Tag Archives: Paris

Do pea aphids rule the world? Joint UK-French Aphid Meeting Paris

Last week (5th to 6th November 2015) I had the great privilege and pleasure to attend an aphid conference in Paris – my favourite insects and my favourite city – heaven!  The conference was mainly organised by our French colleagues from INRA, under the direction of Jean-Christophe Simon with help from Richard Harrington, recently retired from Rothamsted Research, and a tiny bit of input from me.

The meeting was held at the Societe Nationale D’Horticulture De France, a building cunningly hidden away down a long passageway off the Rue de Grenelle which debuts into a small courtyard where I found the main entrance and was reassured by the sight of the

Venue

organisers feverishly getting name tags ready (I was very early as had thought it would take longer to walk there than it actually did) and

Notice

a suitably amusingly appropriate sign on the door.

I was greeted enthusiastically by Jean-Christophe, caused a bit of a hiatus by having to have my name badge located and was then pointed gently, but firmly at the coffee 🙂

The rest of the delegates began to arrive some twenty minutes later or so and shortly after we were ushered into the lecture theatre, which was very full.

Lecture

After getting over the shock of being told that there was no Wifi available (that put paid to my plans for Tweeting), I settled down to enjoy the morning. The conference began with an invited presentation from Takema Fukatsu from Japan who gave us an overview on symbiosis, evolution and biodiversity.   This was then followed by two shorter talks of 12.5 minutes each leading us into the first coffee break.  One of the great things about this conference was, that apart from the plenary presentation, all talks were restricted to 10 minutes with 2.5 minutes for questions.  This meant that we got to hear 40 (yes forty) talks over the two days and that we had refreshment breaks every 75 minutes, (the coffee was excellent).  The refreshment breaks were half an hour long, and lunch was an hour, thus giving delegates plenty of time to mix and chat about their work.

There were just over a 100 delegates coming from eight different countries, although as one might expect, most were from France and the UK. It was great to see so many people working on aphids, although not all could be described as “aphidologists” sensu stricto, but I am sure that everyone there would be happy to be included under that description as sensu lato 🙂 Sadly in the UK the number of aphidologists has declined greatly since I was a student, especially those working on their ecology and morphotaxonomy.

The focus of the talks and posters, of which there were 21, was predominantly on the interactions of aphids with their host plants and natural enemies. The role of symbionts in these interactions and the molecular mechanisms involved was especially highlighted, in particular those involved with the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum.  Aproximately 40% of the talks were on the pea aphid, and a further 28% on the most pestiferous aphid in the world, Myzus persicae and its ability to develop resistance to pesticides.  Although I find aphid symbionts fascinating, I am a bit concerned that they and the pea aphid seem to be taking over the world!  Given the number of talks, I am not going to review them all.   For those interested the full programme and abstracts can be found here.  Highlights for me were Christoph Vorburger from ETH who gave an entertaining talk about the effect that endosymbionts have in protecting aphids against parasitoids, and making me feel old, Ailsa McLean from Oxford University, whom I first met when she was in her pram (she is the daughter of Ian Mclean with whom I shared a lab when we were PhD students).  I was also very pleased to be chairing the session in which Charles Dedryver (now retired) was speaking about the history of aphidology.  I was less happy that I had to cut his talk short, but my duties left me no other choice 🙂  Despite Charles and I exchanging reprints for almost 40 years, this was the first time that we had ever come face to face.

All in all a fantastic conference and many congratulations to the team from INRA for organising it so well. My one concern, which I touched upon earlier was the predominance of the pea aphid as a model organism and the overriding focus on the molecular aspects of the various interactions.  I find it a little worrying that I can find statements in papers such as “This is an exciting time for pea aphid biologists”  (Brisson, 2010), which hardly indicates a broad viewpoint. As a further indication of an overly narrow focus, during the breaks it was noticeable that of the people who ventured outside, I was the only one turning leaves over and looking for aphids, the others were indulging their nicotine habits.

Aphids

It is important that as aphidologists, entomologists and ecologists we do not lose sight of the big picture.

 

Reference

Brisson, J.A. (2010) Aphid wing dimorphisms: linking environmental and genetic control of trait variation. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 365, 60-616

 

Sensu stricto in the narrow sense; Sensu lato broadly speaking

 

A non-entomological post script

The added bonus of having the conference in Paris was that my wife had an excuse to pop over for the weekend and I was able to extend my visit. The weather was fantastic and we had a great time eating, drinking and seeing as many sights as we could fit in.  Luckily the weather was glorious.

Cafe Gourmand

My favourite sort of pudding – Café Gourmand (at Le Café Gourmand)

We rode the funicular to the top of Montmartre, something which despite having visited Paris at least once a year for the last 15 years or so, we had never done. Then after visiting the Montmartre Museum, we walked down to the cemetery.  Paris has some great cemeteries and we never miss the chance to see what curiosities we can find.

Dr Pitchal

A psychoanalyst with a macabre sense of humour Dr. Guy Pitchal (1922-1989), Psychoanalyst known for working with many French celebrities — including the singer Dalida, who is buried nearby.

Nijinsky

The Great Nijinsky – looking a bit fed-up?

Zola

Emile Zola – we came across his magnificent tomb entirely by accident, after taking a wrong flight of stairs.

La Goulue

Cancan dancer extraordinaire, La Goulue (The Glutton).

Moped inventor

Robert Mayet – Inventor of the moped

Looking for somewhere to eat on Saturday evening we came across a number of shops already preparing for Christmas.

