The sun rises over the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, as seen from the summit of Voltzberg. Photo by Andrew Short.
Andrew Short is a National Geographic Grantee and assistant professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas. An entomologist by training and at heart, Short is currently in Suriname, South America searching for aquatic insects to study patterns of freshwater biodiversity that will inform both science and conservation.
Having climbed up through a layer of misting clouds, we reached the summit of Voltzberg just in time to see the day break over the surrounding rainforest. Sitting at the northern edge of the Central Suriname Nature Reserve (CSNR), Voltzberg is one of many imposing granite domes that pepper this ancient South American landscape. A massive swath of tropical wilderness twice the size of my home state of Delaware, the CSNR is almost entirely unpopulated and only accessible by canoe and bushplane.
While taking in the vastness of the landscape was a welcome break from our fieldwork routine that morning last July, my students and I had work to do: documenting the aquatic insects that live in the streams, waterfalls, and forest pools that surrounded us. Our research here, done in collaboration with the National Zoological Collection of Suriname, has uncovered dozens of new species and we’re only just gotten started. These inventories help us approach a number of bigger questions: How similar is this patch of forest to one 50 miles away? What are the ecological limits of these species, and what would happen if the environment changed? Can these insects help us monitor water quality?
We’re making final preparations for our return to Suriname (and CSNR) next week. This time, our target is more ambitious: Tafelberg — an isolated table mountain in the center of the reserve. Stay tuned for updates as our expedition gets underway!
Taro Eldredge, a graduate student studying entomology at the Biodiversity Institute, was on a routine collecting trip within view of the University of Kansas campus when he came across an insect he’d never seen before. The insect turned out to be a new species. The article was published in ZooKeys.
Named in honor of the Sunflower State (helio ~ sun, anothos ~ flower), Myrmedonota heliantha is a 2 millimeter long carnivore that inhabits the Baker Wetlands, a small preserve at the southern edge of Lawrence. The wetlands are the subject of an ongoing debate about the future of expansion of the nearby Kansas Highway 10.
The wetlands are also the only place where the insect is currently known to exist. The discovery of Myrmedonota heliantha shows just how much there is to know about the plant and animal diversity of places close to home. We still find new species in our own back yards.
Myrmedonota heliantha's insect relatives can detect ant or termite colonies using smell. They then set up shop in their host's burrows and eat their hosts. Eldredge is curious if this species lives the same way.
In battles over land use, conservationists often cite the existence of rare animals and plants, or the potential to find new species. The finding of a new species of insect, however, is unlikely to steer the conversation about wetlands preservation. Eldredge said, "If we discovered an elusive population of giant panda in Baker Wetlands, no one would think twice to conserve the land and the beasts."
Please congratulate Dr. Matthew Gimmel on his acceptance of a 2.5 year European Social Fund postdoctoral fellowship to work on beetle systematics in the lab of Dr. Milada Bocakova, Department of Biology, Palacký University, Olomouc, Czech Republic. Since graduating from Louisiana State University (Dr. Chris Carlton's lab), Matt has worked as my lab manager, helping so much with my Peru project: processing an unbelievable amount of specimens, overseeing undergraduate assistants, helping to mentor undergraduate researchers in their manuscripts. Indeed, his enormous knowledge of beetles, coupled with his generosity, patience, and enthusiasm, has made him a wonderful mentor to all in our unit. Now, we must race to submit our first manuscript together — on Peru beetles, of course - before he departs Kansas for Europe.
The Chaboo lab hosted Sara López from the Ciudad Universitaria (UNAM) and the Departament of Zoology, National Collection of Insects, Mexico City, Mexico. Sara is conducting M.Sc. research on a revision and phylogeny of the genus, Ogdoecosta (Cassidinae: Mesomphaliini). Several cassidine genera have most of their species distributed in Mexico, and Ogdoecosta is one of them. Sara’s phylogenetic matrix will open new research into the biology of this little known group. We had a super time discussing morphology, characters, biology, and combing historical literature for clues of new characters, to understand how important researchers like Spaeth and Boheman defined the genus and species. Good luck to Sara in completing this important new work in Cassidinae and in becoming a badly-needed expert of the Mexican chrysomelid fauna.
