The 144th annual American Fisheries Society meeting (AFS) is currently running in Québec City, and I’ve had a blast so far. While I arrived yesterday afternoon and met up with David Ushakow, one of the NAPIRE students I mentor last summer, at the welcoming social, today started the meeting’s oral and poster presentations.
I saw a few of the talks in the plenary session this morning, which were quite eclectic.
Louis Bernatchez of Université Laval gave an excellent talk about the importance of basic science as “fuel” for technological innovation, social and economic growth, and as a feedback for more basic science. This talk appealed to the skeptic in me. As a listener of podcasts like Skeptics Guide to the Universe, a reader of skeptic blogs, and a former member of Kent State’s Freethought club, I’m often thinking about science and society. It was great to see a plenary speaker advocating for basic science research with clear examples, such as the discovery of Thermus aquaticus and subsequent advent of Taq polymerase chain reaction. This would certainly be a good talk for non-science majors to discuss, and AFS was filming the plenary sessions. If I get a hold of the video, I’ll link it here.
A couple of other talks, like that of Theirry Oberdoff of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle who summarized some patterns of fish diversity at several spatial scales, were more fisheries-based and data driven, but the last speaker, David Bella of Oregon State University, discussed what he called “Systematic Distortion.” He described a conceptual model for understanding the occurance of confirmation bias in large organizational systems, such as regulatory organizations, corporations, or even AFS… He was certainly interesting and passionate, but I wondered at the novelty of his presentation and ideas. It seems that psychological and sociological fields have likely developed such ideas extensively. Further, his message, which was advocating being a ‘trouble-maker’ and challenging status quo within such large organizations, seems to be explicitly addressed in many organizations. Internal and external auditing agencies comes to mind.
In the afternoon, I attended a handful of oral presentations, all on the development and use of a relatively new technique called eDNA (environmental DNA). eDNA methodology is being developed to perform many conservation applications, and David Lodge of the University of Notre Dame (and my advisor’s [Mark Kershner] master’s advisor) introduced the audience to some of the uses and challenges eDNA presents. For instance, Lodge’s group is using eDNA to indicate the presence of Asian carp in the Great Lakes, but the particle size distribution and degradation rate of eDNA are little known. The power of this technique currently resides in its sensitivity. Briefly, cells, tissue, and/or fragments of DNA are constently being sloughed off by organisms into their environment. With eDNA techniques, we can sample a tiny bit of the physical environment (e.g., a cup of water from Lake Michigan), and estimate whose living there by sequencing DNA within the water. This may allow assessment of who communities through metagenetics, or probing for specific species, like carp. As Lodge pointed out, we often struggle with controlling invasive species because they are well established in an environment before we take notice. eDNA may indicate presence of an invasive while it has low enough abundance that we can eradicate it.
Towards the end of his talk, Lodge mentioned an initiative to monitor coastal systems impacted by shipping yards for invasive species using eDNA. I would hope Savannah is part of this, as it’s the 3rd or 4th busiest port in the US.
The City and Some Coffee
In the late afternoon, I took a stroll though Battlefields Park, and the Old City. I then visited an excellent coffee roaster’s shop. Upon my arrival, a Canadian customs agent searched my bag and, when she found some coffee that I had brought, she recommended that I visit LES BRÛLERIES DE CAFÉ. Excellent stuff.
To finish the day off, my student presented his poster during the evening’s poster session, and we celebrated with couple of beers on Grande Allee.