Monday September 12, 2016

Ecology Research...That's pretty neat!

How much do you know about aquatic insects? Unless you are an entomologist or stream ecologist, I am willing to bet you have little knowledge about them. No worries! At the beginning of last summer I didn’t know much about aquatic insects either, other than the fact I do not want them crawling all over me! However after working in an ecology research lab at UD this summer, I have found a fascination with the cool little creepy crawlies.

I am a current member of Dr. Ryan McEwan’s ecology research lab (https://mcewanlab.org/), where I worked as an intern in the summer of 2016. Our current research is focused on how an invasive shrub called Amur Honeysuckle (Lonicera mackii) impacts streams in the Dayton area. Specifically, much of my time was spent sorting benthic macroinvertebrates (our creepy crawly friends that live on the bottom of streams) through a microscope. I was extremely disappointed I did not find SpongeBob or Patrick living on the bottom of any streams. However by investigating what is living on the bottom of the stream, we can make inferences as to why those organisms are there and if Amur Honeysuckle is having an affect on them. This is important because the processes and organisms in the streams have a large impact on the river into which they flow.

Through my extended microscope work, I learned of the unique cases made by aquatic larval caddisflies (moth-like insects when adult). In their aquatic larval stage, most caddisflies create cases to help collect food and provide protection. The cases consist of sand, gravel, leaves, or twigs found in the stream and are held together by a sticky substance from the mouth of the caddisfly. When observing the cases through a microscope, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate where the biology ends and the art begins.

Each case is made with intricate, detailed design. It is almost as if the caddisfly is not using the case as a means for ecological advantage, but as a medium for an artistic masterpiece! Every little piece of the case fits perfectly in with the next. Clearly the caddisfly is intentional and thorough when creating a case. It is difficult to take pictures through the microscope lens, but please look at the pictures I provided to get an idea of how the cases look! I came into the summer of 2016 with minimal knowledge about aquatic insects, and I left with an entire case-full. 

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