Category Archives: Meet the Team

It’s a wrap! How about a thesis on Arctic spiders? How about two of them…?

By Dr. Christopher Buddle

This week I am thrilled to report that two of my MSc students have successfully completed their degrees! Both the projects are part of the collaborative Northern Biodiversity Program – a project aimed to quantify and understand ecological change with Arthropods from Canada’s north.

A BIG congratulations to Sarah Loboda and Katie Sim  – they are both tremendously talented students, excellent Arachnologists, and wonderful people to know.  Last night we had our annual Lab BBQ – and at that event, I was pleased to give Sarah and Katie a small token of appreciation.  Here’s a photo showing them both with their wolf spider photographs (photos by the incredible Thomas Shahan):

Katie Sim (l) and Sarah Loboda (r) - successful MSc students!

Katie Sim (left) and Sarah Loboda (right) – successful (& happy) MSc students!

Sarah Loboda’s thesis is titled Multi-scale patterns of ground-dwelling spider (Araneae) diversity in northern Canada. Her research focused on broad diversity patterns of ground-dwelling spiders collected from our 12 study sites, spread across Canada’s north. Our project spanned 30 degrees of latitude and 80 degrees of longitude –> yes that is a lot of land area! Sarah identified over 300 spider species from 14 families, and over 23,000 individuals.  Publications are forthcoming so I won’t give details here, except to say that we can learn a lot about diversity patterns over broad spatial scales using a study taxon such as spiders.

Here's where the Northern Biodiversity Program took our field teams!

Here’s where the Northern Biodiversity Program took our field teams.

Katie’s work (co-supervised by Prof. Terry Wheeler) had a different slant, but was still on Arctic spiders. Her thesis is titled:  Genetic analysis of Pardosa wolf spiders (Araneae: Lycosidae) across the northern Nearctic. The first part of Katie’s thesis was about understanding the phylogeographic history of the Arctic spider Pardosa glacialis, with particular attention to post-glacial dispersal patterns, as inferred by population genetics. The second part of her thesis was focused on whether or not there is enough evidence to suggest two northern Pardosa species should remain as separate species, or be merged into one – based on both molecular and morphological characters.  Let’s just say that Katie had to be a ‘field genius‘, ‘lab genius‘ and ‘spider genitalia genius‘.  Here’s an example of what she looked at, a lot:

The epigynum of a wolf spider species, (part of) the topic of Katie's research.

The epigynum of a wolf spider species, (part of) the topic of Katie’s research.

In sum, I am thrilled to see Sarah and Katie finish up their work, although their success also comes with a touch of sadness, as I will miss their daily presence in the laboratory.  Stay tuned… we shall soon report all the details from their research.


Meet The Team: Laura Timms

Laura Timms is the NBP’s postdoctoral researcher.  She now works out of the Lyman Museum under the supervision of Terry Wheeler and Chris Buddle.  Laura will be working in Yellowknife and Cambridge Bay this field season.
I joined the NBP after completing my PhD (2010) in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto, where I studied the ecological impacts of the gypsy moth on native forest caterpillars and their parasitoids. I also earned my MScF (2005) at U of T, researching the within-tree distribution of another introduced forest insect, the emerald ash borer. My research on the gypsy moth focused on the long-term ecological impacts of species invasion, addressing the question of what happens to an existing food web when a new species is introduced. Overall, the results of my doctoral research indicated that native forest caterpillar communities were mostly resilient to gypsy moth invasion. This was a surprise to me, and inspired me to pursue questions on the impacts of other types of disturbance on insect communities. Cue the NBP!
My research with the NBP focuses on the Ichneumonidae, a family of parasitic wasps in the order Hymenoptera. Ichneumonidae is one of the largest families of organisms on earth, with over 60,000 known species in 38 subfamilies. There is a great deal of variation within and between the subfamilies in regards to host groups, life history strategies, appearance, and biogeography. In general, ichneumonid richness peaks at higher latitudes than most other animal groups (at around 38-42 degrees) and drops off at a slower rate heading north than it does heading south. This portion of northern biodiversity remains largely unstudied, however, despite that fact that ichneumonids play a number of important ecological roles and that the impacts of climate change on ichneumonids and other parasitoids may represent a magnified view of the impacts on lower trophic levels. Broadly, my research addresses these issues by looking at patterns in ichneumonid diversity across our sample sites, and comparing present day diversity to historical data.
I started working with the NBP in September, and so missed out on last year’s field work. But I’m very excited this year to be heading way further North than I’ve ever been before – to Yellowknife, NT and Cambridge Bay, NU!

