By Carmen Da Silva
I’ve departed from the Wilson Lab for the Northern Hemisphere summer. Little did I know that Arizona summer is the equivalent of winter. A stifling 45°C is a normal day here in Tempe, and like winter you often don’t find too many people strolling around during the day. This crazy environment does, however, seem like it should be a good location to continue my pursuit to better understand thermal performance in animals and it is the home of Professor Michael Angilletta whose lab I am visiting and expertise I am seeking!
My first task here has been to learn how to do climate envelope modelling. Jake (PhD student in Mikes lab) and I figured out how to run generalized additive models, machine learning (decision tree) models and how to use MaxEnt to predict how thermal generalists will respond to climate change. I’ve applied these models to intertidal fish and we are writing a cool paper on how thermal generalists will respond to climate change.
Mike was kind enough to take us on a lab adventure to see some of the amazing desert sites while we (a French student named Sam and myself) visited. Driving through the desert was pretty incredible, giant cacti everywhere and bare mountains popping out of the ground all over the place. When we arrived at the campsite (just over the Utah border) we were disappointed to find many RVs enjoying the beautiful lake with crazy rock formations coming out of it. We decided to get further away from the crowd and find a more relaxed setting. As we drove further the road turned into a dirt path, this was fine, we were all up for an adventure. But then it turned to sand. We were in a small Hyundai sedan. Uh oh. The sand got deeper. We found a slightly firm spot and deliberated what to do. It seemed unwise to go further into potentially deeper sand – but it also seemed difficult to go back up hill in deep sand. We decided to take everything out of the car to make it as light as possible and set up camp where we were as it was a bit further away from everyone else, and then tried to drive out. Mike drove up the sand hill in his Hyundia as fast as possible, he made it all the way to the top, we were all cheering – but then he got bogged. Oh no. Time to push
the car down the hill. We looked around trying to find hard ground, but we were out of luck. Things were looking bad. The ground was harder down by the water, but the expanse between us and the water was completely torn up deep sand. I was walking down to the water trying to find an escape path for us, when I heard a “Fuck it, get out of the car Jake, I’m going for it”, I hadn’t quite registered what was happening until I heard a yell “Caarrrmmenn!!” Jake was yelling at me because Mike and his Hyundai were coming at me at full speed bouncing around like crazy through the sand. I ran to the side and the Hyundai flew past. The car stopped. Mike came out of the car and two fists went up into the air and we all cheered – we wouldn’t waste away and die in the desert sun!!
The camping extravaganzas didn’t stop there. Once we decided to go to sleep many people in large trucks kept driving past us to get to a more remote site around 2am. As our tents stuck out like sore thumbs (since we were randomly perched in the middle of the sand bank) one truck decided to come and investigate us at about 3am. We were not aware of the truck until it drove literally and I mean literally 10cm away from Sam’s tent and on FULL volume blasted “MY ANACONDA DON’T, MY ANACONDA DON’T, MY ANACONDA DON’T WANT NONE UNLESS YOU GOT BUNS HUN”!! As you can imagine we all woke with a start, but no altercations were made with the truck full of red necks. I’ll tuck that encounter away as a cultural experience.
The rest of the trip was much less eventful, but more enjoyable. We made it to Horseshoe bend, part of the Grand Canyon, an extremely expensive frozen yoghurt store for Jake to do some marking in Wifi and we went to a place called Flagstaff which is forested and elevated so it was shady and cool – a lovely reprieve where we could relax and go on some hikes.
Once we got back to Tempe it was time to do some work again. We are currently running a thermal performance and oxygen limitation experiment with grasshoppers. Putting my hand into a small box full of jumping insects initially seemed like my worst nightmare – and I consequently did have a dream a couple days later of having to put my hand into a small box full of cockroaches – but it’s actually not so bad holding the hoppers and I have ended up becoming quite fond of them. Plus, we get to use this cool machine where we get to put our hands in giant gloves and feel like we are working in outer space (to put the hoppers into a hypoxic environment).
I’ve only got one week left in Tempe before heading to Montpellier France for the Evolution conference. I’ve ended up learning a lot on this trip so far and I feel like I have also re-gained some motivation and enthusiasm to help me finish off the final leg of my PhD. Working in a new environment and doing something new seems like it can be a great way to get re- energized. Hopefully this momentum will help me make a good presentation for the
conference – which I feel like vomiting just thinking about. However, I am very excited to re- unite with my fellow goby boy Josh, my co-supervisor Cynthia and roach boy Jules at the conference!
I’ll let you know if I vomited at the conference or not in a couple weeks. Adios from Tempe!