Researchers Look for Unique Ways to Collect Data as COVID-19 Changes Methods

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Aaron Fairweather has 27 ant colonies to keep happy in the living room by getting the temperature, humidity and light just right although the home environment is not as comfortable as in a lab.

The University of Guelph entomology doctoral student said this was the only way to continue collecting data because COVID-19 is holding back research and labs cannot be used.

Fairweather, like several other scientists, tries to make the most of the summer when researchers typically spend long hours outdoors collecting data in the field.

“It’s a pretty dark year for research,” Fairweather said. “There will be a knowledge gap.”

Fairweather had been planning an intensive ant research project since last fall, but said the lack of usual resources could mean a setback for an entire year.

“I probably have to wait until next year to be able to participate and have the active experiences that I wanted to do.”

While data collected from ant colonies at home can help, this type of research is not feasible for many scientists, so a research gap could mean the data could be skewed or years of work. should be rejected, said Fairweather.

Arthur Fredeen, a professor at the Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Institute at the University of Northern British Columbia, said he was concerned about teaching fieldwork.

His ecology class this fall requires working with students taking measurements and observations in the field, he said.

“I had to grapple with the technologies that can help me deliver the course online, although it will be quite difficult to do it adequately.”

Pascal Lee won’t be testing equipment or studying High Arctic rocks this month, possibly for the first time in nearly 25 years.

The president of the Mars Institute and a planet specialist from the SETI Institute based in California are researching Devon Island because its surface resembles the “red planet”.

This year, his team is planning to test a new spacesuit and a “smart astronaut glove”.

The group hope to visit the island in September but if that fails, their equipment may need to be tested in the United States.

“Missing a summer for us means missing a year,” he said.

The choice for some researchers is to waste a year of data collection through fieldwork and adapt to quarantine on a boat for a month.

The director of the University of British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Research Unit will do this latest exercise with eight researchers as they continue a study last year to determine if there is a shortage of Chinook salmon for Southern Resident Killer Whales.

Andrew Trites said researchers were creating their own bubble on the boat, starting with a two-week quarantine period before boarding the ship in mid-August.

Everyone is “a little paranoid,” Trites said.

“At the end of the day, if the pandemic doesn’t kill us, maybe being confined together will,” he laughs. “It will be quite a challenge.”

On a similar research trip last year, scientists got off the ship after docking and traveled to towns and villages, but that won’t happen this year, he said.

Only one person, masked and gloved, will be allowed to leave the wooden boat called Gikumi to refuel while the ship is refueling.

“We’re going to be packed a bit like sardines but everyone has a job on the boat,” he said, noting that team members are aware of the effect the quarantine period could have. on their mental health while being able to see the horizon. can help.

Fieldwork is important, Trites said, because there is an element of biology, which cannot be done without being near the animals.

As computers and mathematical models make projections and examine the probabilities, he said that the answers to some questions can only come from observing animals in their natural habitat and recording what is happening to them. make meaningful comparisons and draw conclusions.

What the team will be missing, Trites said, is interaction with researchers on other boats.

One of the biggest losses of this research season could be the generation of new ideas, thinking and the “ability to think together to solve biological mysteries,” he said.

“So we’re going to greet other researchers that we know from afar, and hoping that there will be an opportunity in six months, a year, a year and a half, where you can finally sit down together and have a lot more meaningful conversations. . ”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 1, 2020.

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