Fly science

At long last, years of hard work in the field of Drosophila research has met with the fruition of this publication…maybe one day I will blog about the challenges of associated with this field of research.  Now is not the time, but suffice to say, I will say this….if a paper on fruit fly phenotype is published and nothing about the husbandry, nutrition, and rearing conditions are provided, the research should be taken with huge grain of salt.  Context is everything.


Effect sizes of the influence of diet on developmental, behavioural, and physiological parameters

Comparison Phenotype Hedge’s g (± 95% CI) r Significant
Larval wet mass Morphology 32.66 ± 10.16 0.99 Yes
Larval dry mass Morphology 10.60 ± 3.40 0.98 Yes
Larval width Morphology 3.53 ± 0.63 0.87 Yes
Adult wing length Morphology 1.30 ± 0.48 0.55 Yes
Larva Emergence Fecundity 0.80 ± 0.64 0.36 Yes
Pupa Emergence Development 2.09 ± 0.99 0.70 Yes
Adult survivorship Lifespan 0.70 ± 0.13 0.32 Yes
Larva Thermotaxis Sensory 0.80 ± 0.64 0.36 Yes
Adult Thermotaxis Sensory 0.38 ± 0.66 0.18 No
Larval Thermal Retreat Neuromuscular 0.73 ± 0.39 0.34 Yes
Adult Geotaxis Neuromuscular 2.49 ± 1.01 0.77 Yes
Muscle Basal Tonus Neuromuscular 2.51 ± 1.17 0.77 Yes
Muscle Maximum Neuromuscular 0.23 ± 0.88 0.11 No
Learning Index Neurological 0.34 ± 0.88 0.16 No



Survivorship Curves depend on the type of diet


Thermimage update

At long last, I’ve spent time fixing some sloppiness in my R package, Thermimage, as well as added functions for importing and exporting thermal images and videos.  Partly still beta testing it on github for the time being but will eventually upload it CRAN once finalised.

Meanwhile for those using thermal imaging but frustrated at not being able to import or analyse images in an open source environment, consider trying this out:

Here is the proof of the exported raw file imported into ImageJ:



Thoughts on Crowd-Sourcing of Basic Scientific Research?


I meant to post this a month or two ago, but have been busy with teaching and grant reviews!

Recently, I participated in a crowd-sourcing initiative (Can thermal imaging detect torpor in Hummingbirds?) that many of my friends and colleagues no doubt saw me posting a lot about.  I cannot take credit for the efforts behind this; the initiative was started by an organised and enthusiastic group from Loyola Marymount University in California.  They were kind enough to invite/allow me to participate in the process, partly to lend expertise and support.  I also wanted to see how crowd-sourced research funding works from the inside, so participating allowed me to see.   Here are thoughts on the experience so far, Pro vs. Con (my comments below should not be construed to reflect those of the team, they are simply my reflections on seeking funding):


  • Access to a new funding source (ok, that’s a no-brainer).
  • Encourages scientists to take on riskier, but interesting research.  There could be a niche here for research that the public likes, but scientists might not actually initially consider to be novel or relevant.  I am accustomed to hearing the oft coined criticism of ivory-tower types pursuing esoteric research….at least the crowd-sourcing provides the public direct input via donations!
  • Students get to be involved in the research funding stages.  I think this is actually an excellent learning experience for graduate students, as they learn to write their proposal in language understandable by all and are allowed to be responsible for their research question.
  • You can engage the general public in science at the planning stages and throughout the research. actually asks you to keep the public up to date on their website.  Ultimately, this enhances outreach and demonstrates our shared passion for science.


