KENT STATE STUDENTS EXPLORE INSECT DIVERSITY AT THE STARK CAMPUS BIOPOND
The term “biopond” stems from the employment of a pond as a teaching tool for biodiversity, evolution and ecology. The main purpose of this study is to record the effect of urbanization, or the building of a new science building, on the diversity of the moth and caddisfly populations at the biopond.
Setting the Foundation for Future Projects
“Studying the current insect diversity at the biopond will provide us with information that we can use for other future studies and for supplementing biological courses,” said Matthew S. Lehnert, Ph.D., assistant professor in biological sciences at Kent State Stark.
For example, the diversity data gathered in the study at the biopond can be compared to the moth populations in other regions and can help determine if the biodpond is truly a sanctuary of diversity for local moth populations, Lehnert said.
Lehnert wanted to focus on moths over other insects because they serve as an indicator of ecological health. Adult moths feed on tree sap, rotting fruit, nectar and other fluids, while larvae feed on tree, grass and other plant species. Caddisflies are aquatic in their immature stages. As a result, the study also is an indirect measure of the effect of urbanization on the ecological health of the biopond.
Helping the Study Take Flight
To make this study come to life, Lehnert encouraged senior biology major Catherine Mulvane to jump on board, feeling her fervor and devotion to research would make her the perfect candidate to conduct the study.
Thanks to the Art and Margaret Herrick Aquatic Ecology Research Facility Student Research Grant, Mulvane was able to set the project in motion.
The first phase of the study began in July 2013 and continued throughout the summer. Lehnert and project participants took turns at the biopond collecting moths and caddisflies two times a week, working until 2 or 3 a.m.
“We were at the biopond, sometimes during rain and cold nights, collecting the moths and caddisflies that would land on the large white sheet that was set up near a mercury vapor light, which moths and caddisflies are attracted to,” Lehnert said. “Everybody involved played a vital role.”
Despite the long hours and sometimes unfavorable elements, one of the involved students, senior biology major Aubrey Brothers, valued this experience.
“Night collecting was a really beneficial experience and definitely was worth spending some late summer nights doing,” Brothers said. “I was taking entomology [the study of insects] that following semester, so it was also a great opportunity to collect other insects that were not being inventoried.”
Since the summer collection, the focus of the project has shifted to identifying the moths by species. Of the 225 moths identified, the students have found 72 different species, some described as “uncommon” in the state of Ohio.
“If I had to choose a favorite part, I would pick seeing all the different types of moths we have found at the biopond,” Mulvane said. “I had never given much thought that such a variety of moths were present in one area, and we still have quite a few moths to identify.”
Mulvane also appreciated Lehnert’s leadership during the progression of the project.
“Dr. Lehnert is the best,” Mulvane said. “He is a fountain of knowledge. Dr. Lehnert wants us to be independent with our research, but he is always there to answer any question and help out, if needed. He guided me through the entire process while encouraging me to take charge.”
Lehnert had a similar view toward the six students involved. In addition to Mulvane and Brothers, participating students include Eric Brown, ’13, Meredith Jenkins, ’13, Shorook Attar, ’13 and Tallmadge High School senior Val Kramer.
“I consider myself fortunate to have worked with a group of students that display such a vast amount of enthusiasm and dedication,” Lehnert said. “We really were a team in this study, and it was nothing short of a great experience for me.”
Mulvane agreed this has been a great learning experience, from writing grant proposals and setting up night collecting equipment to spreading and identifying moths and working with other students.
“It has been great getting to know everyone,” Mulvane said. “We are like family.”
Showcasing Findings at Symposium
Participants of the insect biodiversity study will present their findings at the Undergraduate Symposium on Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity on April 2. The symposium will be held in the University Library on the Kent Campus.
The event aims to better prepare students for post-graduation opportunities and to make for an enriching academic experience. Student participants will be considered for cash awards up to $500 based on their display and presentations.