Have you ever Wondered in Waders?

Welcome to the inaugural post on the Wondering in Waders blog. This is just a quick introduction – the substance and whimsy will follow in subsequent posts. I have been hesitant to set up a blog for a while now, mainly to avoid what might be perceived as self-aggrandizement. Sure, I think I have interesting thoughts and musing, but far be it from me to foist those upon others. But over the past year or so, it’s become clear that some of the most interesting, timely and important information I encounter is from what others have written about on their blogs and, I freely admit, articles friends post on Facebook. It’s a new age and I may as well embrace it!

The title of the blog is whimsical but accurate. I do some of my most productive and critical thinking while in the field – often in waders. There’s not much to divert you from your thoughts other than the study system at hand.

There are a lot of examples out there of blogs that do a fantastic job in similar niches, ranging from academically interesting to downright inspiring (e.g. http://denimandtweed.jbyoder.org/; http://smallpondscience.com; http://evol-eco.blogspot.com; http://nothinginbiology.org/; http://dynamicecology.wordpress.com).

I don’t have lofty goals for the Wondering in Waders blog, but I do want it to serve as: [Read more…]

Using genetics to reduce urban disease risk in Brazil


The newest paper from our lab’s work on urban rat disease vectors in Salvador, Brazil was published this week in Evolutionary Applications. Leptosporosis is a potentially lethal bacterial disease with seasonal outbreaks that disproportionately infects poor residents across the tropical and sub-tropical world. Norway rats transmit the lepto bacteria through their urine, so understanding the movement and ecology of these rats is a critical part of any strategy designed to reduce leptospirosis risk. Much of our effort focuses on the Pau da Lima favela neighborhood, which has disproportionately high leptospirosis rates and has been the focus of long-term research (Fig 1).

Sampling map of Norway rats across Salvador (left) and within the Pau da Lima favela (right).

Sampling map of Norway rats across Salvador (left – # of rats is proportional to size of circle) and within the Pau da Lima favela (right – red dot is one rat).

We use spatially-explicit analyses of genetic variation in more than 700 rats to address 3 primary questions related to the rat population in the city. Here they are with the upshot from our data: [Read more…]

New Pain Relief Options Thanks To Tarantulas

Contributed by Will Rinaldi (’18)

Peruvian green velvet tarantula from: http://www.portcreditpets.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/peruvian-green-velvet.jpg

Peruvian green velvet tarantula from: http://www.portcreditpets.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/peruvian-green-velvet.jpg

Many people are appalled by the grotesque appearance of tarantulas, immediately classifying them as our darkest fear without them having done anything to be placed in this category. However, as obscene as it sounds, tarantulas have recently been benefiting medical science. One might feel as though the only benefit they get from a tarantula is the relief of dispatching it. As ironic as it sounds, scientists have discovered that some compounds produced by tarantulas can greatly benefit those who suffer from chronic diseases. Tarantulas have been found to contain a specific protein found in their venom that could potentially work as a treatment for muscular dystrophy, as well as other diseases that supply victims with an abundance of pain. [Read more…]

Can Arctic Penguins Benefit from Climate Change?

Contributed by Kerry Barrett (’18)

In my mind, the term “global warming” seems to go hand in hand with the end of the world. That may seem a little dramatic, but we are presented with daily news stories about species in jeopardy because of increasing greenhouse gas emissions, air temperatures and sea levels. The “carbon footprint” humans have left on earth since the industrial revolution is so significant, that some geologists are referring to this time as a new geologic epoch: the Anthropocene. In this extended period of climate change and human impacts on the planet, many species are struggling to adjust to their changing habitats. As dismal as the situation may seem, every cloud has a silver lining. The ecosystem is a direct product of “survival of the fittest” of our current suite of species being able to adapt to a changing world. Despite the significant seasonal changes to their habitat, including an ice-free period that is more than 100 days longer over the last 34 years, the Adélie penguins have been able to not only survive-but thrive in these changing conditions. This is evidence that not all species will struggle in our warming atmosphere.

Adelie penguins nesting on terrestrial shore where glaciers have recently receded http://www.oceanlight.com/log/category/wildlife/penguin

Adelie penguins nesting on terrestrial shore where glaciers have recently receded http://www.oceanlight.com/log/category/wildlife/penguin

[Read more…]

Inconvenient Water Restrictions Benefit Fish

Contributed by Christie McTigue (’18):

Ever wonder why your town sometimes pesters you about strict water restrictions? Bombarded with numerous paper notices and phone messages in my hometown along coastal Massachusetts, I decided to look into the reason behind the restriction on water usage. I found that there may be many different intentions for the limitation of water usage, however many coastal towns of Massachusetts enforce restrictions in efforts to protect the ecosystem, focusing particularly on river herring.

Two formally common fish species in coastal Massachusetts, the alewife and the blueback herring, are together referred to as “river herring.” [Read more…]

Tiny trackers discover bee flight patterns

Contributed by Wildlife Biology student Mel Grasso (’17)

Have you ever ran an errand with a no-nonsense ‘get in and get out’ attitude? Bumblebees know how that feels, but not all of the time. Sometimes bees get a taste for adventure and fly off into the unknown… er, to an unknown meadow anyway.

Researchers fitted Harmonic radars, which are small radar tracking devices, onto four Bumblebees (Bombus terrestris audax) and were able to track every flight the bees made in their entire life. The radars were only 32mm and weighed about 15mg, which is only 6-7% of a bumblebee’s body mass (Figure 1). The radars were super-glued onto the bees’ thorax and were small enough to not interfere with the bees’ flight. Bees are powerhouses that normally carry pollen and nectar loads that weigh up to 90% of their body weight; so carrying the tracker was just part of the daily grind for them. If the bees were flying within 800m of their hive their distance and direction was recorded every three seconds, which a researcher translated into GPS coordinates. These coordinates let us look at all their flight paths at once so patterns could be identified.