  • There is a general feeling that you are being overly sales pitchy about your science; I would think most scientists are comfortable with arguing from facts, rather than coercion or emotions.  Prepare to work outside your comfort zone.
  • Families and friends become rapidly tapped out so you might only get one shot at raising enough funds!  Thank your family and friends, since they will likely be the ones that support the research.
  • The crowd-source organisers do not appear to actively promote any particular campaign, other than hosting the project online.  This surprised me.  Maybe they were doing more behind the scenes we did not notice.
  • The levels of funds are usually only sufficient for small projects that likely do require some nominal attachment to already funded research, so the point above requires careful planning.
  • If asked to update the public website with research progress, there is chance of running into conflict when trying to publish the work at a later date.
  • Working with animals or doing field studies poses challenges from the perspective of ethical oversight.  Usually, in Canada, ethical approval for research comes after the funding, but crowd-source websites expect the research to be approval in principal before seeking funds.  This could effectively disqualify many from applying.


I know my Cons appear to outweigh the Pros….that should not dissuade people from looking into this, but I did not consider many of these aspects until we were well into the fund raising part of the project, and I think it would be helpful for others to know how to plan ahead if they speak to others who have used scientific crowd-funding websites.


Two final thoughts

Should research labs that are already funded really be asking for more money?  In our case, this was a novel project and association of new collaborators who would not be doing the research in the first place, wishing to pursue something new.  But what about researchers using crowd-sourcing to supplement their already funded research?

A final (but distant) concern I have is that this approach might be suggested as a free-market replacement for research council funding.  I hope this is never the case.  No scientists have the time to spend marketing their research, nor the resources to do it in a manner that would really raise enough money.  These are not money making ventures, they are knowledge generation for the most part.  A free-market approach would have the perverse effect of highlighting “popular” research, but not necessarily scientific research (think Reality TV).  My own experience suggests that the crowd-sourcing efforts was like an elaborate bake sale for raising money, where you convince your friends, family, and neighbours to fund your research!  Presumably after one round of this, chances of asking for future funding risks turning people off of science, and the sustainability in the long term would be limited.

Biological Sciences Seminar

So, I’m giving a seminar to my department this Friday, entitled “Beaks and scales and lizardly tales, from Galápagos and Brasil.  A sabbatical report”.

It seems unusual to promote this or even to suggest people attend my seminar, but here it is, for posterity.

Date/Time: Friday, December 2, 12:00 noon
Place: Sankey Chamber, Brock University



Major milestone: Most # of backers!

We just heard from that our crowd-sourced hummingbirds proposal has won the “most number of backers” category (just over 100 at this point in writing) which means our project received an additional $500 from the people.

Stay tuned for more info in 14 days, when the fund raising period is over and we can start the hard work sourcing equipment, supplies and arranging the field work.

Thank you to all of our backers!


Review paper on Infrared Thermography in Ecophysiology

My Infrared Thermography Review paper is finally out!  (Elsevier does have a slow publication process…it was accepted in March, but thankfully published in the same calendar year: 2016).

For a limited time, this paper is freely available at the following link:



The review is part of a special issue on “Ecophysiology methods: refining the old, validating the new and developing for the future” edited by Dr. Jordi Altimiras and Dr. Gary Anderson found here:

I think this special issue will be a useful resource for physiologists taking their research into the field as well as ecologists who should learn some physiology before they start using these approaches.

Half-way there…

So, as of today (Nov 15th), our crowd-sourced research fund raising campaign reached the 50% mark!  This is great news, and we still have 17 days left.

I feel like someone selling cookies door to door, but here is the link for anyone interested in our kind of research and showing their interest in the form of currency.



Physiology is where Anatomy hits the road

I just received the American Association of Anatomists (AAA) newsletter where there is a nice summary and write-up about the symposium that Dr. Ruger Porter and myself hosted earlier this year at the International Congress of Vertebrate Morphology.

What a great bunch of researchers.  Our discussions before and after the symposium were some of the most interesting I have had.  It is definitely worth crossing disciplinary boundaries and working with new people.

The AAA kindly provided financial support for our symposium, which was crucial to its success.

Here is the link and the summary pasted below.


