Our papers, our hearts

Scientific papers appear to be devoid of emotion, with just the facts, analyses, and careful (we hope) conclusions. To an author, though, a paper holds much more than this. It is woven with hidden threads of personal meaning. That co-author is a student you cherish because they persevered despite a challenging start. That data point was sampled on the day of a turning point in a loved one’s life. That field site was a place you almost got bitten by a venomous snake, saw the northern lights for the first time, or met someone who opened your eyes to the breadth of humanity.

Science, like other pursuits of passion, leaves indelible and deeply personal memories in its practitioners. We throw our whole hearts at our work, and we do it with colleagues and friends at our sides. Sharing our love of nature and discovery, sharing moments of surprise, danger, and intrigue, we build bonds that last forever. We bring young minds into science collaboratively, raising them as a village. I go to scientific conferences as if to a family reunion, embracing friends I have known for decades.

In 1998 I was at the Chamela field station along the coast of Jalisco, México, looking for diverse species of jumping spiders along with Marshal Hedin, Gita Bodner, Fernando Álvarez Padilla, and José Luis Castelo. The field station was an excellent base for our work, well equipped and comfortable, and the tropical deciduous forest within which it was embedded was rich. We woke up on our first full day there, 1 June, and promptly found two species new to science, one of which was a dark brown and cream coloured jumping spider of the genus Habronattus. We were immersed in discovery.

Habronattus roberti, and the ground on which it lives at Chamela

Habronattus roberti, and the ground on which it lives at Chamela

When we returned to the field station, its director, Ricardo Ayala Barajas, called me into his office to tell me that I had an urgent phone call from Canada. It was my mother Louise, telling me that my father Robert had died. Although he had been in poor health, there had been no reason to expect he was in immediate danger.

In my memories, images of Chamela and those spiders will always be tied to my father: the bright sun, the impressionistic forest, the spiders hopping on the litter, the compassion of Ricardo. Sixteen years later I visited Chamela again, finding more specimens of the new species. Last year, I finally wrote up the paper describing those new species. The paper, full of memories, was just published this past week.

I decided to name the brown and cream species after my father: Habronattus roberti. It’s a remarkable species. The little knees on the third pair of legs of each male are green and red-purple; his first pair of legs are elegantly fringed. Our recent genomic data suggests the species comes from a hybrid origin, and may therefore help us to understand the role that hybridization plays in the evolution of these fancy little spiders. In the paper I wrote:

Etymology. Named after my late father, Robert John Maddison, who introduced me to the small things in nature through fishing bait and saturniid cocoons. When my brother and I developed interests in beetles and spiders, he offered to take the family on long collecting trips. His gentle encouragement let me find my own love for the riches of biodiversity.

Grandfather Paul, brother David, father Robert and me, at the cottage on Lake of Bays.

Grandfather Paul, brother David, father Robert, and me, at the cottage on Lake of Bays.

[Edit: poisonous venomous]


One thought on “Our papers, our hearts

  1. Pingback: Sarah’s Must-Reads #2: The Science Stuff | sarah nason

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