Featured articles in 2010
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October 25th, 2010
ISBE 2010 conference travel report
Text by Melanie McClure
I recently attended the International Society of Behavioral Ecology conference in Perth, Australia in September 2010. This conference, which occurs every 2 years, was an extraordinary opportunity for several reasons. Scientific conferences are a great opportunity to develop and perfect communication skills, which are essential in presenting the results of our work before our peers. As such, my poster presentation entitled "Group foraging in a social caterpillar: consistent or transient leaders?" was a success and I received positive feedback and valuable comments on my research. I met many researchers studying related questions on different organisms and who provided useful insights towards the current research for my PhD. Also, there were several plenary talks being held that I was very excited to attend. For example, Dr. Krause is a renowned researcher on the topic of individual interactions and group behaviour, which is a large part of my thesis as well as the subject of my presentation.
And lastly, as I am presently undertaking the final year of my doctoral studies at Concordia, attending a large and important scientific conference such as the ISBE enabled me to meet with other researchers in my field and to discuss post-doctoral opportunities and possible research venues. Attending so many interesting and varied talks has also broadened my scientific knowledge and interests.
It was thanks to travel support provided by CEF that I was able to attend this important conference by providing funding to offset the costs of travel and accommodation.
October 25th, 2010
International Society for Arachnology: Congress 2010
Text by Joseph Bowden
This past summer I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the annual meeting of the International Society for Arachnology in Siedlce, Poland from July 12 – July 18, 2010. At this conference I had the opportunity to present some of my doctoral research (on biodiversity and life history of spiders in the Arctic) to most of the top arachnologists in the world. Naturally I was able to meet many of the leading researchers from around the world in the field of Arachnology which allowed me to forge new scientific relationships, many of which may become future collaborators/associates.
The topics at this conference were quite diverse; with three concurrent sessions many topics were covered, a few of which were: biogeography, biodiversity, behaviour, systematics, reproduction, conservation and silks. The attendees included such famous arachnologists as Robert Raven, Friedrich Barth, Wayne Maddison and William Eberhard. I would like to thank the Centre D’étude de la forêt for their support in enabling me to attend and present at this conference.
September 9th, 2010
A dendrochronology fieldweek in the country of millennial trees
Text by Sebastien Renard
Warm and dry air, a jet blue sky and white dolomite that reflects the sun. On one side the Sierra Nevada and its 14000 feet peaks, on the other, Death Valley. An open forest with ghostlike trees where time seems to flow more slowly than anywhere else.
It is in this unique environment that the 20th North American Dendroecological Fieldweek (NADEF) was held from the 5th to the 13th of August 2010. Dr. Jim Speer, from Indiana State University, with the help of numerous collaborators, organised this intensive field course on the art of deciphering information held within tree rings. The basic principle of dendrochronology is that each year, a tree grows a ring of wood with characteristics that vary depending of the environmental conditions. This course took place at the White Mountain Research Station , in the Inyo National Forest near Bishop, CA. Around Forty researchers, professionals, students, teachers and dendro-impassioned participants learned, used and developed dendrochronological techniques to study the tree species with the longest living known individuals: the bristlecone pine, Pinus longeava. Numerous individuals are thousands of years old and their dean Methuselah is 4844 years old.
Attendees were divided in five different groups according to their preferences or area of research, each group focussing on a different aspect of dendrochronology. The introductory group, led by Lisah Ababneh (independent researcher), learned the fundamental techniques of site selection and sampling and also discovered wood anatomy. They also learned the famous crossdating technique and used it to create a master chronology.
Peter Brown (Colorado State University) and Chris Gentry (Austin Peay State University) led the fire ecology group: they studied the fire history of a ponderosa pine stand near Mammoth, CA. Using fire scars, they showed that drought events were not the main factor influencing fire intervals but that the ignition event (caused by lightning or people) was probably more important. Some of the students in this group had the opportunity to experience sampling with a huge chainsaw called “The Beast” (a Stihl 460 with a 28’’ bar).
The dendroclimatology group led by Henry Grissino-Mayer (University of Tenessee) studied the bristlecone pine’s response to climatic variables. Using the ARSTAN and DENDROCLIM softwares, they showed the importance of spring precipitations on bristlecone pine growth in Methuselah grove.