Caroline Chaboo, Riley Wertenberger (KU undergraduate), and Josh Cunningham (Haskell U. undergraduate) led an outdoor insect discovery class for the Stepping Stones, Inc. school, Lawrence KS, on June 7, 2012. Fourteen 7-10 year old school kids and their two teachers were armed with insect nets and large vials and shown how to net and sweep sample insects in the Rockefeller Prairie, KU Field Station. The kids were excited to catch, study, and release a wide variety of live insects and learn a little about the prairie ecosystem.
KU Entomology has enjoyed a long tradition of weekly lunch talks given by resident entomologists and visiting colleagues. This spring, I am handling the speaker schedule, which has been a piece of cake since we are enjoying a flow of short and long-term international and domestic visitors. Dr. Barbara Hayford, a KU alumnus who is now at Wayne State University in Nebraska, spoke recently on her work, "Use of ecological niche modeling to extend knowledge on biodiversity of midges (Diptera: Chironomidae) of Mongolia. I was a M.A. student here when Barbara got her first phone call inviting her to join the Mongolia research team. It was great to hear how this program evolved 12 years later.
Another colleague, Dr. Mary Liz Jameson at Wichita State University, presented her latest research, "Scarabaeoid beetles of the West Indies". Her graduate student, Christian Beza-Beza, spoke on the Phylogeography of the Ogyges laevisimus species group and its implications for cloud forests in Guatemala (Passalidae), while her other graduate student, Mathew Moore, spoke about the biology and phylogeny of Cyclocephalini beetles (Scarabaeidae: Dynastinae). Mary Liz also overlapped with my student days at KU, so it was super to have our students meet and work on cool beetles from my Peru inventory. Their visit was timely — some identified specimens are now on display in the Peru exhibit in the Spencer Art Museum.
What an exciting day to participate in the installation of specimens and other objects in the upcoming exhibition, "39 Trails: Research in the Peruvian Amazon", curated by Dr. Stephen Goddard of the KU Spencer Art Museum. The 2011 field course in Madre de Dios, Peru, has been so rewarding in research, publications, and specimens. And now an insect-themed exhibition....in an ART museum!
Dr. Goddard and the exhibition designer, Richard Klocke, are putting finishing touches in the small display cases, closing up completed cases, and preparing the final labels and clean up. Apart from materials of individual researchers, we placed three drawers of insect specimens on display.
Richards' exclamations over these specimens were a reward in itself: for the sheer beauty of bugs and also for our hard work on diversity research in Peru.
Two M.Sc. students in the Chaboo lab presented posters on their research at the annual meeting of the the Entomological Society of America, Knoxville, TN, 11-14 November 2012. The ESA is the largest professional entomological organization in the world, and the annual meeting is a great place to contact other entomologists. Mabel and Sofia were able to get feedback and ideas to improve their research, while catching up many interesting talks in beetle systematics, genomics, climate change, and fieldwork.
Sofia Muñoz (MA student, mentor Chaboo), is one of 20 students in the U.S. selected to participate (fully funded) in a NSF-funded Thematic Collections Network Short Course on Biological Specimen Informatics, at the Richard Gilder Graduate School, American Museum of Natural History, New York, in May 2013.
Sofia, Marianna Simões, and Mabel Alvarado presented their research at last weekend's annual meeting of the Kansas Entomological Society, Pittsburg, KS. Caroline and Matt Gimmel also presented a poster, "Beetle families of Peru."
Mabel (co-mentored by Michael Engel) and Victor Baruch Arroyo-Peña (mentor Jorge Soberón ) won third place for their poster, "Problems in the usage of historical data: experiences based on modeling data of the genus Alophophion Cushman, 1947 (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae: Ophioninae)."
After a fast paced semester, Stop Day is an exclamation point between formal classes and exams. In spring, exam week is followed by another exclamation point: Graduation weekend. This is a particularly special one as five undergraduates in my lab are graduating. KT and Joe have been here the longest, over two years. Now they fledge, going off to the Peace Corps and to graduate school respectively. Tom, Reed, and Riley are also heading off to graduate school or research labs. So very special to see them at this great junction in life. And particularly poignant to meet their parents for the first time. We, parents and teachers, have helped them thus far on their journey and now we must take our positions in the back.