Rachel Webber

I graduated from Oregon State University with B.S. degrees in wildlife science and psychology, interested in animal cognition and using wildlife behaviors to help solve conservation problems. I’ve worked on projects with wild rodents, mule deer, elk, tree swallows, violet-green swallows, captive gray wolves, drafting a Conservation Efforts Assessment Plan, and investigating canine understanding of probability.

 I have also worked for the US Forest Service as a summer wildlife technician for two seasons, USGS and BLM as a feral horse and burro research technician, and contracted with the Oregon Department of Forestry as a marbled murrelet surveyor. I was accepted into the StFX Biology MSc program, and will be investigating lobster bait preferences and behavior around food sources. After I complete my master’s degree, I hope to move on to a Ph.D. in wildlife behavior and conservation.

A fun discussion: RCW and Dr. Christopher Byrne shared a special seminar on the scientific method: patterns, mechanisms, hypotheses, deduction, induction and more.

It was was great to have a packed audience for this event on Fri Jan 18, 2019 sponsored by the Office of the Associate Vice President Research and Graduate Studies. Our thanks to Dr. Richard Isnor.

Abstract: In a recent article, “Patterns vs. Causes and Surveys vs. Experiments: Teaching Scientific Thinking,” The American Biology Teacher 80 (2018), 203-23, Prof. R. Wyeth (Biology, StFX) and Prof. M. Wonham (Biology, Quest Univ.,Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre) argue that the hypothetical-deductive method is a tractable view of the modern scientific method as it provides the basic structure for students to conceptualize experimentalinquiry. By contrast, Prof. Byrne argues that the basic structure of experimental inquiry is inductive, rather than deductive, does not always require an hypothesis to be tested, and is not hypothetical in any interesting sense of this term. In this discussion, Professors Wyeth and Byrne will present their views on the place of the hypothetical-deductive method in modern experimental science. They will also consider the recent history of the hypothetical-deductive method, particularly its connection to Karl Popper,as well as its application to teaching the scientific method to university students. Given its subject matter, this talk should be of interest to all faculty and upper-level students in the experimental sciences, whether natural, social or medical.

And the outcome? Well, we both learned more about each other’s perspectives and we agree on many aspects of how science works and how the formal description of the hypothetical-deductive method (as laid out by Popper) doesn’t fit science very well at all. But there are points of contention, particularly with regard to exploratory science – where is the boundary with non scientific observation and do exploratory surveys have implicit hypotheses or not?

Emmerson Wilson

My name is Emmerson Wilson, I am a third year biology student at Saint Francis Xavier University and am working towards completing an honours in biology with a minor in economics. I have been working at Wyeth lab doing research on potential environmentally friendly antifouling treatments. My biggest passion is the outdoors, and so I spend my summers leading white water canoe trips throughout Canada.

Congratulations to Alex Young – today was MSc thesis submission day!

Alex wrapped up all his revisions yesterday, and submitted his thesis today.

Expression Patterns of Neural-Specific Genes in the Pond Snail, Lymnaea stagnalis

Two and a bit years of hard work culminated in 5 total chapters – 3 of which are destined for publication. He used bioinformatics, quantitative PCR and in-situ hybridization to find patterns of gene expression, focusing on neurotransmitter-related genes in Lymnaea.  Congratulations Alex on a fantastic achievement. Next up for him: some more work wrapping up those publications, and then hopefully off to start a PhD.

A temporary farewell to Areej – back to Saudi Arabia with a thesis to write

Areej Alansari has gotten caught between the governments of Saudi Arabia and Canada.   She has to head home very soon.  Fortunately, she has just enough data collected for her MSc on snail navigation behaviour, so she can now focus on writing up the thesis from a distance.  We are all looking to give her as much support as possible so she can finish up her degree after investing so much into it over the last couple years.  It was a fun send-off party (for biologists).

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Summer research recap: snail navigation in the dark


This summer, Kero continued our work testing the snail navigation behaviour towards food sources.   His experiment focused how the animals performed in the dark but with water flow.  That meant he had to first construct a cover in order to block any light from reaching the flow tank.  Then 54 trials across 3 different treatments, comparing responses to tasty food (to a snail) to two control conditions.  Then analysis of the video data began: transforming all the trials into videograms and tracking the different snails throughout out the trials.

