Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Beetling in Tennessee and Georgia

Late last Spring, I finally started doing some serious fieldwork around here. It only took me seven years since arriving at UTC. Don't take me wrong, I had wonderful excuses: came in with two grants that required constant attention, had to do a bunch of new lecture preps, and get tenure. But they were excuses, and now I am kicking myself for not starting earlier.

At the end of my second post-tenure year, I told myself, "why the hell am I in the lab all day?" And just like that I decided I needed to be more out there. Don't take me wrong, my biology origins are in the field and throughout the (student, postdoc) years I have done a lot of fieldwork. But not as a UTC professor. I can spend decades in the lab examining museum collections for my revisionary studies of rove beetles, without stepping a foot in the field. But this is not a very satisfying life.

My first ever Biology experience as an undergraduate was helping a-then-PhD student set up some pitfall traps on the slopes of Mt. Giouhtas in Crete, Greece. My first paid job in Biology was sorting bulk pitfall samples for the Natural History Museum of Crete to the various arthropods subgroups. I was getting paid ~$3 per pitfall trap and I remember going home, closing my eyes, and still seeing bulk arthropod samples. As an undergraduate, I was dreaming of a centrifuge-like device to remove floating Springtails from a pitfall sample. I still have the same dream sometimes. But back to the point of this blog post:

The Tennessee River and the Tennessee River Gorge photographed from Lookout Point. 
I am lucky to have funding this year from an R. Holberg Grant to combine fieldwork, undergraduate training and outreach activities in Tennessee and Georgia. Our focus are two sites, the Lula Lake Land Trust on Lookout Mt., Georgia and the Tennessee River Gorge, near downtown Chattanooga.  I am grateful to both of these land trusts for allowing me to set up long term traps on their properties.

Photo taken at Lula Lake
In both places we have set up a regiment of traps that include a Malaise trap, a flight intercept trap (FIT), a Lindgren trap, and one or more pitfall traps. We frequently collect leaf litter and and pretty soon we will be doing some black lighting. We pick samples from the traps approximately once every month and then everything (i.e. the beetles) get pinned, labelled and databased.

One of Malaise traps

And one of our FITs
Of course we have had our fair share of trap accidents (see below) but overall collecting has been a blast.

I have been really amazed with the diversity of things that is flying, crawling, or otherwise finding our traps. There have been several "first" for me on the traps: two different families of Archostemata, adult male Phengodes (glow worms), several species of Palaminus (common in the tropics, not so much up here) and of course countless other records of rove beetles.

We are not quite ready yet to give a full report of our summer collecting (a lot of the specimens are still getting pinned etc) but I am looking forward examining all of these specimens. I have to admit that spending time in the field has given me a new and much needed appreciation/admiration of my "surroundings".