The group led by Kate Hrinkevich (University of Northern British Columbia) with the help of Tom Harlan (University of Arizona) worked on reconstructing a long chronology. This group had the privilege to work with exceptionally old samples of dead trees from Methuselah Grove along with some samples of historical significance collected by Edmund Schulman himself, pioneer of modern dendrochronology. Using a combination of dating softwares (CROSSDATING and COFECHA), visual scanning and exceptional patience they dated some samples at -5210 yrs (which means these pieces of wood were 7220 years old!).
I participated in the dendroecology group, led by Jim Speer and Adelia Barber (University of California). We worked on the age structure of a high elevation (~3000 m) bristlecone pine stand. We dated mortality events and establishment periods and used these results in combination with Adelia Barber’s PhD data to model the temporal dynamics of this stand using a Leslie population matrix. Our results showed that recently, juvenile individuals (<60 yrs old), have experienced very little mortality which led to a population increase. Moreover, the analyses of the spatial patterns showed a clustering of juveniles while adults were more regularly spaced. Therefore there is an increase and a densification of this White Mountains bristlecone pine population, probably because of favourable climatic conditions the last 50 years, and this dynamic might continue if no mass mortality event occurs (fire, pathogen, superdrought).
The last day of the fieldweek, each group presented its results during a presentation session in front of all the participants and individual reports will be provided by each group to the National Science Foundation. Our last evening had a summer camp atmosphere: an awesome diner (thanks to the cooks), a camp fire with songs and a meteor shower (thanks to the Perseids). The feeling of time moving in slow motion near bristlecone pines almost made us forget that it was time to leave the White Mountains.
This dendroecology fieldweek was an extremely rewarding experience: thanks to the dynamic organising team, we shared intense moments as much around microscopes and computers than during Jim’s «Hacky Sack» breaks or around the camp fire. Therefore, I strongly recommend the next NADEF(s) to every student beginning a project involving dendrochronology. Finally, I would like to thank the Center for Forest Research and my supervisor Eliot McIntire for giving me the opportunity to attend this course. I would also like to thank Jim Speer and his 20th NADEF team for succeeding in making me enjoy dendrochronology (I admit I had many doubts about this subject before…).
- Stokes and Smiley, An Introduction to Tree-Ring Dating.
- Speer, Fundamentals of Tree Ring Research
- Site internet Ultimate Tree Ring
- Site internet North American Dendroecological Fieldweek
March 24th, 2010
A workshop on spatial statistics at CRM, a biologists’ perspective
Text Josh Nowak
On March 3, 2010 I traveled with four peers from Université Laval to the University of Montreal for a conference/workshop called Statistical Methods for Geographic and Spatial Data in the Management of Natural Resources . I was excited about the talks and interacting with the attending researchers. I don’t know about the others, but for me there was a bit of a star factor. Many of the presenter’s names are not only known to me, but they are the type of people whose web pages I bookmark for fear that I might miss a paper.
Day one: Following an eye opening talk from keynote speaker Dr. Brian Klinkenberg (UBC), statistician after statistician applied their craft showing us how to solve some amazingly complex problems. The abstracts and slides for almost all of the talks are available on the Centre de Recherches Mathématiques website. Collectively, these talks were my first real exposure to statisticians doing research. The sessions of day one presented me with challenges, exposed me to new tools and reminded me that creativity has a place in our research. I was impressed by the fact that multiple speakers concluded by suggesting applications of their methods in other fields. For example, Patrick Simard focused on image processing utilizing methods grounded in the same theory used to interpolate rain fall earlier in the day. The methods were applied to two different case studies, first he dealt with soil porosity and second medical imaging.
Day two: As promised day two started with a talk covering ground familiar to me, predicting species distributions. The sessions that followed covered a suite of topics from disease prediction to resource selection by animals and fire prediction. The work presented was innovative and interesting. I had arrived in Montreal completely biased towards day two and I was not disappointed. However, as I sit here reflecting on the conference I place great value on the aggregation of such diverse research interests. Often it seems that we attend conferences where the attendees are all viewing the world through the same lens, but in this case we had little in common. Thus the focus was placed on solving the problem at hand, not the biology or even the method.
I needed that, I needed to be challenged, I needed to be exposed to other ways of approaching research projects, I needed to get out of my own head and out from behind my desk. The conference was a great example of the positive results that can come from bridging the seemingly cavernous gaps between different fields of research.