Tribulations of a young scientist

Lately I’ve been participating at a few scientific events within the framework of my master’s degree and it has been a very busy and stimulating couple of months. Approaching the end of my journey in my supervisor’s lab, the pressure to produce enduring results is increasing steadily: I’ll need notably to write one or two paper(s) to publish. So in the meanwhile, I had to share with the scientific community my results so far and their meaning in the grand scheme of things.

Since I’ve not yet introduced properly my work on this blog, let’s get rid of that now. Doing a master’s degree in the biological science department of Université de Montréal (Québec, Canada), I’m interested in the invasive species systems where populations of wild animals or plants are experiencing a great range expansion across the territory, colonizing new habitats. More specifically, I’m studying the impact of range expansion on the population genetic structure of the Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae).

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Source: USDA

For those of you who are unaware of this little beetle, it’s a small insect (about the size of a grain of rice) native of pine forests of western North America (from British Columbia to north of Mexico). Found in great numbers during an outbreak, these beetles mass attack several pine tree species and drill holes in their bark, laying eggs underneath it. The larvae then develop while eating the phloem (the living tissue of the tree): this herbivorism along with the introduction of pathogen fungi species rapidly kill the host tree. When there’s millions of these beetles across the landscape, the forest stands swiftly turn from green to red.

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Source: USDA

Historically, the Canadian populations of the mountain pine beetle have been secluded by the Rocky Mountains in British Columbia and have been part of a natural equilibrium of forest regeneration. However, since the beginning of the current outbreak (early 2000s), populations have undergone a massive range expansion, crossing the mountain barrier to Alberta and heading northward to the Canadian territories and Alaska.

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Present and historic distributions of mountain pine beetle and pine species. Dotted arrows represent potential expansion.

Several agents may be in cause: climate changes allowing warmer winters and higher survivability of the beetles, forest industry’s logging methods homogenizing the stands properties, upper atmospheric winds transporting beetles kilometers away, etc. Of course, we can’t tell for sure what’s behind this new behavior. One hypothesis researchers attempt to verify is the possibility of an evolutionary process granting beetles the sufficient tools to continuously expand their range through novel habitats and novel tree hosts. Unfortunately, current statistical methods aimed to answer those kind of questions perform poorly on populations experiencing a massive range expansion. My humble task in this story is to identify the conditions where those statistical methods can’t be trusted and when it is important to analyse genetic data with more caution.


So going back to my recent scientific “twists and turns”, here’s an overview of the meetings I have been attending.

2016 US-IALE Annual Meeting in Asheville, NC

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The International Association of Landscape Ecology (IALE) is a huge association of academic and governmental researchers mostly working in USA and all working on various questions related to landscape ecology and spatial analyses. For example, I assisted to presentations sessions about spatial connectivity in fragmented landscapes, on natural disturbances such as forest fires, on landscape genetics… Even on thermodynamics! This great variety of subjects vulgarized by more than 200 participants made my first week of April a stimulating one. I had the opportunity to chat with specialists in my field of research: people I’ve been reading papers since two years now! On top of that, I gave a presentation on the first morning and it went very well, my English coming out better than I would expect. I received interesting questions and commentaries, and some of the attendees seemed quite involved with my project.

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Great place to have a taste of the vast selection of local beers!

And of course, I can’t skip saying two or three things about the meeting’s location. Leaving a cold and harsh Montréal, I was quite surprised and glad to step out of the plane in a sunny and springlike Asheville. Trees were blossoming and temperature was perfectly cozy. My colleagues and I had a great time each night picking which of the hundreds of bars and micro-breweries we would try and wandering around the atypical streets of this booming city nested in the forest and mountains. Although being quite busy all week, we had the chance before leaving to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and have a peak at this vast wild landscape.

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Snowy and windy at the top!

10th Annual Conference of the CEF

Back in Montréal, I attended a short meeting of two days at Université de Québec à Montréal (UQAM), reuniting a wide range of people working in the forest industry in Québec: among which many researchers, students and forest engineers. The Conference was good, but a bit far from my personal work interests for me to be really engaged during the talks. In spite of this, my presentation went really well again and I had a good time interacting with other students and my lab colleagues.

TRIA-Net Annual General Meeting

Shortly after the previous conference, I had to take a flight to Edmonton (Alberta) where I had to present along with a colleague a scientific poster. This meeting regroups a network of Canadian researchers trying to figure out together what we could do about that mountain pine beetle situation in Canada. It was my second presence to this meeting and it’s always great to see again all those interesting and competent persons working every day directly with this insect. I didn’t had the chance to explore Edmonton, but the University of Alberta campus and its surroundings sure are much nicer than our own campus at Université de Montréal.

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Source: TRIA-Net, University of Alberta

FCM Summer School

I had to cut short my participation at the TRIA-Net meeting to go to a summer school a bit north of Montréal, after taking a red-eye flight from Edmonton. This formation is offered by the Forest Complexity Modelling program who financed my researches last year. The one week formation happened this year at the Station de Biologie des Laurentides, a research facility owned by my university in a wild setting, not far from Montréal.

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Source: Virginie Angers, UQAM

Arriving on Wednesday, I was a bit groggy after the night flight but I soon recovered and was able to take part in discussions with other students attending the course. Through the rest of the week, we had good presentations from researchers on various topics, mostly about the modelling of forests ecosystems. My colleague and I quite enjoyed the spot, that we know very well by now, although there were lots of black flies.

