28 June 2011

Marmorkrebs on the road: ESA 2011

The 96th annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America is coming up in Austin, Texas in August. Relatively speaking, that’s practically in my backyard, so I’ll be there. My co-author Stephanie presented at this conference a couple of years back, but this is the first time that I’ll be going to the meeting and presenting. The abstract of the talk is here.

I’ll also be presiding over the session, Predator-Prey Interactions I. I think it only fair to warn any presenters in that session:
  • Don’t you dare go over time.
  • Don’t you dare have Comic Sans in your slides. I will name and shame on my blogs!

Please stop by and say hi!

21 June 2011

Great moments in science music: Nemesis

This song has three ties to science.

  1. It is the only song I know not only to contain the word “parthenogenesis” (a frequent topic of this blog!), but to use it in the chorus as part of the rhyming scheme.
  2. It’s about the theory that a dwarf star is responsible for periodic mass extinctions in the fossil record, and this hypothetical star was called “Nemesis”.
  3. Stephen Jay Gould mentioned it in a essay on mass extinctions. He wrote that the lyric, “You can’t imagine / how bad it gets” was a fair estimation of the song itself. Ouch.

13 June 2011

The Crustacean Society 2011: Day 4

Audiences were rather small for the sessions of the last day of The Crustacean Society meeting. It wasn’t that people had left Hawaii (though some had), but they had upped the number of scientific sessions from two to three, so audiences were split three ways instead of two.

The closing ceremony had a few noteworthy elements.

The Crustacean Society Excellence in Research Award (TCSERA) was awarded to Gerhard Scholz, which I live-blogged here.

There were two long, excellent tributes to respected crustacean scientists who recently died. The portraits were of two biologist that had several things in common: a fierce (some might say terrifying) work ethic, and unconventional career paths that did not follow the typical pathways for academics.

Patsy (Pat) McLaughlin
: The impression left here was of a woman with a strong personality, who loved her work, dogs, and husband. She hated having her picture taken, but when she warmed to a person, was unfailing generous. She was working at a time when opinionated women were not encouraged, and she had some teaching jobs, but mostly was not affiliated with universities.

L. B. Holthuis (pronounced roughly as “Holhoyce,” I learned): The man worked at his museum for over 60 years for six days a week. On Sundays, he read books. When he visited the Smithsonian Institution, he was asked why he always ate peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. He replied that it was cheap, and that way he could save up and spend more money for books.

Program director Chris Boyko gave us firm instructions before we left for the conference banquet at the Waikiki Aquarium, “Do not touch the monk seal!” (I wondered, “But what if the monk seal touches me?”)

Buses then took the scientists to the banquet, held at the Waikiki Aquarium. The aquarium is sort of a medium-sized aquarium. not as large as some I’ve seen (Monterey Bay comes to mind). Most of the exhibit focused on coral reef habitat. I particularly like a tank where they were rearing giant clams. I hadn’t remembered their lips being so colourful!

Ironically enough, the one item served that everybody hated... the shrimp! Distinctly dodgy. But nobody was showing signs of food poisoning by the time the buses went back.

The student awards were given out, and current president Akira gave president elect Christopher Tudge the official tie of the society president.

One of the things I wish people could hear would be a recording of the bus to the banquet, and the bus coming back from the banquet. After we got back to the Ala Moana hotel, people were still hanging around in the lobby, and you could tell that people were reluctant for the conversations to end.

Those carcinologists loosen up once you get a cheap glass of wine or two into them.

My flight left early Friday evening, so I had one day to much about on my own in Waikiki. Despite my blog post about digging for sand crabs, I didn’t think I would have much luck on Waikiki, and I was kind of fascinated by Diamond Head on this trip for some reason. I walked down toward Diamond Head, and was astonished to find Kanipoli Park: completely beautiful and almost entirely empty. Phenomenal views of Diamond Head. I couldn’t quite understand why people getting a tan wouldn’t do it in the park instead of the much more crowded Waikiki.

After that, I went to the Honolulu Zoo. The line was a bit intimidating at first, and I learned it was “Family Fun Day.” I stuck it out, as I couldn’t figure out what else I’d do with my afternoon, and was glad I did. It was much bigger than I expected, and very good (exception was the elephant exhibit, which is being completely redone - it needs it). I was able to walk through at a nice pace, no hurrying, and finished just minutes before my “I must leave now to make sure I get the airport shuttle” deadline.

Mahalo to:

Nikos Lessios, University of Arizona grad student who shared a room with me. Nikos saved my ass at least twice. First, he let me use his computer to make some last-minute changes to me presentation when my netbook was not up to the task of dealing with the massive monster presentation I’d created.

Second, he found me razors during a shopping trip so I could shave and not look like a bum throughout the meeting.

I’m also pleased that Nikos was the winner of the student poster competition. And he had been reading the Better Posters blog for ideas for his poster. (See? The advice over there isn’t completely crazy!)

Leslee Morehead for Marmorkrebs discussions.

