Positions and projects

A few updates from my home office as I continue to work from home:

  • I am looking for some help counting cones from photos of spruce trees. It can be done remotely with free software, if you are interested in helping out clicking on cones from your couch please send me an email!
  • I am grateful to have been awarded a Mitacs Research Training Award to help fund and train me in handling biologger data this term. I’m wrangling years’ worth of squirrel movement data to help answer questions about resource use and activity!
  • As of September, I have completed my tenure as President of the University of Saskatchewan’s Biology Graduate Student Association (BGSA), a role now taken up by my labmate and fellow squirreler Dylan Baloun. The full report summarizing what we did this past (totally wild and unpredictable) year, including my President’s report, can be read here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nbsCljGiRNkR0ihJsh0VEYssdkx1kAAyEvjHv_hCKV0/edit?usp=sharing
  • Since June, I have been serving as one of two Student/Postdoctoral Councilors for CSEE, along with Sharon Wang at Guelph. Lots of new initiatives and changes coming!
  • I am now a voting member of the University of Saskatchewan’s Faculty Council, and am looking forward to the first meeting of the academic year this afternoon
  • Working on a really fun manuscript coming to a preprint server near you soon with entomologist Dr Morgan Jackson
  • I’m looking forward to teaching BIOL 302 again for the second time next term! Learned a lot of lessons from my first time around as a sessional lecturer (with a pandemic thrown into the mix), and am planning how to help create a good and effective experience for students learning evolution remotely come January.
  • I’ll be delivering a guest lecture later this month to the University of Central Florida on sex ratios based around our 2018 Proc B paper “Is biasing offspring sex ratio adaptive? A test of Fisher’s principle across multiple generations of a wild mammal in a fluctuating environment” . I think this is the second time one of my papers has been on a course syllabus!
  • I am indeed still working on my PhD thesis among all this!
  • That being said, I am beginning to search for the next chapter in my journey, so if you think I might be a good fit for your postdoctoral positions or job openings, please get in touch!

    –A

Autumn in Saskatchewan

This is the first year since 2015 I won’t be conducting fieldwork on food-caching red squirrels in Kluane, Yukon. While I miss that population of squirrels immensely, this year offers me the chance to observe the preparation for winter in a different locale. Recently I took a day trip up to Prince Albert National Park into the very southern edge of boreal forest, and I was delighted to see the squirrels in black spruce and jack pine forest gathering snacks for their larders. While Kluane squirrels live in white spruce forest, the biology of black spruce and jack pine are different enough that squirrel tactics are a bit different and the forests aren’t as familiar to me. Nevertheless, I got to meet a champion food cacher along the Waskesiu River Trail caching cones and watch it hucking dirt as it hollowed out tunnels to store the food underground.

Being about 10 degrees in latitude further south than I typically am this time of year, it’s interesting watching the shift between summer and fall, those annual timings of the natural world referred to as “phenologies”. Here in Sask, the canola is mostly swathed, ducks are beginning to flock together again, and squirrels are a bit more visible as they run around to stock up on energy (eating lots to put on fat for hibernation in the case of thirteen-lined ground squirrels in Saskatoon, and gathering non-perishable foods like seeds to eat throughout the winter for non-hibernating animals like my favourite red squirrels).

As for me, I’m preparing for a long, cold, Saskatchewan winter by ensuring I’m getting outside lots now while the days are still long, harvesting honey from our bees, making jam from our raspberries, and planning out some hikes now that I don’t have to gather data on everything I see this fall – even though I know I’ll keep spending hours watching red squirrel antics anyways.

Red squirrel sitting on a log

North American red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) after chowing down on a jack pine cone. August 2020 Prince Albert National Park, Fisher Trail.

20200817_142146

Waskesiu River, Prince Albert National Park

Tree trunk with a squirrel midden

Red squirrel middens are characterized by piles of discarded spruce or pine cone bracts that squirrels rip off cones when trying to get at the tasty seeds inside. These “garbage piles” create a soft surface in which squirrels dig underground tunnels to store new, unopened cones that can be retrieved and eaten in winter months. Some squirrels will take advantage of the structural integrity provided by tree root systems to help support these tunnels – plus, they can live in the tree, so it’s a quick trip downstairs for a snack.

