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Visiting Laurie in Paris

16 June 2022

Visiting the lab in Paris

Taking advantage of the trip to Western France, it was only a short hop on the train to go to Paris where I met up with MeaseyLab PhD student, Laurie Araspin. Keen readers of the blog will know that Laurie is a co-tutelle student who is also registered with Anthony Herrel at the MNHN in Paris. Laurie was in South Africa collecting animals for her study and you can read all about that trip here.

We made arrangements to catch up with Laurie in her office in Rue Buffon in the 5eme arrondissement in Paris.

Laurie showed us the animals that had been collected in South Africa, and we also had a chance to meet Pedro Padilla - another well published Xenopus researcher who now works on invasive Pelophylax frogs.

Also present in Paris was Sara Zakrzewski who is using the Xenopus collected on these trips, plus others sourced from invasive populations around the world, to compare investment into different organs in various populations. 

Sara, John, Laurie and Dareen - the Xenopus crew in Paris!

It was an awesome couple of days in the baking hot French capital - thanks for making it so enjoyable!

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

Back in Western France after 20 years

16 June 2022

Back at the Xenopus invasion in Western France

In 2003, I visited Antonie Fouquet in the French département of Deux-Sèvres as Antoine had been working on an invasive population that had emerged near his parents' home. He had conducted a massive effort each summer during the holidays, mapping the presence and absence of ponds in the area (later leading to a publication: Fouquet & Measey 2006). Although Antoine is no longer involved in the research of Xenopus from this area, a huge debt of gratitude goes out to him for this unpaid research he conducted as an undergraduate student.  

As part of the genetic study of native and invasive populations (see blog posts here and here), Dareen Amojil and I visited the invaded region in June 2022, immediately after our visit to Sicily (see here). 

The two regions looked very different and it was immediately obvious how different the habitats are that are occupied in Western France compared to those we had sampled in South Africa (see blog posts here and here and here), and Sicily (see here). Helped by Jean Secondi (who some of you will remember having co-supervised Natasha Kruger - and visiting South Africa), we set out to a number of ponds in the core of the range (around the hamlet of Bouille-St-Paul - where it all started), and at the periphery - now some 50 km from the core. 

The most abundant sites that we visited were two sewerage works, one of which was where Julien Courant and Natasha Kruger had conducted experiments for their doctoral studies. Happily, we managed to catch animals from throughout this large invasive range. Extensive thanks go to Jean Secondi and Axel Martin from the Thouars Community.

Further Reading:

Fouquet, A., & Measey, G.J. 2006. Plotting the course of an African clawed frog invasion in Western France. Animal Biology 56, 95-102. 

Grosselet O., Thirion J.M., Grillet P. et Fouquet A., 2005 – Etude sur les invasions biologiques : cas du Xénope commun ou Xénope du Cap, Xenopus laevis (Daudin, 1802). Conseil Général des Deux-Sèvres (Niort) et Agence de l’Eau Loire-Bretagne (Poitiers), 58p.

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

Xenopus laevis in Sicily

07 June 2022

Visiting the population of African clawed frogs in Sicily - at last!

Of all the invasions ofX. laevisaround the world, the population in Sicily has been one of the easiest to visit, yet received surprisingly little attention. Of course, Francisco Lillo conducted many excellent studies under the supervision of Mario Lo Volvo during his PhD in the early 2000’s. But since then, this population has been spreading into the beautiful Sicilian countryside. 

Keen readers of this blog will know that I have been working on caecilians for many years, but this was my first visit to Sicily, and it was especially pleasing to work alongside some excellent local herpetologists, one of whom has taken up studies of this invasion: Simone Costa - again under the supervision of Mario.

Lillo et al. (2005) first reported the discovery of an established population from June 2004 when individuals were observed in the drainage of the Fiume Iato near Lago Poma in northwestern Sicily. Apart from 2 individuals captured in 1999, this was the first time that the species had been observed on the island. The source of this invasion is thought to be from laboratories at the University of Palermo whereX. laeviswas used for studies on developmental biology (Measey et al 2012). 

With the generous help of Mario Lo Volvo, Simone Costa and his band of herpetologist helpers (Mathia, Bruno & Peppe) we dashed around the countryside in search of points on Simone’s red list of occupied ponds with dense populations. 

One of the surprises Dareen Amojil and I was the amount of native herpetofauna that was also attracted to our traps. Most prominent wereNatrix helvetica, the Italian Barred Grass Snake - which were particularly good natured about having spent a night in traps with one of their favourite foods (lumps of Xenopus could be seen along their body and Simone informed us that individuals would occasionally vomit up their recently acquired prey). In addition, traps often containedEmys orbicularis, the European Pond Turtle, and when present it was often the case that they had shredded some of the X. laevis  also in the traps. One trap (pictured above) was so heavy with these additional occupants that I struggled to lift it out of the pond.

