Friday, April 23, 2010

SciFri Video: Leps under water

I have seen Dan Rubinoff speak about these leps and others he studies at various conferences.  It's really amazing work. I actually inquired a bit about working with him at one point, a long time ago. He's really great and is finding some interesting things in Hawaii.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

MEEC 2010

This weekend is the Midwest Ecology and Evolution Conference in Ames, Iowa.  Last night was the first of three plenary talks, delivered by Dr. Jeff Feder. I was somewhat familiar with his work and really interested in hearing more about his take on mechanisms that promote speciation.  The talk was so much better than I could have ever expected.  He captured many aspects that are of increasing interest to me including speciation, insects as model organisms, sympatric speciation (ecological), post/prezygotic isolation, biodiversity... It gave me a new lease on life by hearing him talk about these large concepts that drive his research because we share so much in common. 

Before his talk I sat down with a friend and mentor, just to catch up because I hadn't seen her in a while.  We talked about life and work and the balance of those to ever important items.  Many women at the same stage as I am now drop out of the pipeline.  Disappear from academia and become mothers, or follow their spouses to jobs.  It's a very difficult decision to "sacrifice" your work for that of someone else.  Even successful people drop out at this juncture.  So these thoughts were going through my mind as I was captivated by fly-parasite-plant interactions. 

I don't know where we will be in a year, two years, four years.  But hopefully my work can take a new direction at this point.  Not that the current direction is bad, but I have other ideas on how to integrate my interests in ecology, evolution and entomology.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blogging from NCB ESA

This week is spring break, which for many may mean white sand beaches and sunny skies.  The skies here in Louisville have not been sunny and the temperatures colder than I was hoping for by going south.  But the Brown Hotel is beautiful, the streets lively and the entertainment enlightening.  I've been at the North Central Branch meeting of the Entomological Society of America, arriving Saturday night and leaving tomorrow morning.  You may be thinking to yourself "gosh, Kentucky doesn't seem like 'north central' to me".  It didn't to me, but the lines need to be drawn somewhere so here we are in sunny, warm Kentucky.  Well, last week it was sunny and warm at least.

I came, mainly to give a presentation on the recent modeling work I've been doing on common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica L.), and correlating the distribution with soybean aphid (Aphis glycines), looking for trends over time.  I know little to nothing about soybean aphids, especially in comparison to folks at this conference where soybean aphids are one of the pests on soybeans and most people here work in the soybean growing region.  My worst fears were realized minutes from disembarking from the plane.  A fellow entomologist spotted me and quickly inferred that I was a bug nerd (how I'm not sure, I wasn't wearing the standard caddisfly earrings or bee broach).  He quickly starting asking me questions about the supercooling point of soybean aphids and other questions for which I had no answers.  My talk did not go the greatest.  The power strip connecting the projector and laptop was placed right at the feet of the presenter and I happened to step right on the on/off switch, which turned off the projector and needed a long time to cool down and warm back up.  I plowed through okay, but was flustered for the rest of the talk.  Better luck next time.

Others have had similar problems, but in general the talks have gone well and most importantly are more insightful than I was expecting.  The symposium today on organics was mostly not about insects, and provided a lot of interesting talks.  The overarching theme of these talks was that not all organic farmers are battling insect pests.  This may boil down to the differences in soil between conventional and organic farms.  Larry Phelan at OSU gave a really interesting talk on the differences in soil between these two types of farms. My other favorite talk from this symposium was on using hogs to control plum curculio in Michigan.  In addition to being very successful as a method of integrated pest management, my favorite part of this talk was referring to hogs that have gone to market as "long since bacon".

The other symposium I really enjoyed was new innovations in entomology on the first day.  Many of the talks were about using new technologies to answer long standing questions in entomology.  There are really some creative people doing fascinating research.  One of them is Eileen Hebets at Nebraska. I had seen her give a talk at ISU and was therefore familiar with her work. If you have a chance to see her talk, she does some really creative research.

Overall, some of the statistical methods have made me cringe, the lack of evolutionary considerations are disappointing and at times the degree of science is not what I'm used to.  There have been very few talks on evolution or systematics. On more than one occasion after asking what I work on and hearing the response, people have said "what are you doing here then?".  It's too bad that this attitude exists within some of the members.  That said, the diversity of talks is better than I was expecting. There was an entire symposium on gene silencing, which for this conference is a step in the right direction.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Year of Biodiversity

Did you know that 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity, declared by the United Nations?  I certainly didn't.  I know I'm doing my part this year by describing a new species. What are you doing?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

From Coast to Coast

My crane fly collecting this summer for the most part was spent solo, in the car, out in the woods alone with the friendly mosquitoes and black flies to keep me company. This summer was exceptionally bad for these blood sucking flies (well, I guess good if you look at it from their perspective). The weather was wet and rainy, something I hadn't really experienced collecting in the west the last two years. Dragging out a wet tent every night, putting on wet gear was exhausting. Looking back on it I wouldn't have traded any of it for the sights I saw and the experiences I had.
Bradford Bog

Near the very beginning of my trip, on the first leg I was greeted by my good friends and fellow EEB folks Daelyn and Dave. As new faculty members at Central Michigan, Daelyn and Dave are settling in to a new life, much improved from the poverty stricken graduate student life. They were great hosts and the visit was much appreciated on both ends. We swapped stories about the field and living out of tents, caught up on knowledge of mutal friends, remembered our dear friend Ron and fantastic biologist that had passed away, had some great food and drinks, a much needed shower (for me) and then headed off on Memorial Day to do some collecting of flies and unionids alike. We came up successful on both accounts. Daelyn and I spent some time collecting in the nearby Au Sable State Forest. We successfully found one population of adusta after checking at a few locations. The habitats were forested swampy areas with white oak, hemlock and ferns as understory. We then headed off to do some muscle scouting. The highlight of this for me was seeing a female display her glochidia. I was able to take an underwater video.

