Long-term data illuminates insect population patterns and trends
Contributed by: Julia Perrone
Agriculture, Animals, Conservation, Density-mediated, Ecology, Environmental change, Field, Forest, Grassland, North America, Observational, Population cycles, Restoration, Terrestrial, Woman
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Bahlai, C. A., Colunga-Garcia, M., Gage, S. H., & Landis, D. A. 2013. Long-term functional dynamics of an aphidophagous coccinellid community remain unchanged despite repeated invasions. PLoS One, 8(12), e83407. link
Data Nugget Activity: http://datanuggets.org/2021/06/blinking-out/
Slide 1: Researcher’s Background
Julia is a lab manager at Kent State University and recent graduate of their Master of Library and Information Science program focusing on youth engagement. She builds science literacy in her community through engaging programming and collaborations with community organizations.
PB: Why did you become a biologist?
JP: I grew up loving the natural world, spending every moment possible outside in the woods behind my house. I also really wanted to know the names of all the plants and animals that surrounded me and how they fit together. While pursuing my BS in Environmental Biology and Zoology at Michigan State University, and then working as a research lab manager in an entomology lab, I found that while I felt strongly about my contributions to the field of science, sharing my knowledge and understanding of ecology and taxonomy with others was what I loved most.
PB: What is your favorite part about your job?
JP: Connecting people with science and nature and sharing my love with them is what I am truly passionate about, leading me to pursue a Master of Library and Information Science. As a graduate student at Kent State University, I specialized in youth engagement with the goal of building science literacy in my community through science communication and outreach programming and collaborations with community organizations.
PB: What obstacles have you overcome to get where you are?
JP: As a woman in a STEM field, there have been times when I felt like I wasn’t good enough or smart enough to be successful. Through hard work and the critical support from my female colleagues, I have become confident in my contributions to science and to society.
PB: What advice do you have for aspiring biologists?
JP: You belong in this field, regardless of how STEM fields have traditionally looked and operated. These are not easy fields to build careers in, but they are incredibly rewarding in myriad ways. Work hard, let your curiosity drive your purpose, seek out and nurture connections with potential mentors and collaborators, and feel confident in your ability to effect change while contributing new knowledge to science and your community.
PB: Do you feel that any dimension of your identity is invisible or under-represented/marginalized in STEM?
PB: Can you elaborate on your answer above?
JP: STEM fields are still largely male-dominated. As a woman in a STEM field, I hope that providing visualization of women in these fields will inspire young women and girls to pursue STEM careers.
Slide 2: Research Overview
Take home message of study
The longest surveys of fireflies known to science were actually started by accident! Perrone developed a Data Nugget, a hands-on data literacy lesson, using real data from a scientific experiment that allows teachers to bring authentic data experiences into the classroom. The activity, titled “Blinking out?”, lets students track population patterns of fireflies over almost two decades at Kellogg Biological Station, a research station in southern Michigan.
A. The big dipper firefly, Photinus pyralis, a common firefly species caught on sticky cards; Photo Credit: Terry Priest/wikimedia commons.
B. Insect sticky trap on the KBS LTER Main Cropping System Experiment; Photo Credit: B. Krasean, KBS LTER. Traps are placed in all habitat types at KBS and counted weekly.
C. The Early Successional treatment in late summer on the KBS LTER Main Cropping Systems Experiment; Photo Credit: K. Stepnitz, Michigan State University. Although data were collected in multiple different habitat types, we focused on data from open fields because fireflies use these areas to find mates.
Slide 3: Key Research Points
The data show that though the population experiences fluctuations in population numbers from year to year, there appears to be a natural cycle. The data also indicate that the population is net stable across time and not experiencing an overall decline. Insects are complex animals and difficult to measure, and if we only had a few years of data, we could make some very confident, yet inaccurate, claims about whether the population is increasing or decreasing. Long-term data collection is critical to recognizing the natural cycling of insect populations and now that we understand that the population experiences a 6 year cycle, we know that for future experiments, we need to collect data for at least that long in order to see the pattern. If we want to see how the pattern of cycles fluctuates over time, we would need to collect many years of data. Now that we can visualize the pattern of the natural cycle, we can start investigating what might be driving these population dynamics, which could include variables such as temperature or precipitation.
Many people have fond memories of watching fireflies blink across open fields and collecting them in jars as children. This is one of the reasons why fireflies are a beloved insect species. Fireflies are also an important part of the ecosystems where they live. Larvae spend most of their time in the soil and are predators of insects and other small animals, such as snails. Long-term data are critical to identifying and understanding natural population cycles over long periods of time that we wouldn’t be able to see with just a few years of data. It also gives scientists opportunities to answer unanticipated research questions. In this situation, even though the data were collected without a specific purpose in mind, having the dataset available offered new opportunities!