Monthly Archives: September 2012

Make sure to know the definitions

My last post was all about the fun of collecting. Once the data has been collected and analysed it is imperative that you publish your findings. Spread the knowledge.

I have come to one of those writing points recently. One of the chapters of my thesis is ready to be prepared for publication. I was very excited to write it until… the definitions of the terms of my field started getting blurred in my mind. Does this really mean this or can that term be misinterpreted? Does the system that I study really fit properly under this definition? Will the reviewers think I’m completely out of it? These questions started consuming every moment of my days and nights.

I would like to expand on my problem. As I have written before, I work on host-parasite associations. So coevolution, evolutionary arms races and diffuse coevolution are terms I run into daily. The term Coevolution has been thoroughly investigated in the early 1980s when three different authors wrote books about the subject (Thompson 1982, Futuyma and Slatkin 1983, and Nitecki 1983). I have noticed that they have often been misinterpreted in the literature. If a two species are living together in the same area, it does not necessarily mean they are coevolving together. Reciprocal evolutionary changes from both species are necessary to consider it coevolution. Thinking about the study system I study, damselflies develop resistance but they are counter-acted by others, so check! I study coevolution!

Evolutionary arms races are easier to define because in this case it is coevolution with antagonistic relationships. Most published papers and work agree on this, so that one does not give me grief.

Diffuse coevolution on the other hand, I still can’t wrap my head around. Most people define it as coevolution where more than one species coevolve and where one of the species is more successful with one of the other species. I find this a very nebulous term because I think it will very difficult determine whether this is actual coevolution.

I think for my publication, I will have a definition table to clearly state what I mean by the terms I use. Hopefully I use them correctly. If not, the reviewers first and then maybe the readers will be able to assess the definition’s validity

These are just a few of the terms that give me trouble sometimes. I think nebulous terms exist in every field and have to be thoroughly reconsidered. I suggest, once you start working in a field make sure you’re clear on the terms you use and if not, maybe a clear re-definition is necessary for the future workers in the field.


Futuyma, D.J. and Slatkin, M. 1983. Coevolution. Sinauer press. 555pp.

Nitecki, M.H. 1983. Coevolution. University of Chicago press. 392pp.

Thompson, J.N. 1982. Interaction and Coevolution. Wiley press. 179pp.


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Summer field collecting – look past your collecting sites and discover the world

When on a collecting trip, I encourage every scientist or biologist to visit places other than your collecting sites. This may be stressful if collecting is not going to plan but a break for a few hours may actually help in taking the edge off and re-discovering why we started doing what we do in the first place. On the other hand, if your collecting is going well, there is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself with a few hours of looking around and discovering the areas around you.

Luckily I was in the latter group this summer. My collecting was going really well (my previous post gives the reason for my trip, this post is all about the other things I saw) so I decided to reward myself with a few days of discovering Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Pic 1 – Drumheller and grain elevator

Because I was mostly collecting in southern Alberta, I decided to visit Drumheller, the Royal Tyrrell museum and Dinosaur Provincial Park. I haven’t been much of a dinosaur person since I was a kid, but these places are amazing. Drumheller has the most interesting geology (Pic 1). The Royal Tyrrell museum is excellent to learn all about deep earth history. The exhibit takes you through time from the first living organisms to the most recent species. It is very well made and you can easily spend a few days exploring the museum itself. Finally Dinosaur Provincial Park is a very surreal place. Arriving to the park, you are driving on flat agricultural fields until there is a canyon-like area that is the Provincial Park (Pic 2). This place is so dry there are black widow spiders and scorpions there; sadly I did not get a chance to see them.

Saskatchewan is a province that is, I think too often overlooked. I managed to see incredible wildlife there, like many white pelicans flying in a V and then filling the sky (Pic 3), black terns diving (Pic 4), an antlion (Pic 5) and my first pronghorn (which I was very excited about) etc.

Pic 3 – Flock of Pelicans

Pic 4 – Diving black terns

Pic 5 – Antlion, a rare find

While driving back from Alberta, I decided to drive through the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park into Saskatchewan (Pic 6). I also had time to visit Fort Walsh which is very interesting from the Canadian history. I also had time to drive back by Grasslands National Park. Sadly I was running out of time and could spend a lot of time there.

Pic 6 – Reesor Lake in the Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park

Finally I drove through a bit of Manitoba. I stopped at the Spirit Sands. Again, sadly, I only managed to see a small proportion of the sand dunes before lightning and thunder made me retreat. However, while I was in Manitoba I visited the Criddle-Vane homestead. As a student of Canadian entomology, I could not miss the opportunity to visit such an important place for the history of entomology in Canada (Pic 7). It is quite a spot and I understand why anybody would be interested in insects in such a wondrous place. Finally because I have been fascinated in grasslands since I started studying Chloropids, I had to see what a tall grass prairie looked like. There is a remnant tall grass prairie grassland just east of Tolstoi, just North of the US-Canada border. It was very neat to see but there were a lot of ticks there, so remember to always tuck your pant legs into your socks.

Pic 7 – Criddle-Vane Homestead, a historic site for Canadian entomology

I just skimmed over everything I managed to seen my trip, but there is so many interesting things everywhere you go, that I urge you to go and explore wherever it is you are collecting.

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