Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Insect Soup

The following is a guest post by Ph.D. student, Britt Smith.  Britt joined the Fire Ecology Lab in June 2014 and has been working on the effects of fire on quail and quail food items.  Below, he shares a story about his project.

Hello! I’m excited to write my first post for the Verble Fire Ecology Lab blog. I am a new PhD. Student in the lab. I am originally from Missouri and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Missouri – Kansas City with a B.S. in Environmental Science. After that, I spent two years working at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources where I worked on surveillance and sampling for chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer populations in southwest Wisconsin, and on a large scale grassland conservation project known as the Southwest Wisconsin Grassland and Stream Conservation Area. I left Wisconsin to pursue my Master’s degree at Oklahoma State University where I explored a pasture management technique known as patch-burn grazing, and it’s influence on vegetation and wildlife species. I arrived at Texas Tech this summer, and am examining the influence of fire on arthropod communities in the rolling plains, and particularly arthropods that are important for northern bobwhite quail chicks and breeding females. My research interests focus around the restoration of the historic disturbance regimes of fire and grazing to influence vegetation structure and wildlife utilization of grassland ecosystems.

example elf a pitfall trap just before collecting (C) Britt Smith 2014
This summer I started sampling arthropods in burned and unburned areas in the Texas rolling plains. To sample arthropods I used pitfall traps, which is a plastic cup buried flush with the ground and filled with a solution of water and propylene glycol (pet friendly antifreeze). After about a week, arthropods that have fallen into, and subsequently drowned, are collected and stored in plastic bags. I then take these arthropods back to the lab for processing.

a plastic whirl-pac bag containing collected arthropod specimens (C) Britt Smith 2014
Once back at the lab, these insects are placed into a container and the large arthropods are sorted from the smaller. I call this liquid concoction “insect soup”. While it’s probably chemically safe to eat, I wouldn’t. I then identify the large insects. In the picture below one can see two click beetles, one dung beetle, and two roaches.

arthropods collected and simmering in the "insect soup" (C) Britt Smith 2014

Next, I look into the soup through a dissecting microscope, which gives a large field of view. I then proceed to identify and count individuals of each taxa in the soup. For most insects this is no problem, but for springtails, which can have hundreds of individuals, I estimate by counting individuals in a quarter section of the soup and multiplying by 4.

view through the dissecting scope to identify small arthropods (C) Britt Smith 2014
Taxa and individuals are recorded and then entered into a database and ready for analysis. The soup is transferred to a plastic bag, where it is stored in case something goes awry.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Busy and Eventful Year

The following is a guest blog post by M.S. student, Nick Goforth.  You can also follow Nick on his own blog.

The second year of my Master’s is quickly coming to an end and it has been a very eventful one!  I have completed all of my required classes, wrapped up my second season of fieldwork, got married, and am in the process of buying a house in Lubbock with my new wife.  And in the middle of all that, I’ve been working through a mountain of data!! 

Me and my new wife, Jessica Goforth, at our September wedding.

This year I got to spend two more months in the beautiful Jemez Mountains of wonderful New Mexico conducting acoustic surveys and mist netting bats.  Luckily, we didn’t have another fire this year, so it was a pretty good field season!  We also caught a lot more bats this year!  Here are the overall bat activity levels from 2013 and 2014.  These activity levels were determined using six Wildlife Acoustic SM2Bat+ recorders.  We observed a shift in activity levels between treatments from 2013 to 2014.

Fig. 1 Overall bat activity levels in 2013 on the Valles Caldera National Preserve (Sites: LC=Las Conchas Wildfire (2011), TR=Thompson Ridge Wildfire (2013), UB=Unburned Forests).

Fig. 2 Overall bat activity levels in 2014 on the Valles Caldera National Preserve (Sites: LC=Las Conchas Wildfire (2011), TR=Thompson Ridge Wildfire (2013), UB=Unburned Forests).

In 2013 bats were more active at the Las Conchas study sites, but became more active at the Thompson Ridge study sites in 2014.  This change is hypothesized to be caused by an influx of insects due to the growth of flowering plants and burned trees and an increased availability of roost sites following the Thompson Ridge Wildfire.  I am currently working to determine how burn severity and forest type affects bat activity levels.
Thompson Ridge study site in 2013

Thompson Ridge study site in 2014.

After graduating in May of 2015, I plan to stay at Tech Tech to pursue my doctorate, also working with bats and wildfire.