Field Season 2011: it’s here!

Time has quickly crept up on us; it’s been months since our last NBP update! The past few months have been very busy for our team, as we’ve been sorting through the thousands of specimens collected in 2010.

And now, suddenly, the new field season is here – right here! Most of this year’s field crew is leaving for the north this Sunday.  We are tackling the western sites this year.

Team “Knife” will be sampling in Yellowknife (NWT), Kugluktuk (NU) and Cambridge Bay (NU).

Team “Norman” will start in Norman Wells (NWT), move up to Dawson City (YT), and finish up with an adventure on Banks Island (NWT).

There are a number of new faces on the team this year, and we’ll introduce them soon.  In the meantime, watch for news and updates from the field!

Updates from Lake Hazen and Iqaluit

From Chris Buddle, who has been working with Team Moose in Iqaluit:

Update from Team Moose in Iqaluit

Iqaluit has been great – although we had a few days of rain and cold, the weather has mostly been cooperative and the sampling has been spectacular.  On the warm days the butterflies, bumble bees, and wolf spiders have been incredibly active.  So too have been the swarms of mosquitoes! 

The team has serviced terrestrial traps once, and the samples look terrific.  Although the malaise heads are not full of tabanids, they are certainly brimming with a high diversity of flies.  One of our more exciting finds was a nest of the Arctic Yellowjacket (Dolichovespula norwegica)– this species has been found in Iqaluit before, but we now have “official” specimens, and are confident this species is overwintering in the tundra. 

 The aquatic sampling is also very productive:  the ponds are full of Trichoptera, and although the mayflies and stoneflies are not large, they are abundant.   Patrick has been overjoyed with the black fly collecting – in one day the team managed to collect black flies from at least ten different streams and rivers – ranging from tiny seeps emerging from the tundra to the impressive Sylvia Grinnell River, located just beside the Iqaluit Airport runway. 

We have also enjoyed a lot of local media coverage, including a TV spot on CBC north’s news program “Northbeat”. Chris Buddle did a public talk at Nunavut Arctic College that was well attended by entomology “enthusiasts” in town!  The team is also spending time with a kid’s Science Camp to talk about entomology.  Needless to say, the team has felt very welcome in Iqaluit, and there is a lot of local interest in topics related to insects and spiders of the North.  We are especially thankful for the Nunavut Research Institute (see: ) for logistical support, and for help from Jamal Shirley.

If you’d like to check out the CBC TV feature, click here (the clip is about 2/3 of the way through the program)

Update from Team Goose at Lake Hazen

Team Moose has been in contact (via Satellite phone) with Team Goose, currently at Lake Hazen.  Although they were two days delayed in Resolute Bay, the team arrived at Hazen and they have already set all their terrestrial traps.  On one day they reported temperatures of 15C (warmer than in Iqaluit!) and they also reported mosquito activity that day.  They report that “Camp Hazen” is quite comfortable considering the remoteness of the site, and their spirits are high.  They are, however, finding access to good aquatic sites somewhat difficult, and the streams and rivers are not that productive.  Three members of the team (Sarah, Meagan, Christine) also took a (quick and soap-free) swim in Hazen!  Floating among the ice floes….brrrrr.

Meet the Team: Kristen Vinke

Our latest profile features Kristen Vinke, M.Sc. student at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Kristen is the team leader for our fourth team: “Team Norman”.

During my undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary, I became interested in aquatic ecology which lead me to summer jobs and internships involving freshwater science, including stream assessments using aquatic invertebrates.   I chose the north for my Master’s because of the intriguing landscape and culture, which I discovered while canoeing the Mackenzie River a few years ago.

