Run, run, run

Lately, I feel like the ‘Red Queen Hypothesis’ has been haunting me a lot. In our tansy chemodiversity project, we have been doing a lot of running. Yet, I feel like we’re not moving a centimeter in any direction. We just run, and run, and run, and then we run some more.

God, it’s exhausting.

We have had a fantastic summer season, with three field experiments started. The main one has been highly successful and has yielded lots and lots of data for the project. The two other ones were started late in the season, and have now firmly established, and will offer a great set of opportunities for next year. We’re good on the field work. We ran a lot, but we clearly moved forward.

However, we decided it would be fun to do an experiment with different chemotypes in a controlled setting. But somehow luck, this time, has not been on our side. This is mostly due to the season not being optimal for growing our plant species. The plants took a long time to establish. But in the end we got them where we wanted them. But it took a lot of running.

For our experiments, we need aphids. Although we had some hiccups to get the colonies going initially, some keen efforts from our PhD candidate ensured several thriving colonies. She helped her first struggling colonies overcome parasitoids, bacterial diseases, and suppressed an upcoming mildew infection. For three weeks, it seemed that we had the wind in our sails. The colonies were clean of disease and any nasty hymenopteran that wanted to insert their ovipositors into our aphid ladies. We were running, but our efforts seemed to move us forward. I don’t know when, where, or how it happened, but over the past few days, a lot of mummies have developed, especially in one of our rearings. Generatio spontanea. No seriously, I haven’t got a clue! These cages had been clean for weeks, so I can hardly believe that there was a ‘toid in there! It must have come in from outside? I’m any case, one (of four) rearings developed (pretty inconspicuous) parasitoid mummies, that were mostly hidden in the lower leaves. Over the weekend, an army of parasitoids emerged. It is safe to assume that after a couple of hours, no aphid in this particular rearing would be unparasitized. I think there were that many… There was nothing we could do but dispose of everything. Luckily, we already established fresh cohorts yesterday, far away from the ovipositors of any Aphidius and the like. We ran a lot, but, well, at least we’re still in the same place.

Parasitoids, I love you dearly, but stay out of my aphid rearing. How did you get in anyway?

Then there was our plant situation. We had grown our plants under the best conditions that we could provide in this time of the year. They weren’t growing fast, but they.were growing. I saw no reason to fear or despair. Early October, the time had come to transfer them from the greenhouses to the climate chambers that we reserved for our aphid experiment. Cool. What could go wrong? It almost went too smooth. One week in the climate chambers, the plants started to develop some early signs of nutrient stress. Sure. That I can recognize, and deal with. And so I ran. (Well, technically I drove, but for sake of story, just believe that I ran to my car) Off to the nearest garden center to pick up fertilizer. Within four days, my efforts paid off. New fresh leaves were growing, and it seemed that with a regular fertilizer treatment, all would be good and well. And maybe that was the problem? Nice and juicy plants taste well. It now seems that we have some unwanted visitors that have arrived somewhere between the transfer from greenhouse to climate room, and now. Teeny tiny visitors. Visitors that will have to be dealt with this week.

And so we’re running again, because running is so much fun.

God, I’m so bloody tired of running.

Can I just sit?

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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