Summer research recap: antifouling for aquaculture

Michelle Hodgson says: the beginning of the summer was filled with lots of reading and planning for the preparation of deployment. Katerina and I spent most of May and June in the Chemistry lab with Sophie preparing the siloxane-based surface treatments, while Sophie was away.

After the completion of our treatments, we were ready to assemble the frames that would house all 96 treatments. 1152 drilled holes and a countless number of zip-ties later, the assemblage was complete.

We initially planned to deploy our treatments on July 5th, but with a late mussel set, it was delayed until July 20th. While waiting to deploy, we had the opportunity to collect plankton samples in hopes to identify mussel larvae; which happens to be much more difficult than we had hoped!

Once all treatments were placed into the water, things merged into a regular schedule. Every week we traveled to the aquaculture farm to collect photos and monitor the progress of mussel fouling. Due to the late deployment, we will continue our collections until late September. After all the data is collected, we will be analyzing the photos to see which treatments are the most effective at minimizing mussel fouling.

Summer research recap: lobster toxicology and behaviour

This summer was jam-packed with lobster activities! Our field work consisted of lobster collections- both trapping by boat and SCUBA! In the lab Ella and Aaron prepared for future behavioural experiments with juvenile lobsters. This included preliminary tests (sometimes using infrared light and special GoPro cameras) recording lobster escape response (check out the great tail-flip below!), foraging, and predator avoidance behaviour. In anticipation of the incoming baby lobbies, Ella and Aaron also constructed a lobster hotel!

Summer research recap: a trip down under

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Russell spent most of July in Australia doing all sorts of science –  snails, medusae, giant tritons,  and Crown-of-Thorns seastars  (and some fun encountering some southern biota outside of the lab, also).   Much of the time was spent catching up with folks in the Cummins lab at the University of Sunshine Coast – working on manuscripts and providing advice to new students on their behaviour experiments.   The International Congress of Neuroethology was also held in Brisbane, and our poster shared recent work by MSc students Areej Alansari and Alex Young on Lymnaea as well as earlier work on Tritonia that involved a whole crowd of past students.

Russell C. Wyeth, Areej Alansari, Shelby Brown, Jane Fletcher, Carmen Landry, Ella Maltby, Kieran Murphy, Patrick O’Brien, Hannah Stevens, Alex Young.  2018. Neuroethology of chemosensory-based navigation behaviour in the aquatic gastropods Tritonia and Lymnaea. Internation Congress of Neuroethology, Bribane, Australia. Poster Link

There was also time to sneak in  trips to the Australian Institute of Marine Science to give advice on flow tank design and the new jellies research facility, led by Dr. Kylie Pitt from Griffiths University and developed as a partnership with the Gold Coast SeaWorld, to discuss experiments and analysis of behaviours in cnidarian medusae.   Maybe new collaborations or projects in the future…

Publication! Opalescent nudibranchs marching northwards.

Congrats particularly to Kathryn Milligan, Nola Sheets and Emily Merlo, who started this off as course project at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre in the 2016 Marine Ecology class taught by Dr. Chris Neufeld and Tao Eastham.  We were able to show that there were two species of Hermissenda present in Barkley and Clayoquot Sounds on Vancouver Island.  One is supposed to be there,  while the other is supposed to be in southern California.  Telling them apart is fairly straight forward, when you know what to look for: northern Hermissenda crassicornis have white striped cerata (sticky up bits) while southern Hermissenda opalscens have white tips but no stripes on their cerata. With the help of Dr. Ángel Valdés and Ka’ala Estores-Pacheco as well as the Barcode of Life group, we confirmed the original  morphological data with genetic analyses.  The question now, of course is why?  Perhaps climate factors?  Other species were also found far further northwards than normal that year…

Check out the lay summary here, or the full publication here:
Merlo, E.M., Milligan, K.A., Sheets, N.B., Neufeld, C.J., Eastham, T.M., Estores-Pacheco, A.L.K., Steinke, D., Hebert, P.D.N., Valdés, Á., and Wyeth, R.C. 2018. Range extension for the region of sympatry between the nudibranchs Hermissenda opalescens and Hermissenda crassicornis in the northeastern Pacific. FACETS 3(1): 764–776. doi:10.1139/facets-2017-0060.