by Jeff Stehm
I just watched a webinar on a fantastic new macroinvertebrate identification and citizen science training site – Macroinvertebrates.org! This site, developed under a National Science Foundation grant, took 3-years to bring to life through the efforts of a multi-disciplinary team of scientists and educators. Over 150 macroinvertebrate species of the eastern United States are listed on the site. Identification is facilitated by the over 800,000 high-resolution and expandable images taken of each species as well as the expert content and annotations developed, including key identification features and pollution sensitivity.
The website development involved a set of partner organizations that helped define identification problems and needs, tested the website design and functionality, and participated in research on how citizen scientists learn observational identification tasks. The website has about 5,000 visits a month and surveys indicate that over 90 percent of trainees and trainers come away with greater confidence and accuracy in their identification capabilities and teaching methods.
The website is packed with information, various stunning and expandable views of each organism, printable resources, including a training manual and identification sheets, an informative blog, and other resources. So, check it out! Fantastic and a must see! www.macroinvertebrates.org. Click here for website quick start guide.
For the more ambitious, check out the Taxonomic Certification Program
of the Society for Freshwater Science at https://stroudcenter.org/sfstcp/
By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine, Oct. 24, 2019 , 2:00 PM
Earthworms are the unsung heroes of the planet’s ecosystems: Unnoticed below our feet, they grind up soil and dead matter, recycling essential nutrients and moving air and water deeper into the ground. Without them, soil health would suffer and plant productivity would falter. Now, for the first time, researchers have mapped where these humble invertebrates live, identifying wormy hot spots around the globe. The project, which pooled earthworm data from more than 140 scientists and 6900 sites, has cataloged hundreds of species and revealed trends about where each plies the soils—and under what conditions they thrive.
“The results … provide a comprehensive global perspective on one of the most important animal groups,” says Stefan Scheu, an ecologist at the University of Göttingen in Germany, who was not involved with the work. Scientists can now start to come up with conservation plans for worms and other organisms that integrate life above and below ground, he adds.
During the 1800s, intrepid explorers collected and cataloged many of the world’s plants and animals, providing range maps for different species that launched further study. But that wasn’t true for subterranean life. “We’ve been lacking basic information [for a long time] about what earthworms live where,” says Noah Fierer, a soil ecologist at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
So, soil ecologist Helen Phillips from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig and her colleagues contacted all the earthworm researchers they could track down to ask for data about the animals living in their study sites. Ultimately, 141 scientists provided numbers and species names from more than 6900 sites across 57 countries. “There was about three times as much data as I was expecting,” Phillips says.
Compiling and analyzing those data, many of them in different formats, must have been a challenge, says Katalin Szlavecz, a soil ecologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. For example, earthworms have been studied long enough in Europe that most of the species are known. (The United Kingdom has 33 kinds.) But in the tropics, “Every time they dig a hole, they find a new species of earthworm,” Phillips says. And that uneven amount of study had to be taken into account to use the data effectively.
She and her team evaluated the data to make sure they were as comparable as possible from site to site, and then used computer modeling to generate their global map. They were surprised when their analysis showed that temperature and rainfall seem to have a greater influence on where earthworms do best than soil type, they report today in Science.
“It’s surprising that soil properties weren’t the most important driver,” says Tami Ransom, a community ecologist at Salisbury University in Maryland. Szlavecz, too, was astonished how little soil type mattered. The effects of temperature and rainfall suggest climate change will have a far greater influence on below-ground life than expected, they say. Consequently, life above ground might also be affected in ways not previously anticipated.
The distribution of different earthworm species was also surprising. When it comes to life above ground, the tropics have the greatest biodiversity. But underground, these constantly warm regions are far less diverse, at least at a local scale: The rich soils of Europe, the northeastern United States, the southern tip of South America, and the southern regions of New Zealand and Australia seem to have more earthworm species in a given area. Those temperate zones also host more earthworms overall, according to the model, with up to 150 per square meter versus just five per square meter in the tropics.
It’s vital to know what earthworms exist where, says Kevin Butt, an ecologist at the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom who was not involved with the work. That’s especially true, he adds, “as we are in an era when large global upheavals are at play.”
Posted in: Plants & Animals doi:10.1126/science.aaz9771
by Jeff Stehm
Halloween is approaching and it’s time to consider that ubiquitous symbol of the haunted house – the spider’s web. We often see spiders as scary or a nuisance, and their webs as something that must be brushed away, but in fact spiders and the webs they weave are one of the complex wonders of nature.
Dating back almost 400 million years ago, spiders are among the most diverse of terrestrial predators. At least 48,200 spider species, and 120 spider families have been recorded by taxonomists. While we typically associate spiders with webs, not all spiders spin webs (see Wolf Spiders) or use the silk they produce for webs (see Jumping Spiders). Species that produce silk, but not webs, may use silk in several ways: as wrappers for sperm and for fertilized eggs; as a "safety rope"; for nest-building; and as "parachutes" by the young of some species.
But webs are what we notice, so let’s learn a bit about web materials, web structure, web functions, and the evolution of webs.
Have any of you been seeing swarms of dragonflies in your yard and pastures the past few weeks? This is the first time my wife and I have experienced this phenomenon of nature. I’ve discovered that dragonflies do have a swarming behavior, although scientists aren’t sure why. Two types of swarms exist. The migratory swarm where large masses of dragonflies migrate, flying at higher altitudes. Some of these migratory swarms have been dense enough to show up on weather radar.
The other type of swarm that we experienced is a static feeding swarm, where several hundred dragonflies swoop low over a lawn or pasture in figure eight patterns catching bugs. The numbers were thick enough in our yard that all I had to do was swing my butterfly net and bam! I had a dragonfly! She was kind enough to pose for the photo below before flying off to rejoin the group.
The iNaturalist group identified her as a Common Green Darner (Anax junius) which is one of the largest dragonflies; males grow up to 3 inches in length and have a 3-inch wingspan. They also migrate great distances from the northern US to south into Texas and Mexico. Neighbors around us have been observing similar swarms.
If you interested in further information on this phenomena, I found a great website https://thedragonflywoman.com run by an aquatic entomologist, Christine Goforth from the University of Arizona. Her website contains a wealth of information on dragonfly swarming as well as a page to report a swarm siting as part of a citizen science project she is running.
Her descriptions of static swarming matches what I’ve observed – the dragonflies typically appear near dawn or dusk (dusk in my case) because it is thought that dragonflies can see their prey better when the sun is low on the horizon. They appeared very suddenly, fly figure eight patterns over our yard for about an hour, and then are quickly gone. The swarms we have witnessed often start around 5 pm and go until about 6 pm when the sun dips below the trees. Dr. Goforth indicates that dragonflies are attracted to large groups of prey organisms. Once the prey numbers drop or they become less active (e.g. as it gets darker), the dragonflies move on. If the prey returns the next day, the dragonflies likely will too. So far we’ve had about 3-4 evenings of dragonfly visits to our yard.
Dr. Goforth says that the swarming behavior is fairly common in many different species of dragonflies, but the chances of a single person seeing more than one or two swarms in their lifetime in a single area can be quite low. The conditions have to be just right for swarms to occur, perfect for both a large number of prey insects and a large number of dragonflies to exist in the same area at the same time.
I count myself lucky to have had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. What marvelous creatures.
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