species collected – an ant in the Leptothorax muscorum complex, collected at Cape Merry (Photo by Chelsie Xavier-Blower)

Going into our field course, I’m not sure any of us thought we would come out of it as published authors. For many of us that participated, the Arctic Ecology field course provided the first real opportunity to actively participate in research outside of the university. The idea that a few days’ worth of collections could be turned into a scientific paper was almost unimaginable. The resulting paper was the first publication that any of us had contributed to. It was exciting to receive the manuscript drafts, and then paper proofs and to know that even aspiring researchers like us could contribute to the knowledge of the scientific community.

During the course, we took high-resolution panoramic GigaPan photographs of the areas we sampled (Smith et al 2013) – you can explore those here. All the DNA barcodes we generated during the course are publicly available for download and exploration. Finally, we wrote about using GigaPans in our Churchill adventures in an article for GigaPan Magazine.

Members of the Arctic Ecology Field course 2015

Students of the Arctic Ecology Field course (now published authors!)(Photo by Eric Scott)

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank LeeAnn Fishback and the staff of the Churchill Northern Studies Centre (https://www.churchillscience.ca/) for all their hospitality and help in Churchill. Support from the CREATE Lab Outreach Program at Carnegie Mellon University, the Learning Enhancement Fund of the University of Guelph (http://www.lef.uoguelph.ca/) and the Fine Foundation helped provide funds for GigaPan-ing and DNA barcoding during the course. Support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to Alex Smith and Sarah Adamowicz provided support and infrastructure.

References

Gregg, R.E. 1972. The northward distribution of ants in North America. The Canadian Entomologist, 104: 1073–1091

Smith, M. Alex, S. Adamowicz, Amanda Boyd, Chris Britton-Foster, Hayley Cahill, Kelsey Desnoyers, Natalie Duitshaever, Dan Gibson, Steve James, Yurak Jeong, Darren Kelly, Eli Levene, Hilary Lyttle, Talia Masse, Kate Pare, Kelsie Paris, Cassie Russell, Eric Scott, Debbie Silva, Megan Sparkes, Kami Valkova (2013) “Arctic Ecology” GigaPan Magazine Vol 5 Issue 1. www.gigapanmagazine.org/vol5/issue1/  (students ordered alphabetically)

Smith, M. Alex, Amanda Boyd, Chris Britton-Foster, Hayley Cahill, Kelsey Desnoyers, Natalie Duitshaever, Dan Gibson, Steve James, Yurak Jeong, Darren Kelly, Eli Levene, Hilary Lyttle, Talia Masse, Kate Pare, Kelsie Paris, Cassie Russell, Eric Scott, Debbie Silva, Megan Sparkes, Kami Valkova S. J. Adamowicz  (2015) The northward distribution of ants forty years later: re-visiting Gregg’s 1969 collections in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. The Canadian Entomologist. http://dx.doi.org/10.4039/tce.2015.53

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Meet the Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Entomologist

My name is Chris Buddle – I’m an Associate Professor at McGill University, in Quebec, Canada, and the Editor-in-Chief for The Canadian Entomologist. I have worked at McGill University, in the Department of Natural Resource Sciences, for about 10 years. As a Professor, my work involves all three aspects of academia – teaching, research, and service.

For teaching, I instruct undergraduate courses in our “Environmental Biology” program – this involves teaching courses in both my own area of expertise (entomology) as well as in more general areas (e.g., ecology).

My research program is quite varied; although originally hired as a “Forest Insect Ecologist” my research expertise is broader than that, and I currently oversee graduate students working on insect pest management, the ecology of herbivorous insects in forest canopies, and the biodiversity of Arctic arthropods. The latter initiative is part of a larger-scale project titled the Northern Biodiversity Program.

For “service” I devote a lot of time and energy into my position as the Editor-in-Chief for the Entomological Society of Canada’s flagship journal The Canadian Entomologist (TCE) – a journal that joined a publishing partnership with Cambridge University Press in January of this year.

TCE is an excellent scientific journal, and I am honoured to be associated with it. Its excellence is in part because of TCE’s long history as an internationally renowned entomology journal – it has been published continuously since 1868. TCE is a journal with particularly high editorial and technical standards. We pride ourselves on serving authors well, and on producing a product that has been carefully edited, and that is technically clean. TCE is one of the relatively rare entomology journals that publishes on all facets of the discipline, including taxonomy and systematics, biodiversity and evolution, insect pest management, behaviour and ecology, and more.

We are, therefore, an entomology journal for all entomologists – anyone interested in arthropods can generally find an article of relevance within its pages. I’m also excited about TCE’s new partnership with Cambridge. This publishing house has an equally impressive history, and an equally high standard of publication quality. With this partnership, authors no longer pay page charges for TCE, and receive a complementary PDF of their articles.

As Editor-in-Chief, I have an opportunity to help guide the journal into the future. My editorial objectives include a balance of doing what we have done well in the past (i.e., high quality standards), but also seeking some new opportunities. For example we are initiating a plan to produce a topical “special issue” of TCE every year, for the first issue of each volume. For Volume 145 (the year 2013), we will be devoting an entire issue to the topic of “Perspectives on Arctic Arthropods“. This is an extremely important area of study given the current global concerns about changing climates, especially since some of the effects will be most acute in polar regions. The call for papers for this special issue went out at the end of January, and authors have until 15 June 2012 to submit their manuscripts.

Another objective I have is to continually improve our service to authors. Our move to an on-line manuscript submission system is helping this tremendously and I am continuing to work with my editorial team to tweak the system for the benefit of our authors. I am also interested in bringing entomology, and TCE, to a broader audience. Entomology is a vast and wonderful discipline, but the pages of entomology journals often target a specialized audience. I think a lot of what we publish in the journal is of broad interest, and for that reason, I tweet for the Entomological Society of Canada’s twitter account (follow us: @CanEntomologist). This is an effective way to use social media to highlight articles we publish, activities of the Entomological Society of Canada, and other interesting entomology events and stories. We also have plans to work with our society to develop a blog devoted to entomology in Canada, and TCE will be featured prominently on this blog.

I would like to conclude with a few words of advice for up-and-coming entomologists looking to publish their work. The publication ‘game’ can be a complex one, and it is a changing landscape that can be difficult to navigate. In addition to thinking about the traditional metrics when considering different journals, I do recommend that all potential authors look carefully at the “aims and scope” section for potential venues for publication – it is important that your work will be a good fit with the journal. It’s also easy to be swayed by numerous journals that are sprouting up and seem to be offering everything for nothing. Some journals may seem attractive at first glance, but be aware that quality of service, and the quality of the editorial process, may be less than what could be offered by journals backed by a publisher with strong credentials. More ‘traditional’ journals often have an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes support, and this matters. I will also stress that all authors must strive for a clean, concise, and well-written manuscript. I cannot state strongly enough that careful writing and proofreading is of paramount importance.

In sum, it’s truly a delight to be associated with The Canadian Entomologist and its publication partner, Cambridge University Press. The future is bright for the journal, and I am exciting to work hard to increase the profile and readership of TCE, all the while maintaining its history of excellence. I have assembled a strong editorial team of 20 subject editors, and have additional support from my Editorial Assistant, Dr. Andrew Smith. We are all here to help you publish your best entomological research, and get it into the hands of an international audience.

Read the first issue of the year for free here

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This article was originally published at http://blog.journals.cambridge.org/ and can be found at: http://blog.journals.cambridge.org/2012/04/meet-the-editor-in-chief-of-the-canadian-entomologist/