I then headed to the western edge of Michigan, then northeast to the edge of Lake Huron, south near the "thumb" and home through Canada for a few days rest. Overall this trip to Michigan was sucessfull; approximatley 8 populations of adusta and more importantly the only population of caudifera I found all summer. Here is a map of some of the places I visited.

View summer 2009 in a larger map

I headed north to Canada, collecting at a few places along the way. The Canadian government took away my means of bear and backwoods dangerous humans protection that they themselves insisted on me carrying into National Parks in Canada. Luckily I never felt like I needed it, but never the less was sorry to see my security blanket taken. Fenja Brodo and others had collected adusta from areas surrounding Ottawa. I was fortunate enough to be welcomed in by Fenja and her husband for the weekend, despite their busy schedules. It was a joy to meet her and discuss all things crane flies. Fenja was a great help in reassuring me that my work is worthwhile and prudent. We had a great time collecting. This was the first place where I started seeing flies with some kind of fungus. At this point I have the genus narrowed down, but work still continues on the mystery of the fungus. No fungus of any kind has been reported in these flies and it was very common throughout the remainder of the season, likley rendering the females infertile, which begs so many interesting questions.
Myself and Fenja Brodo in her home.

After a nice restful night I headed back to the homeland, passed through the border without problems and headed to the Adirondacks. Collecting was lack luster, only finding adusta in a few locations. Then I traveled south towards the southern end of the Green Mountains and collected in various places throughout the mountains. The weather was cold and rainy, likely extending the flight season further into June. I was only successful at a few places in Vermont. Next I went east into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I didn't find any populations there, but found many suitable habitats. Maine offered a plethora of bogs and collecting was much easier. By this time the weather had warmed considerably, although I continued to get rained on daily. My rain pants became a permanent feature. I took shelter at Acadia National Park where they provide temporary housing for researchers. I had some human contact, much needed rest and relaxation in an actual bed and time to recover from the black fly bites covering most of my head. I headed into Canada one last time traveling along the Bay of Fundy through New Brunswick and into Nova Scotia. Finding areas to collect was more difficult than in the US, but luckily adusta was quite abundant. Matt met me in Halifax where we spent one luxerious night in a bed and breakfast, then headed back to the wilderness. We collected along the way as we drove back through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and the Adirondacks.

On the Fourth of July I took a redeye flight to California. I was welcomed by many family members, some of which I had never met, in Modesto where I spent the night. I then headed to the Sierra Nevadas where nightly temperatures were around 38 degrees. I was ill prepared to say the least. Crane fly collecting in general was terrible. Very few flies were out at this time here. I did a lot of hiking and driving many miles in search of at least one population of flavapila in hopes of resolving my currently paraphyletic and confusing phylogeny of this genus. At the very last stop, after a week of searching, at a place where Matt and I had looked but collected nothing in 2007, but where Joseph Speed Rogers had collected columbiana many years ago, after spending 30 minutes finding nothing, I walked back to the car, defeated. I gasped and saw what was obviously Neophylidorea. I caught her easily, sat down and sighed. My trip was not wasted. (Not to spoil the story, but I have since analyzed the data and this population was only columbiana and did not provide any resolution to my tree).

One last trip was to the Adirondacks in search of neadusta in late July. This time I was accompanied by our golden Radar and Matt. The weather was great and the area was beautiful. We hiked up to Marcy Dam the continued further towards Avalanche Lake. Again, defeated we hiked back to camp with our nets folded up. My motto (adopted from Matt's somewhat tongue and cheek saying) for the summer has been ABC* Always Be Collecting. This was the epitome of ABC. Matt caught a single female with his hand after Radar and I had already passed her. The habitat was nothing that I would have expected. She was full of fungus and not flying well at all. (Again, not to spoil the story, but because this was a female it's difficult to say whether morphologically she is neadusta, but molecularly she matches adusta well). We had a good hearty breakfast the next morning, did some additional collecting at Browns Tract Bog where I had hoped to get enough specimens to take back to Cornell to culture the fungus, and headed home. We were only able to find a single male and he didn't survive the two hour trip home.

Since then I have collected locally having some success. I haven't been able to find any individuals locally that are infested with the fungus, and therefore have had no luck culturing it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Microsoft Molecular Patent?

An update on my summer research will have to wait. The most recent issue of Science included an article about Microsoft and a patent application they submitted having to do with using molecular data to infer phylogenies. From the article it sounds like the patent was written to be too broad encompassing and simple to be approved. However, if such a patent were to pass it would have huge affects. I have to wonder what the rules are for patent applications to pass. Do they take into considerations such as slowing down the progress of scientists when making their decisions? Who makes such decisions and how knowledgeable about they about molecular phylogenetics? This is a world of which I am unaware.