My Master’s project involved collecting invertebrate larvae from the bottoms of streams and adults along the banks of six streams in the Sahtu area, including two creeks in the town of Norman Wells. A local Dene summer student, Carrie Campbell, assisted with this work. The first objective was to determine whether subarctic stream assessment (using aquatic invertebrates) could be improved by modifying some of the sampling protocols that are commonly used in the south.

The subarctic biogeoclimatic features have resulted in unique traits in the aquatic invertebrate community, such as extended diapause and dominance of cold or freeze-tolerant species.  These traits result in different species composition, diversity, abundance and life cycle timing, compared to the south.  Sampling protocols should be tailored to the unique features of the north if accurate data are to be collected.  Therefore I am comparing standard ‘southern’ protocols to modified protocols to see which ones capture the most diversity and are able to distinguish different kinds of streams the best.

Additionally, the Sahtu had a biomonitoring program called the Bosworth Biomonitoring project, where local students participated in data collection.  However, the program emphasized water chemistry rather than invertebrates, so a high school-level guideline for sampling, processing and analyzing invertebrate data was needed.

Using the ‘best protocols’, combined with input from the community, teachers, and students from four of the five Sahtu communities (as well as one community in the Deh Cho area, Ft. Simpson), I developed a stream biomonitoring program that may be used in their science curriculum. The goal is for the students to use these guidelines to annually monitor the health of local streams.  Additionally, the benthic and terrestrial samples from this summer will add to species inventories for the Sahtu area.  The samples were gathered from a range of stream habitat types to try to capture as much of the diversity as possible.

Meet the Team: Crystal Ernst

This week’s profile features Crystal Ernst, Ph.D. student at McGill University.


I earned a B.Sc. (2003) and M.Sc. (2005) in Biology from Carleton University; my research there focused on plant-insect interactions and communities in the context of biological invasions.   Between 2005 and 2010 I worked in the public sector for various federal agencies, including  NSERC, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Parks Canada.   The five-year hiatus made me realize how much I actually wanted to pursue an academic career.   I was admitted to McGill University in January 2010, where  I am now a Ph.D. student in Dr. Chris Buddle’s lab.   

I was still in the process of researching possible schools/labs when Chris told me about his plans for the NBP.  This program offered everything I was looking for in a Ph.D. project – innovative research, extensive field work in exciting locations, and an incredble oportunity for multidisciplinary, multi-institutional collaborations – so of course my reaction was a resounding “Count me in!!!”

My work in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, during the summer of 2010 will have three main thrusts:

  1. Conduct the standardized two-week NBP arthropod sampling protocol; my 8-week stay in “Kug” will allow me to gather unique temporal data with three collection periods;
  2. Conduct manipulative field experiments related to the effects of temperature on ground-dwelling insect communities; and
  3. Work with students and others in the community to generate a collection of locally significant insects while providing informal training and educational opportunities; enhance the usefulness and meaning of the collection with relevant Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK).

Broadly, I am interested in how the structures of ground-dwelling insect communities are affected by climate change and other environmental variables.  I will use data from my own field experiments as well as the sampling being conducted by the entire team to answer my research questions.  I am thrilled to be a part of this program, and honoured to work with such a great team.

Meet the Team: Sarah Loboda

Sarah Loboda, M.Sc. student at McGill University, is today’s “Meet the Team” profile!_________________________________________________________________

I conducted my own project about salt marsh spiders during the last year of my undergraduate studies at the Université du Québec à Rimouski and since then I love spiders! Spiders play a key functional role as terrestrial predators and can be used as bioindicators.  The Northern Biodiversity Program gives me the chance to study my favourite taxa in amazing sites in Canada’s north. The first theme of the project is to compare the structure of communities in different ecoclimatic zones and my role is to conduct this analysis for spiders. Also, this project allows me to compare different life history traits, like size or fecundity, at different latitudes. I’m a member of the second team who will go to Goose Bay, Schefferville and Hazen Lake. It’s really exciting to go in three ecoclimatic zones in the same summer!  To sample ground dwelling spiders, pitfall and pan traps will be placed in two habitats (wet and mesic).   Identification to the species level will require a microscope to observe sexual morphology. This laboratory work will be done at McGill University after the field season.

If you are passionate by spiders and you have any questions, send me an email (!