Research Meeting Outreach Grant at ICVM: Bringing Together Anatomists and Physiologists From Around the World
By Wm. Ruger Porter, Lecturer of Human Anatomy, Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine;
Glenn Tattersall, Professor of Physiology, Brock University
From June 29 – July 3 2016, the International Congress of Vertebrate Morphologists hosted a symposium designed to bring together anatomists and physiologists from around the world to present their research on the functional relationship between anatomy and physiology. The American Association of Anatomists Research Outreach Grant supported travel for seven researchers from Japan, South Africa, Canada, and the United States. Each presentation had a physiological question at its core, and explored that question from either an anatomical or physiological perspective. Wm Ruger Porter’s presentation provided evidence for the anatomical and physiological role of blood vessels in the thermoregulatory strategies of dinosaurs and their modern relatives. Glenn Tattersall showed that bird beak morphology influences its ability to shed heat and is subject to selection by environmental temperatures. Colleen Farmer presented her lab’s research on the relationship between red blood cell size, maximum oxygen consumption and metabolic status, and provided provocative evidence in modern taxa to assist in predicting extinct taxa metabolic status. Shoji Hayashi provided details on the bone histology of island deer that allowed them to calculate the metabolic status of an extinct deer species. Maartin Strauss provided several new insights into the physiological role of the artiodactyl carotid rete, including which physiological parameters influence water conservation. Jason Bourke’s presentation provided evidence for the anatomy of the nasal cavity in five dinosaur species and the role of nasal cavity morphology in thermoregulation and water conservation. Finally, Haley O’Brien presented her research on not only the anatomy and physiology of the artiodactyl carotid rete, but also its role in shaping the evolutionary success of artiodactyls.

Most of the participants in this symposium were young scientists that earned their degrees within the last five years. The Research Outreach Grant alleviated travel costs, providing critical support for their participation in this ICVM symposium, and ensured their opportunity to present their cutting-edge research to an international audience and interact with world-class researchers to foster new interdisciplinary collaborations

Using thermal imaging to detect torpor in hummingbirds

Please consider supporting an initiative from a student (Erich Eberts) from Loyola Marymount University to use thermal imaging in order to monitor and detect torpor use in nesting hummingbirds.  This is a first for me, to be assisting in a crowd-sourcing approach to research, and I think it lends itself extremely well to student initiated research, but all the credit goes to the students Erich Eberts and Anusha Shankar for all their hard work at putting together this proposal.

The link to the fund raising campaign is here, on the website.  The title of the proposal:

Using Thermal Imaging to Detect Torpor in Nesting Hummingbirds

Although I might not make it into the field with Erich, I will provide analytical support and assistance with the thermal image analysis.  I have long been watching the hummingbirds that fly past my office window (see videos below) and have even seen them rearing their young outside my office window (in Canada), but Erich is interested in testing a very interesting question about whether and how much females engage in nightly torpor when they are actively incubating eggs and rearing young.  If funded, he will have his own, portable thermal cameras to use in the field and hopefully capture not only stunning science videos, but also useful data on the extent to which torpor is used during incubation.

I wish I could loan him my thermal camera, but mine is heavily used and also off being serviced and calibrated.  The bill for that is $2500, so I think the budget proposed for this project is very modest.




Help with selecting papers for a course

I am looking for suggestions for interesting research papers for a seminar course on Biology of Sensory Systems.  You may suggest your own papers, as I would like to assemble a list of possible research papers to a class of 20 senior biology students who have a background in physiology, neurobiology, or cell biology.

The course could cover cellular mechanisms or behavioural evidence for how animals sense the environment.  Possible topics would be olfaction, thermosensation, photosensitivity, mechanosensation, nociception, UV detection, magnetoreception….to name a few.  The course will not cover aspects of central processing or perception of sensory information within the CNS, as I would like the emphasis to be on the peripheral aspects of sensation.

Non-mammalian and non-human example are especially welcome, since this is for biology majors.

I have posted this question on Researchgate as well.