The Research Coordinated Network for Evolution in Changing Seas (RCN-ECS)

The Molecular Ecologist contributors Reid Brennan, Laetitia Wilkins, and I (Stacy Krueger-Hadfield) were invited to attend the Research Coordinated Network for Evolution in Changing Seas synthesis workshop at the Shoals Marine Lab this past week (19-23 August).

Stacy, Reid, and Laetitia

Evolving Seas is a global network of marine scientists and evolutionary biologists.

The RCN is composed of 83 assistant professors or overseas equivalents; 35 associate professors or overseas equivalents; 118 graduate students; 73 post-docs; 58 professors; 1 professor emeritus; 5 program officers; 8 scientists at government agencies; 9 technicians; and 7 undergraduates (as of June 2019). You don’t need to be a marine type or an evolution type to be involved! The network is looking for new members – see How to Join for information on how to sign up and get involved.

Don’t forget to follow @EvolvingSeas on Twitter. Then, sign up for a Twitter take-over, write a blog post, or both (see sign-up here). The network needs folks from now into 2020!!! It’s a great way to promote your research and things going on in your lab or department!

A motley crew of evolving seas scientists (@D Bolnick)

Reid’s take: I’m a somewhat recently derived member of the marine world. I’ve worked previously on marine to freshwater transitions in fish (how to avoid the ocean!), but my postdoc work focuses exclusively on marine inverts and climate change. Because of this, I was excited to meet lots of new colleagues in the field. We had read a great set of papers in the spring and had some engaging and fun discussions over Slack; I assumed, correctly, that the discussions in person would be even better! Plus, I’d never say no to hanging out at a marine lab for a week.

The workshop was focused on discussing big problems in the field and forming working groups to begin to address them. As climate change progresses, I’d argue that evolutionary biology has much to offer when it comes to conservation. It is especially important to understand how marine systems evolve, are structured, and may change in the future. I ended up joining the working group “Diversity and Divergence in the Sea”, where our goal is to synthesize many datasets to determine the drivers of patterns of genetic variation in the oceans. This is a somewhat ambitious idea, but there is a phenomenal group of people involved and I’ve already been learning a lot and am excited to continue working on the project.

While the workshop has been great in terms of meeting colleagues and discussing important ideas, simply seeing how this type of working group functions has also been fascinating. Corralling 40 biologists of diverse interests and keeping them on task is quite a challenge. However, the payoff is certainly worth it. I’d highly recommend participating in this type of working group if you ever get the opportunity!

Laetitia’s take: I was drawn to the RCN about a year ago, when I saw a tweet by Daniel Bolnick about the effort of the RNC steering committee to foster collaborations among evolutionary biologists, marine biologists, and oceanographers. I had just transitioned from working mostly on freshwater systems to working on anadromous fish (migrating between freshwater and the ocean) and ultimately, to studying marine coastal animals and their bacterial symbionts. Compared to Reid, my steelhead were already guiding me towards the ocean…

So, when Dan posted his tweet, I was about to go out on a dinner with my husband. Instead, I sat on the porch, read the RCN website and applied to become a member. I missed my date, at home, while our babysitter was there. This is how excited I was about the RCN! My husband was pretty bummed (this is why I still remember it!).

The RCN gave me a platform to write about my new position as a marine researcher (although originally trained in evolutionary biology of mostly terrestrial systems). It also helped me expand my ‘virtual network’ by taking over their twitter account for a week (check out the tweets under the hashtag #istmobiome).

Last spring, the RCN organized a global journal club. One of its kind! People from all over the world would read the same papers and meet every two weeks to discuss them. We were offered questions beforehand and had to post our answers and comments publicly via slack. This allowed us to interact with other reading groups, and it gave us a deadline to read the papers. I reached out campus-wide at UC Davis and started a local reading group together with Sam Bashevkin. UC Davis is big enough that we had to meet through skype or slack, with me on the main campus and him at Bodega Bay. The papers we read were about the spatial and temporal scale of environmental variation, local adaptation, the evolution of genomic architecture, dispersal, general population genetics, genetic load, balancing selection, and phenotypic plasticity. The reading group helped me refresh some old knowledge about population genetic theory and I learnt a lot of new concepts (to me) from marine biology.

All of this culminated in a workshop on the beautiful isle of Appledore, at the Schoals Marine Laboratory, right at the boarder of Maine and New Hampshire. My expectations got more than fulfilled. I got to know many new people who I have heard of but never met, especially in marine biology. It feels great to expand my network of marine biologists. I also met several geniuses that have driven the field of evolutionary biology during the last couple of years. They have been very inspirational for me and my career development. The remoteness of the island and the varied schedule of working sessions and excursions (and several jump-into-the-ocean-calls every day) made me feel relaxed and helped me approach new people.

Barnacles we found during tide pooling (© L Wilkins)

I would be happy to see many of The Molecular Ecologist blog readers sign up for this network. It is truly a unique experience. For early-career researchers like me it provides a lot of support and inspiration.

Stacy’s take: I was really excited to be invited to be a RCN-ECS synthesis workshop participant. I’d also never been to the Shoals Marine Lab so it was also an opportunity to visit a lab of which so many marine biologists dream. The tricky thing was packing lightly, but efficiently as I fly direct from the workshop to the European Phycological Congress in Zagreb, Croatia.

Diploid tetrasporophyte of Chondrus crispus (© SA Krueger-Hadfield)

Unlike Reid and Laetitia, I was a marine biologist through and through! I saw a tweet about the network and I joined. I was eager to interact with other folks working at the interface of ecology and evolution, predominantly in the sea, but spreading out into freshwater and alpine ecosystems. The work in my lab is centered around the evolutionary maintenance of sex and we focus on organisms that undergo both sexual or asexual processes or have complex life cycles. Thus, the sea is a really great place to find these types of life history strategies. However, we lag behind the types of studies being conducted in terrestrial and even aquatic ecosystems. Thus, bringing together evolutionary biologists, marine biologists, and people who straddle that divide seemed like an opportunity that couldn’t be missed.

After a diverse set of talks, we broke off into working groups and I joined the “Selection across life cycle” group (no great surprise I imagine to regular readers of TME). These working groups are always a great way to work with a diverse set of people, share ideas, get papers outlined, and really connect with researchers you may not encounter at your regular suite of conferences. Reid and Laetitia pretty much covered how great such a working group is above!

It wasn’t all work and no play, we did some intertidal-ing and a sunset cruise. I am looking forward to our next working group meeting. Laetitia and I also got to know one another never having met!

This might look idyllic – but the gulls on this island are very loud. (© L Wilkins)

About Stacy Krueger-Hadfield

I am a marine evolutionary ecologist interested in the impacts of seascapes and complex life cycles on marine population dynamics. I use natural history, manipulative field experiments and population genetic and genomic approaches with algal and invertebrate models in temperate rocky shores,estuaries and the open ocean.
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