The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

So, Geek, what ARE you doing up north?

Ok, dearest readers.  You’ve put up with this long enough.  I’ve dropped hints and crumbs and I suspect it’s terribly obnoxious for you to read, because it’s horrifically obnoxious for me to write.

A number of you have asked about the nature of my work here in the north.  I’ve not said anything specific, in the interest of preserving my anonymity (the usefulness of which I pondered over several months ago).   I just re-read the very thoughtful commentary some of you submitted in response to that post, and, well, I’m willing to let it all hang out.

So, here goes:

My work in Kugluktuk is but one small piece of a larger body of work which has been dubbed the Northern Biodiversity Program (NBP).  We are a team of researchers and students from three Canadian universities (McGill University, University of Toronto, and University of Prince Edward Island), supported by a great number of partners.   Over the next two years, we will be conducting broad, standardized arthropod sampling in 12 localities across northern Canada, which, given its size and significance, is woefully understudied.   We will be collecting insects, spiders and other terrestrial arthropods using a number of trapping techniques (malaise, berlese, yellow pan, pitfalls, sweep net, etc.) and are also sampling in aquatic habitats, targeting EPTs and black flies.    

It’s safe to say that we will be generating an enormous inventory of specimens.  These will serve several purposes.  First and most simply, we will provide a current snapshot of insect biodiversity in three ecoclimatic zones of northern Canada.  Secondly, and perhaps most significantly, we will have an opportunity to compare our inventory to that which was generated by the Northern Insect Survey (NIS) – an incredibly major undertaking sponsored by the Government of Canada between 1947 and the mid- 60’s.  Dozens of researchers and students visited over 70 sites across Canada, collecting insects.  This enormously valuable bank of specimens has, for the most part, gone unpublished and unexamined since.  We now have an opportunity to determine how things have changed over the past 5-6 decades.   There is also a strong molecular genetics component to the work; one of our major collaborators is the University of Guelph’s Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding. 

Of course, there will be gagillions of offshoot projects stemming from our collection; we’ll have enough data to support student research projects for the next century.  The PI’s have their own pet taxa and interests.   Personally, I’m broadly interested in how temperature and other environmental variables affects the structure of ground-dwelling insect communities (functional groups) over time.   Through manipulative climate-control experiments in the field here in Kug, and examinations of the NIS and NBP collections, I hope to learn what factors lead to changes in insect community structures in arctic regions.   Since I’m the only researcher stationed in one locality for the entire field season, I also plan to take a close look at the fauna (and seasonal variations) specific to this region.  The other component of my work here is to develop educational opportunities for local people both during my stay (i.e., in-the-field training) and after my departure – I’m working to produce a collection of locally significant insects that will be housed at the high school, and used in educational programs.

So there you go. 

I’m not going to name names, I’m not going to use my own name on this blog, if only to keep it out of Google searches.  But with the information I’ve provided, if you want to know more, there’s lots more to be found.  I leave it up to you.  The Geek will still reign this little corner of the blogosphere.  Nothing changes.  I’ve just entrusted you to a peek inside my world because…well, gosh, because y’all are just so darn awesome. 

Let’s carry on, shall we?

3 responses to “So, Geek, what ARE you doing up north?

  1. Morgan Jackson July 11, 2010 at 5:52 PM

    Awesome Geek! I had wondered whether you were a part of the NIS given the little hints you had provided, but didn’t want to blow your cover! I hope that this breach in anonymity doesn’t have any repurcussions in your future, but judging from what you’ve written about here and your passion, I’m 100% confident that your scientific ability will speak for itself! Best of luck and I can’t wait to see the results from this important Canadian project!

    • TGIQ July 14, 2010 at 2:43 PM

      I’m very lucky to be involved in this project, that’s for sure! It’s neat that we’re collaborating with your school! Any chance you’ll be involved with it at all?

      • Morgan Jackson July 14, 2010 at 6:19 PM

        Our lab has little to do with the Barcoding group, and they don’t often send things our way, so unlikely unfortunately! However, if you have any Diptera questions feel free to ask or send pictures/specimens!

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