14 March 2011

Potential invasions and new horizons

“What’s the geekiest thing about you?”

This is a favourite question for me to ask people I’ve recently met, which I stole it from the game show Beat the Geeks. It almost always generates an interesting answer (sometimes delivered with a slightly embarrassed look on the face).

When Paty Feria was interviewing for a landscape ecology job in our department, I asked her that question. She told me she liked superhero movies.

It would be unprofessional for me to admit that my heart melted just a bit then, or to tell you that I thought, “Oh, I hope she gets this job.” But get the job she did.

Because her office is on the same floor as mine, we see each other routinely. And I can’t remember just when she said, “Yes, we can do that” in response to some idle comment about trying to figure out where Marmorkrebs might be able to survive if they got loose.

I had already been messing around with geographic data as part of my efforts to create maps of where pet owners in North America were. Because Paty is always making maps as part of her research, I think I had been asking her about help in making maps. I think some of those conversations went back to 2009, when my student Stef took a poster to the ESA meeting that summer.

I just can’t remember the transition point from us sort of “idly talking about mapmaking” to deciding this would be as an actual project that we’re going to try to publish.

I have some spreadsheets of distribution data that go back to about last June. And I do recall talking to astacologist Chris Taylor at the International Association of Astacology meeting last July, trying to figure out where I might be able to get data on the distribution of Procambarus fallax, the species most closely related to Marmorkrebs. He said, “Horton Hobbs was our finest taxonomist, and he cut his teeth in Florida.” Chris reckoned that Hobbs might have river by river accounts of where P. fallax lived. Not quite, but I found there were records for every county in Florida, which was still pretty good.

By last August, we were seriously working on the models. We had it written up and ready to submit around mid-October.

In general, I like to publish in different journals. But this is the second paper I’ve published in Aquatic Invasions, separated by only a few months. Why go back to that journal?

We actually did submit the manuscript to a different journal, which rejected it as not fitting the editorial thrust of the journal. Fair enough.

When we were thinking about where to resubmit, there were two factors.

First, when I’d published the earlier paper, I’d liked the editorial process.

Second, at the time we were finishing this, not only did I have another Marmorkrebs paper in press in Aquatic Invasions, there were two more Marmorkrebs papers in press in the same issue. I thought that maybe we could get this paper in that same issue, making it four Marmorkrebs papers, almost like a special issue! There are advantages to putting everything in one place. My co-author thought those were good reason, too, so off it went.

The reviews, alas, were not quick enough for this paper to make the issue with the other three. But that had always been a bit of a long-shot.

Paty presented some of the data from this paper at the recent Texas Academy of Science meeting (she’s dead center in red blouse and black coat in this massive UTPA group photo). I was very happy with how the poster came out, and discuss it at the Better Posters blog.

There are a couple of things that please me to no end about this paper.

First, I am nominally a brain and behaviour guy. I never expected to be co-authoring an ecological modelling paper. One moral of this story is that you can never quite predict where a research trail will lead you. Go academic freedom!

Second, I was able to co-author an ecological modelling paper because of the great collaboration with Paty. My previous collaborations have been with people with skills similar to my own. But Paty and I have very different knowledge bases. She understands modelling, while I brought in information about crayfish biology. This paper was something that neither one of us could have done on our own.

And that feels pretty freakin’ awesome.

P.S.—I’ve started a new tag, “stories behind the papers”, for these “bonus features.” I’ve done this for my last four papers. I will probably start going back and doing some of my older ones, too.


Feria TP, Faulkes Z. 2011. Forecasting the distribution of Marmorkrebs, a parthenogenetic crayfish with high invasive potential, in Madagascar, Europe, and North America. Aquatic Invasions 6(1): 55-67. DOI: 10.3391/ai.2011.6.1.07

Supplement: Google Spreadsheet of locations used to train models.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

i like the idea of the stories behind the papers. These things get told informally too often, and they are usually some of the more interesting bits. congrats on the paper too