Polar bears

Christmas will apparently soon be with us!

Bees Gare du Nord

Bees get everywhere – no idea what this was about but saw it as we were heading for the Eurostar.

 

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Filed under Aphidology, Aphids

Nature Enslaved, Nature Embraced

My wife Gill, and I, have just returned from a long weekend in Paris, where we spent what used to be called the Whitsun Bank Holiday.  The weather, despite it being pretty much the last week in May, was far from ideal; in fact on the Friday, if it had been warmer, swim-wear would have been the appropriate attire for the day.  We had arrived, courtesy of Eurostar at about lunchtime, checked into our hotel and then started out for a walk.  The rain, rather than easing off, got heavier, and we looked for a convenient shop to shelter in; as luck would have it we found ourselves in the rue des Filles du Calvaire outside a shop-cum- gallery, called Chardon.  The owner, Gregori Ferret, very kindly ignored the copious amounts of water that we were dripping on his floor, and invited us to come in and view the works of art.  They ranged from stuffed and mounted mammals through fairly standard pinned insects to beautifully arranged and displayed Lepidoptera (all as far as I could tell correctly named, although of course not equipped with collection and determination labels as entomological purists would demand.  That aside, the displays were magnificent in a very Victorian way, reminding me of the very popular song-bird cabinet in the Natural History Museum, London.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

SONY DSC  SONY DSC

There were also insect paintings, some of which included butterfly wings and most amazing of all, a Goliath Beetle, which had been taken apart and then partly reconstructed using fine wire.  A truly bizarre sight, but fascinating at the same time.  The art work in the gallery, including the Goliath beetle was the work of Christine Arzel K which unfortunately, I am unable to reproduce here.  If you are ever in Paris, a visit to Chardon is well worth the effort.  An interesting example of the way insects fascinate artists and, when presented in a non-threatening way, can be appreciated by the public, although of course as an entomologist, I would much rather they were appreciated in situ and alive.

On the Saturday we made our way to the flea market at Porte de Vannes where we were faced by the usual collections of what I call junk.  Oddly enough there were on this occasion, a plethora of insect collections, mainly single boxes of mixed insects, badly pinned, and very inadequately labelled.  There were the odd sets of themed boxes, such as a collection of carabid beetles, but without proper labels, so again entomologically worthless.  What was perhaps more distressing for me, was the large number of magnificent and detailed entomological prints on sale that had been removed from nineteenth century books and were being sold individually for anthing between €10-€20.  Vandalism on a grand scale; but yet again, an indication of the fascination that insects seem to have for people once safely dead.

On the Sunday we made our way to a great oddity, The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, just opposite the National Archives in rue des Archives.  [Click on the hunting horn for a musical introduction or if you want to avoid it go directly here].  This had been recommended by my colleague Tilly Collins who described it as a truly extraordinary experience.  It has been described, according to Wikipedia as quirky, astonishing, strange and eclectic .  It was all of these things.  It is a museum dedicated to hunting and its associated trappings including hunt and nature associated art, ranging from classical through to modern installation pieces.  It also houses an incredible collection of firearms and associated paraphernalia, beautifully decorated powder horns, shooting sticks, restorative flasks etc.  And of course, many,many stuffed animals, including in the Room of Trophies, Le Souillot, which is a wall-mounted animatronic albino boar head by contemporary French artist Nicolas Darrot, that speaks [snarls] to museum visitors in French.  The weirdest thing for me was the Owl Room, which appeared to be a composed of owl skins [I sneaked a photo].

Owl Room

The lighting was very odd too; in some places almost pitch black, which made the exhibits hard to see [perhaps mercifully] and the light fittings were also artistically sylvan

Museum lights

All in all a rather odd experience.  Interestingly enough, no insects!  Before you all condemn the practice of hunting (and I include fishing in this, although the museum did not) it is worth remembering that if it were not for the Norman Conquest and the fact that William the Conqueror loved hunting so much that he instigated the Law of the Forest, we would not have large tracts of what became Royal Forests such as Epping and the New Forest.  Given that and the fact that his ancestors and other members of the nobility from then and to the modern day, also loved hunting, shooting and fishing meant that rather than our forest cover being reduced to zero by the time of the industrial revolution, the UK still had 5% forest cover by 1899 including our much valued ancient and semi-natural woodlands.  Some of us may not approve of the ethics of hunting animals for pleasure but it did have positive effects for our wildlife and countryside [perhaps a subject for a future post?].  To this day, large landowners provide funding for the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust which carries out incredibly useful and important ecological research and helps make our countryside a better place for wildlife of all sorts, including insects.  In fact, in their former guise as the Game Conservancy Trust they were doing very valuable entomological work investigating the value of beetle banks and conservation headlands in the 1970s and 1980s.

Do I have a take-home message? What was the reasoning behind my choice of title for this post? I guess that what I have tried to say, hopefully successfully, is that despite our increasingly urbanised existence, a significant proportion of the human race still has a fascination for nature.  As ecologists it is our duty to see that this fascination is properly channelled; towards conservation, not just preservation and exploitation.  So rather than enslave nature we should embrace it and nurture it.

mother earth cartoon

Post script

Coincidentally just as I was getting ready to publish this post I came across a letter in The Daily Telegraph of 29th May, where the British Association for Shooting and Conservation was praised for its role in the conservation of British wildlife.

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Filed under EntoNotes, Roundabouts and more, The Bloggy Blog