20200817_143329

A bit of a blurry photo thanks to my old camera phone and zooming in from the boardwalk, but in the centre of the photo those little brown pellets are actually black spruce cones that a squirrel has gathered and piled up on top of the midden. The piles of cones will eventually be buried underground by the squirrel. Here, it wasn’t long after taking this photo that the squirrel who defends the territory came back with more cones and began excavating tunnels that will be filled with cones soon enough.

Summer meetings, fall seminar, and upcoming venues

EDIT: So much for 2020 conferences! Please stay safe and I hope to see you in the near future. –A

 

A bit delayed, but here is the poster for my recent seminar in the WildEcol seminar series, presented jointly by the University of Saskatchewan and Environment Canada in Saskatoon, SK.

Next weekend I’ll be heading to Edmonton, AB to participate in our annual collaborators meeting (“Squirrel Meeting”) to work through 2019 data and review the past field season. You can follow @KluaneSquirrels on Twitter to see what we’re up to.

I’m planning on attending at least the following two conferences in 2020; if you’re looking for speakers for your symposium in these or other meetings, get in touch!

  • Canadian Society of Zoologists in Saskatoon, SK (May 11-15 2020)
  • Canadian Society for Ecology & Evolution in Edmonton, AB (May 28-31)

This past August, myself and Dr Jeff Bowman co-chaired the symposium Collecting data across generations: the inaugural symposium of CSEE’s Long-Term Research Section at the annual CSEE meeting in Fredericton, NB. In addition to catching up with friends, enjoying the seafood, and seeing fin whales in the Bay of Fundy, I presented the results of my survey of graduate student experiences within long-term research projects (“Here for a grad time, not a long time: graduate student experiences and perspectives in long-term ecological research”). Many thanks to all of our invited speakers and the attendees who participated in our panel discussion! Stay tuned for something new for LTR-CSEE next summer in Edmonton. You can register as a member (free for now!) and find out more about the section at https://www.ltr-csee.com/.

SURVEY INVITATION: grad student experiences in long-term research

Hi all!

I am conducting a research study entitled: Graduate Student Perspectives and Experiences in Long-Term Ecological Research Projects and would like to invite you to share this survey invitation with your current and former graduate students who have conducted graduate research on long-term ecological research projects, and if this criterion applies to you as well I encourage you to participate yourself!

The purpose of this survey is to investigate the experiences of current graduate students and former graduate students who conduct(ed) graduate research in conjunction with long-term ecological research projects, defined here as projects that follow individual organisms within a wild population and measure the same core data types (variables) over many years and which typically generate long-term data suitable for answering questions about changes in wild populations (of plants, animals, or other living beings) and environments. This survey seeks to gauge the range of perspectives and experiences of graduate students involved in such research, to be discussed in a symposium regarding data management in long-term ecological research.

Eligibility: Participants must have conducted some graduate level research in conjunction with a long-term project as described above. Further details, including the participation consent form, can be found following the survey link hosted by the University of Saskatchewan through Survey Monkey.

Ethics: This study has received approval from the Research Ethics Board at the University of Saskatchewan.

Survey link: https://www.surveymonkey.ca/r/ZXVVH8D

I’m looking forward to sharing the results at our upcoming symposium on data management in long-term research at the CSEE annual meeting in Fredericton, New Brunswick in August 2019.

Field research opportunities

We will be looking to hire field research assistants for the June-October Cache Crew working with North American red squirrels in Kluane, Yukon soon! Get in touch with me (andrea dot wishart @usask.ca) to find out more, or watch this space for more details!

IMG_1590_ed

A male red squirrel feeds in a spruce tree.

 

New article in Proceedings B! Litter sex ratios in red squirrels

I am very excited to announce our new paper is out in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences!

