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.

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