All the Australians, who brought me news from friends in Melbourne and made me more determined than ever to make a triumphant return someday.

Brian Tsukimura for inviting me to the invasive species symposium.

Chris Boyko for suggesting I participate in a completely unrelated symposium to the one I ended up in.

Christie Wilcox, whose advice on places to check out in Honolulu was unerring.

Next year’s summer meeting is in Athens, Greece. And if you do any crustacean research, you should join the society!

09 June 2011


Gerhard Scholtz has just been awarded The Crustacean Society Excellence in Research Award (TCSERA)!

Dr. Scholtz was the first author on the first paper introducing Marmorkrebs to the scientific community, and other Marmorkrebs papers as well.

While Dr. Scholtz has co-authored multiple Marmorkrebs papers, it was mentioned this is just a small fraction of his scientific papers, around one hundred.

Marmorkrebs papers by Gerhard Scholtz

Scholtz G, Braband A, Tolley L, Reimann A, Mittmann B, Lukhaup C, Steuerwald F, Vogt G. 2003. Parthenogenesis in an outsider crayfish. Nature 421(6925): 806-806.

Vogt G, Tolley L, Scholtz G. 2004. Life stages and reproductive components of the Marmorkrebs (marbled crayfish), the first parthenogenetic decapod crustacean. Journal of Morphology 261(3): 286-311.

Alwes F, Scholtz G. 2006. Stages and other aspects of the embryology of the parthenogenetic Marmorkrebs (Decapoda, Reptantia, Astacida). Development Genes and Evolution 216(4): 169-184.

Braband A, Kawai T, Scholtz G. 2006. The phylogenetic position of the East Asian freshwater crayfish Cambaroides within the Northern Hemisphere Astacoidea (Crustacea, Decapoda, Astacida) based on molecular data. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 44(1): 17-24.

Martin P, Kohlmann K, Scholtz G. 2007. The parthenogenetic Marmorkrebs (marbled crayfish) produces genetically uniform offspring. Naturwissenschaften 94(10): 843-846.

Kawai T, Scholtz G, Morioka S, Ramanamandimby F, Lukhaup C, Hanamura Y. 2009. Parthenogenetic alien crayfish (Decapoda: cambaridae) spreading in Madagascar. Journal of Crustacean Biology 29(4):562-567.

Martin P, Dorn N, Kawai T, van der Heiden C, Scholtz G. 2010. The enigmatic Marmorkrebs (marbled crayfish) is the parthenogenetic form of Procambarus fallax (Hagen, 1870). Contributions to Zoology 79(3): 107-118.

Martin P, Shen H, F├╝ller G, Scholtz G. 2010. The first record of the parthenogenetic Marmorkrebs (Decapoda, Astacida, Cambaridae) in the wild in Saxony (Germany) raises the question of its actual threat to European freshwater ecosystems. Aquatic Invasions 5(4): 397–403.

The Crustacean Society 2011: Day 3

Today was a short day at The Crustacean Society meeting. Maybe it was so everyone could celebrate World Oceans Day by going to the Waikiki beach?

The morning saw a panel titled, "The Future of Scientific Publishing." Panel members included the editors of Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, Invertebrate Systematics, Journal of Crustacean Biology, Crustaceana Monographs, and a representative from Brill, the publisher of Crustaceana.

All five panelists gave about a 5 minute blurb about changes at the journal. The common features for all of them were:

  • The adoption of going electronic for all stages of the production, though some journals are adopting this more rapidly than others.
  • Fretting about their Impact Factors. One editor mentioned that they were even receiving pressure from libraries to have a high Impact Factor.

That took up almost half the allotted time. This was somewhat unfortunate, given there were lots of questions and comments from the floor. This panel was scheduled for an hour, but could have easily gone twice that.

A little background may help place some of the particular concerns brought up in this panel in context. Many of the people publishing in these journals do taxonomy and systematics and things that often involve naming new species. Thus, they have rules set down by the International Committee on Zoological Nomenclature they have to follow. One of those rules is that a species name must appear on printed paper to be valid. This has probably been a major factor in the slow progress of some of these journals to move to electronic publishing. Shane Ahyong, editor of Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, noted that this rule was up for debate and possible revision. But that doesn't mean the rule will change.

Ahyong said that electronic publication created three main problems. While he was speaking of these particularly in the context of species names, these are obviously concerns across all academic publishing.

  • Anyone can create a journal now. There are concerns that this will mean there will be no assurance of quality control and that "chaos will reign." (Er, how ordered are things now? Not very.)
  • The long term stability of electronic formats still has to be proven. It is not clear whether PDFs will exist in, say, 2030. (The audience later got a horror story of a long gestating book that has been slowed by repeated changes in word processing formats.)
  • There is a need for texts to be completely unchangeable. People doing naming want to keep want to have a single, definitive record that cannot be altered at any point.

After that, much of the discussion revolved around speed. Speed of review. Speed of the editorial decision. Speed of publication after acceptance. One editor noted that people used to wait a year from acceptance to publication, but that nobody would stand for that now.