Micro transponder Harmonic radar. Image from Meadows R (2012) Understanding the Flight of the Bumblebee. PLoS Biol 10(9): e1001391. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001391

Micro transponder Harmonic radar. Image from Meadows R (2012) Understanding the Flight of the Bumblebee. PLoS Biol 10(9): e1001391. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001391

[Read more…]

Nikelle Goes to Austin – An Undergrad’s View of the Evolution Meeting

Contributed by senior research student Nikelle Petrillo (’16)

In June, I attended the Evolution conference in Austin, Texas. This was my first time talking at a national conference and I was so excited (and a little nervous!) to present my senior research project, which looks at gene expression in spotted salamander populations. After diving headfirst into the world of bioinformatics, and more specifically RNA-sequencing, I could not wait to meet and speak with other researchers who would have great insight and advice for the next steps I will need to take.

I was part of the wonderful Undergraduate Diversity at Evolution (UDE) program [Read more…]

Algae: An Actual “Green” Alternative To Fossil Fuels


Contributed by Freshwater Biology student John Fischer (’17)

It has been nearly 20 years since global warming became a worldwide political issue receiving widespread attention. However, it has been a major climatic and biological issue since the Industrial Revolution began in the 1700s because that was the real genesis of greenhouse gas emissions in high concentrations.
It is no secret that an alternative, renewable fuel source must be found in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere. This alternative fuel source, however, must meet a specific list of prerequisites in order to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels. These requirements are: (1) the concentration of greenhouse gasses that the


From http://algaeforbiofuels.com/category/algae-based-biodiesel/

alternative fuel source emits into the atmosphere must be less than the concentration of greenhouse gases that it removes from the atmosphere; (2) it must be able to be produced at a large enough quantities that would satisfy the energy needs of today’s human populations; and (3) and it must be an affordable for consumers, while also being economically beneficial for the companies that produce/commercialize the product. One of the most promising current alternative fuel sources that has the potential to satisfy all of these considerations is a biofuel produced from algae. [Read more…]

In a Sea Full of Stars


Contributed by Freshwater Biology student Danny Hentz (’17)

Thousands of miles deep in space,
A satellite detects something on Earth aglow.
A colony of tiny luminous species,
Is now tightly clustered below.
And for once the children did not behold,
Those beautiful flames from afar
But here the ocean grew brighter,
Now boasting its beautiful stars.

Satellite image of the "milky sea" bioluminescent event in the Indian Ocean in 2005.

Satellite image of the “milky sea” bioluminescent event in the Indian Ocean in 2005.

Drifting just southwest of the African Horn in the Indian Ocean, a column of seawater the size of the state of Connecticut radiates with bioluminescent light, so bright that it can be detected from space. This “milky sea” event, which lasted three whole days in 2005, was merely one of the many extraordinary examples of how profound an influence bioluminescent light can have for many, including the mariner community that is often the first to detect these events, and youth around the world that are sparked to be curious about such amazing natural phenomena.

And yet, even looking on a significantly smaller scale, studying bioluminescence has provided pragmatic information that has aided the scientific community in literally mapping out the greater spatial and temporal displacements of planktonic communities outside of bay areas – such as that of Monterey Bay in California. What’s more, the ecological utility of this design offers roughly 700 genera (both on land and at sea) the versatility of dazzling mating displays and frightening defensive measures. [Read more…]

Guppy Dating: how to dodge the pesky males


Contributed by Freshwater Biology student Nikelle Petrillo (’16)

Think dating is tough? Try the dating world as a guppy.

A female guppy (left) is pictured with two male guppies (right). All three are from the Arima River in Trinidad. Image from: http://www.livescience.com/52012-guppies-swim-differently-sexual-harassment.html

A female guppy (left) is pictured with two male guppies (right). All three are from the Arima River in Trinidad.
Image from: http://www.livescience.com/52012-guppies-swim-differently-sexual-harassment.html

Oftentimes, we think of sexual reproduction as a cooperative, mutual interaction that leads to passing on our genes to our offspring. This is not always the case in the animal kingdom, and it certainly isn’t the case for guppies.

There are often opposing reproductive interests between male and female guppies. Males’ reproductive success is limited to the amount of and access to females in their habitat. In order to overcome this reproductive hurdle, males often resort to sexually harassing behaviors, such as chasing and attacking females. This leads to a selective pressure on both genders. [Read more…]

The Role of Trophy Hunting in the Arsenal of Conservation: Killing to Save


Contributed by research student Laura Angley (’17):

An illustrative drawing I did long before Cecil the Lion became a household discussion.

An illustrative drawing I did long before Cecil the Lion became a household discussion.

When most people think of conservation, they think of the protection and restoration of the environment or wildlife. One strategy that has been deemed effective for conservation purposes by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) is trophy hunting, defined by Save The Rhino as “a specific and selective legal form of wildlife use that involves payment for a hunting experience and the acquisition of a trophy by the hunter”. People pay thousands of dollars (sometimes even millions) for a permit to shoot and kill an animal and keep part of it as a trophy. It is most common in big-game animals such as bears, hippos, elephants, rhinos, buffalo, and lions.

However, many people consider the killing of an animal to be antithetical to the overall goal of preserving a population or species. While evidence supports the effectiveness of trophy hunting in raising funds (usually the limiting factor in conservation efforts), many in the conservation community itself are torn by the logic of “killing to save” vs. an unbending stance to protect species of concern at any cost.

[Read more…]