02 December 2011

Science after a storm

My newest paper kind of got started because of an act of God.

Hurricanes are still considered “acts of God” in insurance policies, right?

You see, my grad student at the time, Sandra, was continuing work on spiny lobster that she had started as an undergraduate (Espinoza et al. 2006). We were gung ho to continue that work to see if we could figure out if there were behavioural differences that were related to spiny lobsters’ loss of escape neurons.

But a problem emerged. Spiny lobsters show up around South Padre Island once in a while, but they are rare. So we had gotten all our lobsters from Florida, from the Keys Marine Lab.

And Keys got smushed by Hurricane Wilma in October 2005.

And there went our supplier for spiny lobsters.

Now, we might have been able to find another supplier, but we decided to press on ahead with some crayfish experiments. We originally planned to do experiments with spiny lobsters that paralleled the crayfish experiments in this new paper. We were going to do experiments immobilizing the spiny lobsters’ antennae, blindfolding them, and so on.

But the logistic problems of getting spiny lobsters continued to plague us. We eventually abandoned those experiments.

As it happened, Sandra had a baby girl very soon after her thesis defense. She was more occupied with a child than writing up some of her thesis research. And I wasn’t quite sure what to do with these experiments. We had presented the research at conferences, and gotten reasonably good feedback. But I wasn’t sure what would be an appropriate home for the manuscript.

The paper – I suppose it was still better described as a thesis chapter at this point – sat.

Last summer, I attended the International Association of Astacology meeting in Missouri (which I blogged extensively about on the Marmorkrebs blog). During the meeting, there was considerable chat about the society’s journal, Freshwater Crayfish. I liked what the editors were trying to do: get it out more regularly, and make it more clear that it was a journal, not conference proceedings. The production values of the journal were always very good.

It dawned on me that this was probably a good home for this project. That there were some known limitations to publishing in Freshwater Crayfish – like the long time between issues – were not a big deal for this project. After all, the research had already kind of sat, waiting for me to do something, for a couple of years.

I am so pleased that it is out. Sandra is now one of the few master’s students in our departments to have two peer reviewed papers arising from her master’s degree.

And the moral of the story is: Don’t abandon hope of publishing your projects because it’s “been too long.” Patience makes many things possible.


Espinoza SY, Faulkes Z. 2011. Escaping while defenseless or blind: effects of sensory input on tailflipping in crayfish, Procambarus clarkii (Girard, 1852). Freshwater Crayfish 18(1): 13-17.

Espinoza SY, Breen L, Varghese N, Faulkes Z. 2006. Loss of escape-related giant neurons in a spiny lobster, Panulirus argus. The Biological Bulletin 211(3): 223-231. http://www.biolbull.org/cgi/content/abstract/211/3/223

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