Crustacean Society program officer Chris Boyko asked if this emphasis on speed meant that it was possible for a paper to have a decision too rapidly. I mentioned that I didn't want my paper rejected in eight minutes. (Much laughter to this anecdote.) Chris's implication was that a good paper and good review couldn't be knocked out in a few days.

At this point, a graduate student expressed her dislike of PLoS ONE. She said that in her experience, about half the papers in the journal were poor. This surprised me, and I wasn't sure what she meant. I brought up papers like the arsenic life (Wolfe-Simon et al. in Science) and kin selection (Nowak et al. in Nature) which had people saying, "These are flawed and should not have been published." I thought she might have meant PLoS ONE papers were small or trite, but she said she thought many were not well done on the experimental design end. She apparently thought that there needed to be much stronger filtering and quality control.

Fred Schram, the editor of The Journal of Crustacean Biology, had perhaps an unusual take on the matter. He said, "Don't blame the journal for a bad paper. Don't blame the editor for a bad paper. Don't blame the reviewers for a bad paper. Blame the authors for having the temerity to put up bad research for publication." (This brought some applause from the audience.) Ultimately, he emphasized, the authors have to take full responsibility for the material. (Of course, this does raise the question of what value reviewers and editors are adding to the process.)

Open access did, of course, come up, but closer to the end of the session, and didn't get perhaps the airing it deserved. The Brill representative said (which I predicted he would say) that open access articles are downloaded more often, but not cited more. Ahyong said he didn't have any hard data, but did note that his journal’s impact factor started going up around the time the journal went to open access.

Related to open access were questions about costs. An audience member asked, “Where does all the money for journals go?” Fred Schram replied that it would take an afternoon to discuss this. (Another indication, perhaps, that the panel session was too short.) The representative from Brill claimed that the average cost to publish a single scientific article was costs $3,000. This included costs of servers, production staff, and the like. He also pointed out that “for profit” does not mean “no open access.”

This was not a bad panel, but I did not feel I got the glimpse into the future of scientific publishing that the session’s title advertised. It may be that journals in this field are moving particularly slow, because they is being held back somewhat by the rules on species naming. There are bolder, more innovative ideas out there.

08 June 2011

The Crustacean Society 2011: Day 2

Busy day today.

Started off with a featured talk by James Carleton on invasive marine species, who talked a lot about the impact of centuries of human shipping, which means there are probably huge numbers of things that are called "native" that were brought in by humans before anyone noticed.

My talk on Marmorkrebs as an invasive species was the second talk of the entire conference. I think it went well, and got some positive feedback. I officially launched the Craywatch project during my talk, and have already got some good feedback from people who are organizing similar "watch" kinds of online resources for invasive species.

I also tried to argue that society members and the society needed to be much more active online and in social media. And to put my money where my mouth is, I announced that I had a gift for the society: a new easy to remember URL for the website:


I continued to hang out in the invasive species symposium, which featured a lot of crab invaders. There was even some good news with invasive species that were getting beaten back. Not eradicated, but at least not getting worse.

The poster session was frantic. I had three posters to present, and I was talking non-stop throughout. Although I had multiple poster, I feel like these small conferences never have enough time for poster viewing and presenting. I was the last one to leave the poster session.

No pictures today, because I somehow managed to forget to put a memory card back into my camera. The camera took some pictures on the internal memory, but I need a cable for the camera. This was my talk warm-up music:

07 June 2011

Vogt, 2011

Vogt G. 2011. Marmorkrebs: natural crayfish clone as emerging model for various biological disciplines. Journal of Biosciences 36(2): 377-382.

Without abstract. These are the section headings of the paper:

  1. What is the Marmorkrebs?
  2. How do marbled crayfish reproduce and develop?
  3. Is it true that the first juvenile stages are secured by a safety line?
  4. Why are marbled crayfish so attractive to researchers?
  5. How can marbled crayfish produce different phenotypes from a single genotype?
  6. Is negligible senescence in the marbled crayfish related to lifelong stem cell activity?
  7. Is it true that marbled crayfish are highly resistant to cancer?
  8. Are marbled crayfish good guys only?
  9. How can I be kept informed about ongoing research with the marbled crayfish?

Keywords: cancer • development • genotype-to-phenotype mapping • marbled crayfish • model organism • stem cells

The Crustacean Society 2011: Day 1

Do you think this audience is ready to hear a talk about clones tomorrow?

We were all instructed to wear our conference shirts for the group photo.

Tonight was just an opening reception, which included a Hawaiian blessing and some demonstrations of traditional and modern hula. It was quite lovely and very enjoyable.

06 June 2011

The Crustacean Society 2011: Preamble


This week I'm blogging from The Crustacean Society meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii! So expect a lots of crunchy biological goodness both here and at NeuroDojo. I'll also be tweeting a bit, I hope, using #tcs11 as the hashtag.

But now, time to find some breakfast.