Friday, October 05, 2007

Citadel Night-ops in the Swamp

Last night, Dr. John Zardus, Assistant Professor, Department of Biology at The Citadel, brought some of his biology students to the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest to capture invertebrates (without backbones). Although we have extensive lists for the plants, birds, mammals, herps, and aquatic macroinvertebrates living at Beidler Forest, we do not have a comprehsive list of the invertebrates that call the swamp their home. Why should we care?

From E. O. Wilson's The Diversity of Life (p. 210), "Entomologists are often asked whether insects will take over if the human race extinguishes itself. This is an example of a wrong question inviting an irrelevant answer: insects have already taken over." Wilson explains further, "Today about a billion billion insects are alive at any given time around the world. At nearest order of magnitude, this amounts to a trillion kiograms of living matter, somewhat more than the weight of humanity. Their species, most of which lack a scientific name, number into the millions." Finally (p. 211), "Insects can thrive without us, but we and most other land orgainisms would perish without them." Of all the known living organisms, insects make up over half of the total, while consisting of almost 75% of the animals known to science.

The setup used by Dr. Zardus and his students consisted of a bright mercury-vapor lamp in conjunction with a ultraviolet flourescent tube to attract the insects, which could then be captured using a net or picked off the white sheet hung between two trees.
Additionally, students used flashlights to hunt for other invertebrates (spiders, slugs, snail, millipedes) as we walked around the boardwalk allowing time for the light/sheet setup to attract other specimens.

During the walk, we encountered some vertebrates also. A sharp-eyed cadet spotted a 10"-long juvenile Greenish Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta x quadrivittata) on a tree near the boardwalk. Later, a 3'-foot Greenish Rat Snake was spotted along one of the boardwalk midrails. As darkness fell, a Barred Owl's (Strix varia) call reverberated through the swamp as we approached its perch 20 feet up a Tupelo Gum (Nyssa aquatica).

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