The California Worskshop Experience

The California Workshop Experience
– By Scott Finlayson

I had been scheduled to go to two different workshops in California in May of this year. The first being on aquatic mites (Arachnida – Trombidiformes) in Long Beach, hosted the California State University, Long Beach. The two day workshop was put together by the Southwest Association of Freshwater Taxonomists (SAFIT) ( , of which Sue and I are both members. The second workshop and conference were in Sacramento, California. The big reason for going to this conference was to partake in a Mollusk workshop on the Saturday and take a certification exam on the Sunday. Other reasons being: listening to biomonitoring and invertebrate ecology talks and networking with clients and colleagues throughout the week. The conference itself was the annual Society for Freshwater Science (SFS, formerly NABS) ( meeting. It is a large yearly event that draws members from all over the world for seminars talking about developments and other interesting things in the world of freshwater.

The mite workshop presenter was Dr. Heather Proctor from the University of Alberta ( , a prolific examiner of mites of all kinds. The first day was mostly dedicated to a lecture style learning session talking about general life history of the aquatic and semi aquatic mite. The information presented on the first day made me re-think the way that we classify a particular mite that we often see in the lab that I didn’t know what to do with previously. It turns out these mites are likely just falling into the water for us to find later, and we can now confidently say that they live on land and should be identified as such.

The next day was spent mostly working on taxonomy of water mites. We spent some time finishing up the lecturing in the morning, but the majority of the day was looking at preserved reference specimens. I saw a whole bunch of things that I had never seen before, and had a few questions answered that I were lingering in the back of my head. I also experienced cleared, slide-mounted mites for the first time. I have to say, that if we had time to do this with every mite we see, it would make things a whole lot easier. Alas, time is usually the enemy.

As this first workshop drew to a close I had some time to myself to relax in Long Beach. My flight to Sacramento was the next afternoon so I did some tourist-ing and wandered around down town. In my wanders I found the pier at Seal Beach. It was a beautiful place to walk out over the water and see the view. After spending an hour on the pier just seeing what I could see I went for dinner and started planning my morning for the next day.

The next morning I got up early to ensure I had enough time to get a coffee and find my way to the convention center. I was genuinely excited to participate in the Mollusk session. Clams, Mussels and Snails are difficult groups of animals for taxonomists to identify. There is very little cohesion in the ‘expert’ community for the naming and identifying of these critters. This in turn creates huge amounts of confusion for the taxonomy community because we rely on the experts to provide clarity. The presenters for this workshop were Jeremy Tiemann and Kevin Cummings from the Illinois Natural History Survey ( . They are both self-taught experts in the field of Malacology. They showed us numerous examples of which animals we will likely see in our regions and some animals we won’t. They also provided descriptions of the trouble areas in the keys and the parts that they referenced on the animals. Overall a very good introduction to the Mollusks.

I spent the following day going from room to room of the enormous Sacramento convention center watching talks and learning all I could about eDNA and the general direction of biomonitoring. I was also able to catch a taxonomy talk on the North American Baetis species confusion.

Upon reflection, lots of information was brought back from this trip for our lab. New ways of identifying mites, and a broader depth of understanding when it comes to snails and mussels. While we still have lots to learn, as the science is constantly changing, this was a good start down the road to fuller understanding of the field of taxonomy.