Parasites: from the Arctic to jail

From Dec 8th to 12th, more than 1000 scientists gathered in Ottawa to discuss how the Arctic is undergoing a rapid transformation and what consequences this change will bring. In an important international conference such as Arctic Change 2014, where scientists presented results in relevant issues as different as ice-melting or health of the Northerners, parasites and wildlife could not be missing. That’s why several members of Host-Parasite Interactions headed to Ottawa and presented in total six talks and four posters.

The conference was held in a quite impressive building, the Ottawa Convention Centre, but what was really an experience was staying for five nights at the Ottawa Jail Hostel! This was a real jail that is used as a hostel and fairly renovated, but you can still see the original structure of the jail in most parts of the building, including the rooms, which are cells pretty much (see the pic of Pratap and me in our room!)

The Ottawa Convention Centre
Ottawa Jail Hostel, a creepy but interesting building
photo (2)
Our room (cell) at the jail

The good thing about this hostel is definitely the access to the kitchen, which can spare you some money in eating out, as well as the good breakfast included in the price. Too bad that when I left I had a rush on my back that was really itchy!! Maybe bedbug bites?? Parasites, they are so unpredictable… You can have an encounter with them in the icy arctic but also in the jail in Ottawa!

At the conference, I talked about how stress is a potential indicator of population health, Pratap presented a poster about muskox lungworms and Matilde spoke about muskox health surveillance in Ikaluktutiak. She talked during more than half an hour! The audience was desperate but the moderators were too shy to interrupt 🙂 Anja’s and Josh’s works on caribou health surveillance and the intermediary host of the muskox lungworm, respectively, were also present as posters. Sylvia explained how to develop a muskox health surveillance system and Susan entertained the audience with three talks, topics ranging from migration and parasites in caribou to food insecurity.


Matilde, Pratap and Nora at the Parliament

Interestingly, despite the large diversity of research fields present in the conference, we were not the only ones interested in parasites and presenting about them. For example, a researcher from Quebec presented on a poster an outbreak of ectoparasites in nestlings of peregrine falcon in the Arctic. Although the main topic of his research is the reproductive success of these birds, he found important to report how with camera-traps they retrospectively observed the onset of the disease and the associated mortality, even nest failure.

Some talks made us think in depth about how the whole environment, and thus also the interactions of hosts and parasites, will change in response of global warming, human disturbance and other changes that are rapidly occurring in the Arctic. For example, is the vegetation of the tundra going to change when temperature increases? And if this affects herbivory and plant-herbivore interactions, will be there any influence on the life cycle of wildlife parasites? We also heard some interesting talks about contaminants.  Although we know that parasites are not the only force driving the health of wild populations, we are very focused and concentrated in our research topic and it is important to listen to researchers from other fields to maintain our awareness on other aspects of reality. This is why I enjoyed a lot this conference and how it broadened my vision of the world and the current challenges we are facing.

These days were amazing both on a professional and a personal note, since we learned lots of things about the North that are useful for our research on parasites in arctic wildlife, but we also made new friends and had a good time with colleagues and collaborators.

With our new friends in a romantic setting

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