My research is trying to understand the trade-offs of form-function-fitness. Originally championed by Arnold, this approach focuses on trying to understand the direct links between a certain body shape and it's evolutionary consequences. I'm applying this structure to the local adaptation of an introduced species of fish in Texas. One of the first steps is to understand how body shape is different (or not) between separated populations under various biotic and abiotic regimes. This means using geometric morphometrics, which allows you to tease apart effects of shape, allometry, and other variables.
This approach is something I knew very little about. After pouring over various programs and methods, I had a hodgepodge workflow, moving from program to program and format to format. Yuck!! Then I stumbled across "geomorph" for the program R. First, if you have not yet been exposed to R, I strongly encourage you to take some time one afternoon to read about it. Secondly, I've used R for my other statistics needs, mostly ANOVAs, MANOVAs, GLMs, and a few others, but I have not delved into a single package. Most of the packages I've tried are only for one small portion of a large analysis, so having to learn about most of the ins-and-outs of a single package was pretty daunting. So I did what most graduate students would do and put it off for a few weeks. Unfortunately, data doesn't get analyzed this way. Who knew??
Enter the posting for the "Geometric Morphometric Workshop" hosted by the University of Quebec in Montreal. The developers of the geomorph package teaching the course? Check. Free to register? Check. Located in a city I've always wanted to attend? Check. After registering and planning the trip, I immediately began to stress out. So many unknowns began to come up. I had to remember that this was a great opportunity, that likely wouldn't happen again any time soon. There came a point where I knew I had to learn something, had to grow as a researcher, and had to step out of my comfort zone to better myself. The net result? A fantastic trip to Montreal where I learned from some amazing researchers about a program I will use for years to come. One of the other key aspects of this trip was the networking that resulted from simply showing up every day for a week.
At my university there are only a handful of people who deal with geometric morphometrics, and none who try to answer questions about ecology-evolutionary relationships. At this workshop though, everyone was interested in ecological approaches. Research on community ecology, behavioral ecology, host-parasite evolution, genetic variation, evolution, and several other aspects of ecology were represented. Something I frequently take for granted is the chance to brainstorm with other people about my own research. If nothing else, that made it worth the trip.