We had such a great time sampling in Sicily that we have to make a special thank you to Simone, Mathia, Bruno, Peppe and (of course) Mario. Thanks so much for all your help and friendship. We look forward to returning to Sicily soon.

Further reading:

Lillo, F., Marrone, F., Sicilia, A., Castelli, G. and Zava, B., 2005. An invasive population of Xenopus laevis (Daudin, 1802) in Italy. HERPETOZOA 18 (1/2): 63-64.

Measey, G.J., Rödder, D., Green, S.L., Kobayashi, R., Lillo, F., Lobos, G., Rebelo, R. and Thirion, J.M., 2012. Ongoing invasions of the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis: a global review.Biological Invasions,14(11), pp.2255-2270.

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus

Editing or being an unwitting agent?

11 May 2022

Should you be a Special Issue editor for parasitic publishers?

Have you received an invitation from a journal published by Frontiers In or MDPI asking you to be an editor for aspecial issue? I know that I have received many such invitations over the past year or so, either to edit special issues or contribute papers to them. Why are these journals pushing so hard to have me (or you) edit for them? Although I don’t work at either publishing house, here are some of the issues that you should consider before responding to Frontiers or MDPI positively to their request:

  • These journals are exclusivelyGold Open Access. This means that anyone publishing in these journals needs to pay a fee or Article Processing Charge (APC) in order to publish there. The APCs are very high (USD 1000 to 3000 see here and here), considering that the actual costs are less than USD 100 per paper for the publisher. They are making massive profits even if you pay half.
  • When you agree to be an editor, you will effectively be an agent soliciting customers for the publisher. As an editor of a special issue, the onus to recruit contributing authors will be on you, and each author will (eventually) pay the publisher for their contribution. Be aware that the publishers will be making a good profit from your network and contacts, moreover they won’t need to pay you anything for this privilege (they may give you a discounted APC - but see below).
  • Some potential authors will be barred from contributing due to the massive APCs. Because many scientists from middle-income countries (and many more from high income countries) have no budget to pay for Open Access, they will not be able to contribute to your special issue. The publisher is very likely to offer a discount to contributors (they start at 10% and go up to 50% but it’s all profit in their purse), but if you have people who genuinely want to contribute but have no money, this will be a barrier to their participation. This means that your potential contributors have been effectively reduced by more than half of the planet.

When you consider the issues above, you should recognise that the massive privilege of being asked to edit a special issue, is now looking like you’re being exploited by a publisher to use your network to net them some cash.   

So does this mean that these journals are predatory?

The line between what can be considered a predatory publisher, and what not, is becoming increasingly blurred (seehere). The reason these publishers are no longer considered predatory (in the case of MDPI at least) is that their contributions are sent out to review. As a guest editor of course, this will be your job! So perhaps instead of predatory, perhaps we should use the term 'parasitic' for these publishers. 

Special Issues are valuable to your career

Of course, it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to be the editor of a special issue. If all of your network are from wealthy institutions where APCs are not a problem, and you’ll be regarded in a positive light when putting together one such special issue, then go ahead. If you have any inkling that some of your network won’t be able to pay, then don’t be swayed by reassurances from these publishers that they have discounts. For most authors from middle-income countries, half of the APC is more money than they are taking home each month.

If you are tempted by one of these emails from MDPI or Frontiers then my best suggestion is to approach the editor of aDiamond Open Accessjournal, or failing that a society journal. Pitch your idea for the special issue and ask them whether they would consider doing this in the next 2 years (publishing schedules are longer for these journals). Good special issues take time to plan and curate. Make yours the best it can be and don't end up feeding a parasite.

Whatever your take on an editing role with these publishers, you should ask yourself whether or not you are prepared to work as an agent earning money for a publisher. 

Officials in Washington State get worried about Xenopus invasion

01 May 2022

Invasive population of African clawed frogs in Washington State 

We have known about the invasion of African clawed frogs in Washington State for some years, but a new online article  hints at some of the potential impacts that these invasions might have.

Individual African clawed frogs have been sighted at at least three sites in Issaquah, Lacey and Bothell. One of these sites has a full blown invasion that officials from US Fish & Wildlife have been attempting to exterminate for three years. But due to a mixture of inadequate funds and COVID, the efforts to date have been unsuccessful. 

Interestingly, many of these introductions appear to have occurred after a change in law that made it illegal to have these frogs as pets. The result was that owners appear to have released their pets into the local environment and when sufficient numbers were released, an invasion resulted. This teaches us an important lesson in how to communicate to the public about invasive species and the law.

I have no doubt that we'll see more about this population in years to come.

  Frogs  Lab  Xenopus
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