what actually happened

Kieran Murphy just tweeted out a great thread sharing more of the adventure (and misadventure) behind his MSc research. He did indeed find something “really quite important” and deserves a ton of credit! Check it out on twitter, or the full thread here.
[Thanks to Darius Kazemi’s spooler for helping to put thread together here in one place.]

A thread by Kieran Murphy

We got it done, my first publication😄

Thanks to the sea gods! 🧜‍♀️🧜‍♂️

A lot goes into all peer reviewed work, so here’s a thread about some of the fun stuff, the grunt work, and mess ups behind the clean-cut read about an invasive sea squirt in Nova Scotia (…)

The Hard Graft

Location, location, location!

We monitored an invasive sea squirt called the vase tunicate on the coast of Nova Scotia and tested if its variable abundance was related to water conditions (i.e. temperature, salinity and pH)


Settlement collectors!

To monitor sea squirts, one needs settlement collectors, many, many settlement collectors!


Trusty steed!

You need a solid vehicle (StFX Biology truck RIP) or many flashy rental cars to fill up with gear and to drive all around the coast of NS (approx 3,500 km) once a month from May to October in 2014 and 2015


Deploying equipment

Attach all of the settlement collectors and environmental data loggers to floating docks at 15 different field sites. Also return to photograph the settlement collector plates, upload data logger info and calibrate loggers

The lows

When I locked the car keys in the trunk

Yeah, it’s a trunk because I was in Canada ae!

Or when the data loggers got biofouled (ironic right?) or inexplicably corroded

P.S. copper wire and mesh are your friends to counter pesky data logger biofouling!

Or when one of your floating docks goes missing!!!

Don’t worry, there it is



Good times!

Holy moly, did I see some heckin good sunrises and sunsets though!

And what aboot that wildlife (terrestrial………..EWWW!)

Aquatic (at least partially)………..CUTE!

I lived in a winter wonderland (hell) for three whole winters!

Crazy fall colours 🍁🍁🍁

Fall = Autumn


More graft!

Looked at settlement plate images like this for days….weeks….no, months, counting how many critters were where and when

Got to work, no matter the conditions.

Nothing could keep me from grabbing a hot cup of filter coffee that’s been simmering on the hotplate for hours and counting those squares of sessile invertebrate filth

And at the end of the day, we discovered something quite important:

while temperature and salinity are good predictors of vase tunicate presences/absence distribution, they do not predict the abundance of the species very well

This could have important implications for the monitoring and distribution modelling of other sessile marine invertebrates

If you can’t access the paper, please just DM me for a copy

And don’t forget folks, always be sun🌞and sea🌊 safe!



Combined analysis rankings assigned to each candidate reference gene.Alex Young has published the first (of hopefully three!) articles from his MSc.   This first one is a key step for a new way to explore the peripheral nervous system of gastropods.   Working with transcriptome data shared by Dan Jackson and with Carmen Landry‘s help in the lab, Alex established which genes have highly stable gene expression in the pond snail, Lymnaea stagnalis, and therefore which would be effective as a reference when studying the relative expression levels of other genes (such as genes expressed in neurons – that’s manuscript number two in the works).

Young AP, Landry CF, Jackson DJ, Wyeth RC. 2019Tissue-specific evaluation of suitable reference genes for RT-qPCR in the pond snail, Lymnaea stagnalisPeerJ 7:e7888


CaptureWyeth lab alumn Kieran Murphy has just published his first two peer-reviewed articles.   The first documents his (massive) efforts during his MSc to survey both abundances of the invasive vase tunicate Ciona intestinalis and potentially corresponding environmental conditions. His goal was to test whether temperature, salinity, etc. could explain variations in the abundances of this species around Nova Scotia.  The result?  No clear links between abiotic conditions and population growth patterns, which has implications for predicting and managing the spread of this nuisance species.   The second is an exciting new collaboration that developed as an offshoot from his MSc.  Ping Ni from Aibin Zhan‘s group used Ciona collected by Kieran and his temperature data to discover temperature-linked epigenetic changes in an invasive species.  Congrats to Kieran and Ping!

