Two quick updates for this month:
- My full CV is now online here
- The Bio Journal Club at U of S will now be meeting Thursdays at 3:30. Stay up to date with the schedule on this site, or email me to be added to the mailing list
I am very excited to announce our new paper is out in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences!
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. •
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
I’m officially 2 months into my field season that will likely last until mid-October, so it’s about time for an update!
This year, Cache Crew (myself and my field assistant Tessie, a Yukoner herself) has been working hard to find out which patches of boreal forest certain squirrels are calling home this year. For a very territorial, vocal animal like the red squirrel, this sounds easier than it is. Although most squirrels traditionally defend a territory centered around a single food cache called a “midden”, this year there is relatively little food for them and lower densities of squirrels. This means that the remaining squirrels are spreading out a bit more trying to look for food that will fill their bellies right now AND fill their larders to sustain them for the winter.
Once we narrow down where squirrels are living, we are estimating how many white spruce cones (their #1 food source) are growing in spruce trees on their territories to get an idea of what is available for the squirrels to harvest, and also estimating how many cones they have leftover in their middens from previous years. With this information, we know how much stored energy they have stashed in the ground in addition to the potential food energy they might be able to take advantage of.
Sesame Street’s high calibre of training in counting has proven to be quite useful for this PhD! One spruce cone – ah ah ah!
But wait – what about the energy they store on their bodies? Traditionally we have thought of red squirrels as not carrying much body fat, since they don’t hibernate and don’t seem to put on that much weight heading into fall (unlike the Eastern grey squirrel or any hibernating ground squirrel/marmot who you may have encountered as a roly-poly feeding machine during “fat squirrel season”). We’re using some cool technology this year that is typically reserved for medical testing to investigate whether the body fat percentage changes across the food caching season. Have you ever had an MRI or known someone who has? We are using the same technology in squirrel-size to find out! Unlike an MRI, the machine we have doesn’t give us pictures, but it does give us readouts of % body fat, % lean mass (like muscle), and water content. All of this is coming together to give us a dynamic picture of how red squirrels manage energy throughout the food-caching season here in the southwest Yukon!
I was fortunate to be invited to present this research-in-progress at a special symposium on Food Caching in the Wild at the annual Canadian Society for Ecology & Evolution this summer at the University of Guelph. The symposium, organized by Alex Sutton & Dr Ryan Norris, was a fantastic forum to swap food caching findings, and a lovely little break from fieldwork to put it all into perspective.
The fireweed is starting to go to seed and the aspens are beginning to turn gold. Just like the plants know that fall is coming, so do the squirrels. We are starting to see new spruce cones, heavy and purplish-green, stuffed into holes in squirrel middens, and more and more are noticing these tree dwellers scurrying down the spruce with cones in their mouths to bring to their underground storage tunnels.
Stay tuned for updates as we move into the last half of the field season – and importantly, images of fieldwork that my current internet connectivity won’t allow to be uploaded.
I recently wrote an article for The Londoner (London, ON) on behalf of Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Centre about the harm that may be done to wildlife when people take it upon themselves to try to rehabilitate an animal or keep wildlife in their homes.
As a former rehabilitation clinic volunteer and current animal behaviour researcher, I hope my insights into wildlife health and behaviour will help you be a better friend to wildlife:
I am honoured to have my photo “A Squirrel in the Hand is Worth the Whole World” selected by the committee as the grand prize winner for the 2018 Images of Research competition at the University of Saskatchewan, out of a selection of equally incredible and captivating photos from the research community. Thanks to university president Dr Peter Stoicheff for the kind words. Please take a moment to check out the other winners!
I was recently interviewed for a piece in the University of Saskatchewan’s On Campus News about my PhD research and what it’s like to work in the Yukon. You can read it here:
I would like to welcome Chantel Brozny and Tayler Hemsing to the Lane Lab as our newest undergraduate assistants. Chantel and Tayler are helping process thousands of trail camera images taken in fall 2017 as part of my PhD research on squirrel caching behaviour. They have already made great progress identifying squirrel behaviours and have even found images of snowshoe hares, varied thrushes, and spruce grouse lurking on squirrel territories!
I would also like to congratulate my 2017 field assistant Kiley Chernicky for accepting a field position in the Galápagos! Bon voyage and have an amazing field season (even if it doesn’t involve red squirrels and spruce trees…)!
If you are an undergraduate student or a recent graduate looking for opportunities to get involved with research, see this ad for opportunities in my lab including ways to get paid through funding opportunities like NSERC and even do fieldwork in cool places like the Yukon, Grasslands National Park, and the Rocky Mountains.
This just in! We are now posting for undergrad students interested in giving research a go in our lab.
The document text follows; click here for the PDF: Undergrad Ad -USASK 2017.pdf
We have a number of opportunities for motivated and creative
undergraduate students to gain research experience in:
• Field biology
• Wild mammal ecology
• Evolutionary ecology
We maintain long-term (some >30 years in length!) studies of wild mammal
populations (red squirrels, Columbian ground squirrels and black-tailed prairie
dogs) and the tractability of these systems enables a wide diversity of research
questions and interests.
Opportunities are available to be part of summer field crews in:
• Rocky Mountains, Alberta
• Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan
• Kluane National Park, Yukon
As part of one of these crews, you would receive food and accommodation at an
on-site field station, gain hands-on research experience and work with groups of
undergraduate, graduate and faculty researchers. Terms of these positions are
May 1 to Aug 31, and opportunities are available for independent research
We are also looking for undergraduates interested in gaining experience locally
during the semester. We have recently instituted an ecophysiological study of small
mammals in and around Saskatoon and have numerous datasets in hand from the
studies above that could be explored.
Funding (~$1600-2000/month x 4 months) is available through:
• NSERC Undergraduate Student Research Awards (due Jan 30)
• College of Arts & Science Undergraduate Summer Research Assistantships
(due ca. mid-Mar)
• Biology Undergraduate Summer Scholarships (due ca. early-Apr)
• Course credit for research experience can be gained through the following
• BIOL 380: Research Experience in Biology
• BIOL 479: Literature Research in Biology
• BIOL 480: Biology Research
• BIOL 481: Extended Research Project in Biology
If you are interested in any of these opportunities, please get in touch with Dr. Jeffrey Lane ASAP and take note of upcoming funding deadlines. It would be helpful if you could include a copy of (unofficial) transcripts, a CV and brief introduction into research interests.
Dr. Jeffrey Lane
Last weekend I decided to take a quick trip back to my hometown of London, ON, and had a great opportunity to share some squirrely science while I was there. I was grateful for the invitation from Ms Louise Mrnik at Holy Cross Catholic Secondary School in Strathroy, ON to come talk to her grade 9 science class and to meet Mr Matt Greeson, another science teacher and squirrel fan. I gave the students a peak into life in the northern boreal forest with lots of photos of forest residents (like lynx and bison), lots of interesting things we have discovered about ecology and evolution from studying red squirrels for 30 years, and how we as scientists use hypotheses and careful methodology in the field, just like the students are learning to do in the classroom. I was so impressed by the level of questions they had, evidence of good logic paired with curiosity! Thanks so much for hosting me and I’m looking forward to coming back next year!