Paul

My travel Journal

Hello people of the world! Let me tell you a bit about my travel journal.

Before going on a 3 weeks trip to Europe, I set a goal: to fill an entire journal during the trip with drawings, writing & collage. A real travel journal. I never filled a sketchbook in 3 weeks, so that was quite a challenge!

I chose as my travel journal a moleskine sketchbook, regular size (5″ x 8-1/4″, 104 pages). They changed their paper in recent year and it takes watercolor much better now.

I brought my fountain pens ( lamy safari fine, lamy safari calligraphy 1.1, pilot metropolitan fine, and pilot parallel pen 2.4), a white gel pen (sakura), a glue stick, two waterbrushes, a whiteout pen, and some colored pilot c-4 (not pictured). I also brought 2-3 washi tapes to add business cards and other ephemera in my journal. And finally, my watercolor kit!

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My art material for the trip!

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My watercolour kit

When I chose my material for the trip, I thought about what kind of everyday bag I would carry, how I wanted to record my memories on paper, would we stop often or not?

Before my trip, I filled a page with a list of everything I was bringing, two pages with the itinerary (including the details of the flights, confirmation #, companies, city etc), I wrote my name and address in the front page and emergency numbers on the back. The interesting stuff haha!

I made a little collage of pictures from my journal…

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As you can see there was a LOT of collage, much more than I thought (I bought more glue sticks in Berlin, and a ton of washi tape everywhere). I usually tried to keep interesting bills, business cards of the places we went, some cookie, sugar and coffee wrapping . Drawing over a bill from a nice restaurant or a little cafe enhance the experience, it gives a texture to my background and make my drawing more meaningful in a way.

I also bought beautiful stamps at Versailles, some postcards at different museums for the sole purpose of putting them in my journal. In Berlin, I bought small ziplocs full of stamps for almost nothing! Still can’t believe it, they are mostly all different and so beautiful, as you can see I filled my journal with them and still have a lot left.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into my travel journal! Did you ever journal while on a trip?

xx Gabrielle

First trip in Europe

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In april, I went on a three weeks trip with my best friend to Europe! It was our first time there for the both of us so we were very excited to go and discover a new continent.

I spent months getting ready: reading blog post about what to wear, how to travel with just a backpack (yes I did that), the places to visit, and most important for me: what to bring as art material for the trip!

We spent a week in Paris, 4 days in Berlin, 4 days in Praha and a week in Rome. We found great apartments with Airbnb in each city, and on the last night before our flight back to Montreal, we spent the night at a charming hotel just beside the Cathedral Notre-Dame. Not too shabby!

We spent 3 wonderful and unforgettable weeks discovering those cities, walking, eating and taking a million pictures!

I will share more on my trip soon, here is a little peek:

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Our view from the Paris apartment

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When we stumbled upon the Eiffel Tower

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Berlin has beautiful architecture and history

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Currywurst! So delish

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Incredible view in Prague

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Prague

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Happy in Rome

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Breathtaking ruins in Rome

Have an amazing week! I can’t wait to go back.. xx Gabrielle

Mapping the PCT

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Next summer, I’m planning to make an exciting trip with a good friend of mine. Maybe you saw the movie Wild with Reese Whiterspoon? If it’s not the case, I suggest you to rent it: it’s a good little movie. It’s the (true) story of a young woman going through a long journey on the West Coast, to help restore order in her personal stormy life. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) offers to this lost soul all the quiet and natural wonders required to reach a more peaceful state of mind.

Although really digne, Cheryl Strayed’s (the young woman) motive is quite different from mine. Watching the movie, my eyes widely opened themselves to this crazy adventure accross the US: this could really be a life changing event. Constantly surrounded by nature for more than 2500 miles (roughly 5 months of hiking!), crossing deserts, snowy crests, mystical valleys, giant forests… An enterprise where everyday is enchanting, where modern responsabilities of life are put aside. This is also what my friend glared at (at least I believe so) when sitting in the theater a few months ago.

“Hey, what about hiking the PCT next year?”

On my side, I also began copying out some maps. Gabrielle gave me recently, for my birthday, a cute Moleskine notebook, composed of enough pages to hold my daily thoughts on the trail. I thought it might be appropriate to draw in the first pages some broad maps of the route we’ll take across 3 different states (California, Oregon and Washington). Completely inexperienced in the art of cartography, I simply traced screen shots of GoogleMaps, dividing the itinerary in 4 zones.

Map representing the projected route in Oregon (red line), the forest patches (green stripes) and the stretches of water (in blue). Each point and letter designate a possible point of resupply.

Carte Oregon

Map representing the projected route in Oregon (red line), the forest patches (green stripes) and the stretches of water (in blue). Each point and letter designate a possible point of resupply.

For the record, I simply superposed a grid in Word on the screen shots. With the help of some basic little calculations, I then determined the raster’s resolution and the size of the picture, in order to adjust it to my notebook size.

Besides making the first pages of my notebook look pretty, such maps could become useful to make a quick assessment of the journey’s progress and to estimate the amount of days necessary before reaching the next resupply point. Also, I hope to be able to note everyday on it our current position, with a view to keep every details of this marvelous adventure.

In the following months, I’ll probably keep nattering about this PCT thing, while the preparation will become more and more polished up. It’s a great life experience that I’m really looking forward, I hope to interest you a little bit with it!

Paul