Wishart AE, Williams CT, McAdam AG, Boutin S, Dantzer B, Humphries MM, Coltman DW, Lane JE (2018) Is biasing offspring sex ratio adaptive? A test of Fisher’s principle across multiple generations of a wild mammal in a fluctuating environment. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 285(1891):

 

This paper means a lot to me for a few reasons, beyond the value of the reults. One, it’s my first ever first-author paper, and I’m so pleased for it to be in my beloved Kluane Red Squirrel Project study system with this team. Two, I learned so, so much about our data, R, and models in general. Three: it has its roots in some good old fashioned field musings!

During my first field season in 2016 in the Yukon working with red squirrels, I was on the spring nest team where we follow female pregnancies and try to pinpoint the exact date that each female gives birth to her pups. This means lots of telemetry, lots of snowshoeing, lots of tree climbing, but also the amazing experience of holding lots of day-old (and sometimes younger!) baby squirrels. When we find the nests, we count how many pups there are of each sex. It started to seem like many of the nests we were doing in one area had lots of litters of 2 males, 1 female, but that certainly wasn’t the rule and we did see a lot of variation around that. Sitting around in the cookshack, we started asking whether that was typical for red squirrels. And, what was the adult sex ratio of red squirrels anyways? We are lucky in the Kluane Red Squirrel Project to have a fully-enumerated population that we can ask these questions in. And even better, this project has been running for decades, meaning I could dive into the long-term records to find an answer over many, many years.

Of course, once one starts wading into the literature on sex ratio theory, one realizes that there is a huge body of work that already exists. While the reading list grew, it also sparked much more interesting, in-depth, and broadly interesting questions beyond a simple species-specific wondering. My coauthor, Dr Cory T Williams, who had been a post-doc on the project before I started and is now a professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, had started asking some similar questions about litter sex ratios in red squirrels himself, and so we got in touch and I began to build off the analyses he had already began. The valuable data, ideas, comments, and encouragement from the all of the authors helped immensely to make the manuscript a reality.

Given that the early ideas were born in the boreal forest of the southwest Yukon, it was fitting that I was in the field again when it came time to tackle reviewer comments (which were, to note, not only fair but incredibly constructive and immensely professional – this is the peer review environment I dream of). I managed to upload everything while sitting in our beloved pickup truck Ruby parked next to a ditch along the Alaska Highway – complete with dodgy internet signal, way too little sleep, way too much coffee, and all my current fieldwork on the brain. I had visits from both a moose and a great horned owl, the latter simply stared at me with big eyes and little sympathy while I pulled my hair out over another lost connection. But in the end, it was totally worth it.

I hope you get a chance to look at our paper! If you attended either Wildlife 70 in Peterborough, ON or CSEE 2017 in Victoria, BC, you might have caught the early versions of this work. With all the R scripting and model busting that goes into this kind of project, it is so cool to remember that it all originates from observing a few nests of newborn squirrels in the quiet wilderness of the Yukon. The photo is of me in the field gathering data about a litter (weighing & sexing) before we carefully replaced the pups back with mom, who will raise the these little naked darlings up to become beautiful, chattery red squirrels. •

Screen Shot 2018-12-04 at 3.34.59 PM

 

 

 

New article in American Entomologist

While I was in the field, our feature article on onychophora (“velvet worms”) led by Dr Nina Zitani at the University of Western Ontario was published in the summer issue of American Entomologist. Dr Zitani and coauthor Dr Greg Thorn teach a field course on tropical biology in the cloud forest of Ecuador, which is where we found onychophora in a new microhabitat (arboreal soil). We also found a caterpillar that shares very similar morphology and behaviour alongside a onychophoran itself in the same soil sample. Check out the article online for full-colour plates and access to a supplemental video showing the caterpillar and onychophoran interacting!

Zitani NM, Thorn RG, Hoyle M, Schulz JM, Steipe T, Bohorquez Ruiz Y, Sarquis-Adamson Y, Wishart AE (2018). An onychophoran and its putative lepidopteran mimic in the arboreal bryosphere of an Ecuadorian cloud forest. American Entomologist, 64(2). DOI: 10.1093/ae/tmy025