Murphy, K.J., Sephton, D., Klein, K., Bishop, C.D., and Wyeth, R.C. 2019. Abiotic conditions are not sufficient to predict spatial and interannual variation in abundance of Ciona intestinalis in Nova Scotia, Canada. Marine Ecology Progress Series 628: 105–123. doi:10.3354/meps13076.
Ni, P., Murphy, K.J., Wyeth, R.C., Bishop, C.D., Li, S., and Zhan, A. 2019. Significant population methylation divergence and local environmental influence in an invasive ascidian Ciona intestinalis at fine geographical scales. Mar Biol 166(11): 143. doi:10.1007/s00227-019-3592-3.

the data is starting to flow

Projects are really starting to roll this summer…

Ella Maltby and Meg Davies are recording tail flip, foraging and shelter use behaviours in lobsters exposed to contaminants.

Rachel Webber and Michelle Hodgson are recording lobster behavioural responses to prey and baits in the field (with great help from Grace, Dan and others).

Carmen Ucciferri (with some help from Areej Alansari, when she’s not writing her thesis!) are recording snail navigational responses to crayfish.

And finally, our work with We’koqma’q First Nation continues, with Katerina Basque (who is from Waycobah!) and Meaghan MacDonald (and some help from Amelia MacKenzie) starting get their first images of fouling for a number different surveys and tests of fouling and antifouling relevant to the We’koqma’q aquaculture operation.


Amelia MacKenzie and Ella Maltby have their first peer-reviewed article. This project started as NSERC Engage with AML Oceanographic, and Ella working at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre testing how much (actually how little) ultraviolet light is needed to deter marine biofouling. With Amelia and Ella working together here at StFX, it grew into a 3 part study of UV light, showing it can stop development of three different fouling communities. Congrats again to both!

MacKenzie, A.F., Maltby, E.A., Harper, N., Bueley, C., Olender, D., and Wyeth, R.C. 2019. Periodic ultraviolet-C illumination for marine sensor antifouling. Biofouling TBA: 1–11. doi:10.1080/08927014.2019.1616698.

A belated welcome.

Lots of change in the Wyeth lab… New students have joined the crew, each working with another more experienced student to help learn the ropes of research. Carmen Ucciferri is working with Areej Alansari on snail navigation behaviour, Meaghan MacDonald has joined Katerina Basque and Amelia MacKenzie on the biofouling and antifouling projects, and Meg Davies is working with Ella Maltby on lobster behavioural toxicology. Meanwhile, Rachel Webber has started an MSc studying lobster behavioural responses to bait, and Michelle Hodgson will complete her Honours thesis alongside that project.

Finally, Emmerson Wilson is off doing other things for the summer, but will back in the fall for her honours (probably on snail sensory systems), and Alex Young is doing a last stint on that same project in Roger Croll’s lab at Dalhousie University before he starts to his PhD on the molecular mechanisms of neurogenerative diseases.


Published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, this is a collaborative project with Scott Cummins’ group at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia. We contribute behavioural video analysis alongside “secretomics” to show parasitic schistisomes change their behaviour in the presence of peptides released by Biomphalaria snails.

Here’s our summary: In aquatic environments, where the vast majority of animals live in darkness, key relationships are often formed and maintained by chemical communication (including smell and taste). Parasites with an aquatic life phase rely on an exquisite sense of chemosensation to detect host biomolecules (kairomones), allowing them to locate and infect their host. Our study identifies the first kairomone released by the freshwater gastropod snail Biomphalaria glabrata, an intermediate host for the helminth blood fluke parasite Schistosoma mansoni. This is a key aspect of the Smansoni life-cycle that ultimately leads to human infection, causing the disease schistosomiasis (or bilharzia), which is considered the most devastating human helminth infection in terms of global morbidity and mortality. The kairomone we identify is a peptide that does not appear to share any similarity with any other known animal peptide. This information will be helpful as we explore methods to interrupt parasite infection, and therefore break the cycle of infection that causes a major human disease.

Citation: Wang T, Wyeth RC, Liang D, Bose U, Ni G, McManus DP, et al. (2019) A Biomphalaria glabrata peptide that stimulates significant behaviour modifications in aquatic free-living Schistosoma mansoni miracidia. PLoS Negl Trop Dis 13(1): e0006948.