Bringing it home…

Hi everyone and happy holidays!! I hope you’re having a great time with the most important people in your life.

This year, I stayed in Quebec for Christmas and had an awesome meal with my girlfriend’s folks, then flew back to Scotland on the 26th. I’ll be in the homeland till the 15th January and am really enjoying chilling with the family. About 9 of us (and two dogs) are staying for a week in a really nice house about an hour from my hometown, where we are sharing tales, playing games and having many wee “swallies” (that’s a Scottish word)!

Seeing my mum again after a year.

It’s been a hard year, but a successful one. Earlier in December, I took part in the Arctic Change 2014 conference in Ottawa, along with about 1200 others from 25 counties. This was organised by ArcticNet as in previous years, but was much bigger. I watched great talks about the increased industrialisation of the Arctic, political issues that we must tackle to ensure the Arctic doesn’t get trashed, and loads of good talks about how Arctic animals may respond to climate change, or are already doing that. Colleagues in Norway revealed much more about the Arctic zooplankton, some of the most beautiful in the world, with very cool survival strategies. “Comb jellies” flash lights to attract prey or communicate (this is called bioluminescence). Only recently, we’re beginning to fill in the blanks about how they live, because of new international projects permitting us to study them during throughout the year, including in winter. Not the easiest time to collect and study plankton, but by working together (and also in part due to sea ice retreat), we’re getting further every year.

The Arctic comb jelly Mertensia ovum, flashing its rainbow lights.                                     From: http://www.asknature.org

I designed a poster, and also gave a talk on the final day of the conference. At the 2013 ArcticNet conference, I reported how chaetognaths were described as “tigers of the plankton”; how most researchers consider them to be predators with fierce machinery for catching and for killing prey. They do have sharp teeth – that’s true – but my work on Arctic chaetognaths in the last year has made me question the tiger title. As I reported in a previous blog post, arrow worms rarely have prey in their guts (when you look at them under the microscope). On the other hand, Eukrohnia hamata specimens have a lot of identifiable algae in their guts, throughout the period when the algae bloom in the Arctic (spring and summer). My talk first described how the arrow worm species respond differently to the seasonal conditions of the Arctic: they have different lifespans, reproduce at different times of the year, and things like that. The audience seemed to enjoy discovering this little known group. I then suggested that the way these animals have been viewed for a long time may be wrong, or at least needs to be revised.

With Arctic Change poster on arrow worm ecology. Photo credit Masayo
My talk on the tigers (or not!) of the plankton. Photo credit Eric

I’m very excited about these new discoveries and the direction they’re taking me in. The big question now is what influences arrow worm feeding modes. Is filtering seawater and emptying it of its organic constituents the key mode in at least some species? Is predation more important in others? Some of these questions may take me even beyond the PhD thesis.

I hope that 2015 brings you what you’re looking for. Anything is possible if you have a solid work ethic – I’m seeing that clearly, but in 2015 I will also be seeking a bit more balance in life, and ensuring I take my health along for the ride.

Best of luck, Jordan xx

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