Biosystematics, informatics and genomics of the big 4 insect groups: training tomorrow's researchers and entrepreneurs

BIG4 Fall Workshop in La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain, Oct 29- Nov 3 2017- By Trevor O. Burt

The BIG4 Autumn workshop was held October 29th to the 3rd of November on the idyllic La Palma of the Canary Islands, Spain. A better backdrop could not have been selected for all BIG4 students, supervisors and many other participants to discuss and workshop a number of subjects relating to phylogeography, citizen science, publication and manuscript development, and entrepreneurship. Students were also granted opportunity to outline progress in their projects and address any future goals and challenges. This year’s workshop was organized by Niklas Wahlberg, PhD fellows: Elsa Call, and Hamid Ghavani of the Lund Systematics Biology Group, Sweden.
On the first day, Sunday, October 29th, all students presented their progress and had a chance to have an open discussion about any challenges some might have faced in the last year. It was also a wonderful opportunity to take a moment to celebrate the many successes and milestones students have experienced (such as publications) before beginning the workshop.
The workshop lectures and tutorials were presented by BIG4 project supervisors Niklas Wahlberg and Fredrik Ronquist with associate lecturers Isabel Sanmartin (Senior Research Scientist of Plant Biology and Systematics; Spanish National Research Council, Madrid, Spain), Nicolas Chazot (Postdoctoral Fellow of the Systematic Biology Group (Lepidoptera), Lund, Sweden), with special guest lecturer Brent Emerson (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), at the Instituto de Productos Naturales y Agrobiología (IPNA) in La Laguna).
The workshop, though intense, was very thorough, covering a range of subjects on biogeography with great practical depth. Students were exposed to comprehensive tutorials focused on Parsimony-Based Tree Fitting, Dispersal-Vicariance Analysis, Probabalistic models (Dispersal-Extinction-Cladogenesis (DEC)), geographic speciation and extinction, lineage diversification (GeoSSE), Bayesian paramentric biogeography (including Bayesian-Island-Biogeography (BIB) modelling), using a variety of software packages and modeling schemes such as DIVA, R (BioGeoBEARS, DiversiTree), Lagrange, BEAST v1.8.3-4, and RevBayes. Students left with a better grasp of how to assess patterns of speciation, including rates of dispersal, how to explore mechanisms of diversification, and dating phylogenetic trees with the fossil record (pros and cons).
Though the workshop was intense students and supervisors had sufficient time to socialize in the evenings over late dinners, filling dimly lit coastal restaurants with the jubilant reverberations of good friends and colleagues. Some took opportunity to walk the black sand shoreline, or swim in the lukewarm ocean. Accommodations at El Cerrito were very comfortable, with a crystal blue wading pool, and an open air atmosphere conducive to relaxation, laughter, and late night discussions. Some students participated in a Star Gazing tour organized by Daniel Marquina, while others explored more terrestrial attractions, including visiting the national park: Caldera de Taburiente. The workshop overall was a very useful, well-rounded, and enjoyable experience – nothing short of a success!
Thanks are given to the instructors and organizers (Niklas Wahlberg, PhD fellows: Elsa Call, and Hamid Ghavani) for putting together an immense program and selecting such an exotic and interesting setting. On behalf of the BIG4 students a special thank you is offered to Isabel Sanmartin and Nicolas Chazot who did a magnificent job presenting important concepts and the practical applications used to address biogeographic (among many other) questions. Thank you to Brent Emerson for his in depth presentation on approaches to taxonomy and systematics uniquely fitted to his work on the Canary Islands.
The El Cerrito resort personnel deserve a special thank you for their cheerful and accommodating attitude and for striving to provide an atmosphere that would ensure the success of this year’s workshop. 

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