Friday, December 13, 2013

School Malaise Trap Program Fall results

It's time again to share some results of a School Malaise Trap program.Yes, we did it again this fall. From September 23rd to October 4th we had 21 schools catching flying insects with Malaise Traps. All participating teachers will receive an email this afternoon with a big results package.

You might remember that the first run of program involved 60 schools in 42 cities. We had to reduce this for the fall for financial and logistical reasons and we also skipped our usual visit by the BIOBus. Nevertheless, the results were impressive especially given that it was quite late in the season. We were quite curious because by that time of the year we usually remove our traps in the National and Provincial Parks. This would give us an indication what we potentially miss by doing so.

Indeed the trap catches were quite high and despite having only about a third of the spring numbers of traps out, we caught more species. The 21 traps on average collected 1,338 specimens for the collecting period. Our staff sorted 28,110 specimens and selected 5,985 to be barcoded. Our final dataset was made up of 4,736 DNA Barcodes (not all worked and short barcodes were discarded). An impressive number of 1,493 putative species were collected over the two week period of the program. Here a breakdown:

113 of these species were new to BOLD which could either mean that they are known but have not been sampled yet or that they are indeed new to the region or even to science. We also had a look at the amount of overlap between our spring and the fall runs and found out that 404 species occur at both events which leaves us with 2500 species found in two weeks in early spring and two weeks in late fall in 70 schools in south-western Ontario. 

This project is unique in many respects. Firstly, it is a great discovery based science project for classrooms in both elementary and secondary schools. The teacher and student feedback is very positive and the fact that with the help of BOLD we can give credit to each participating group for their contribution to scientific knowledge, is invaluable. Secondly, we have an unprecedented surveillance network in our immediate vicinity. Both runs unveiled a good number of firsts for Ontario, Canada, North America. Just one example encountered last week when looking at the data: The hemipteran Dicyphus errans has only been known from Europe so far where it is used as a biocontrol agent. The new School Malaise Trap dataset contains a record that matches some European counterparts on BOLD. A first quick morphological inspection confirms this. Now a colleague at the CNC (Canadian National Collection of Insects) will look closer and subsequently we will officially report this find. This might be an escaped biocontrol agent used by a local farmer to eradicate aphids. Problem with this species is that once they eat all the aphids or flies they suppose to control they can switch their diet and become a pest themselves.

For the researchers here at BIO the fun starts now. We have so much data to look at and it even if those two events are just taxonomically restricted snap shots they allow us insights into diversity patterns on a scale never possible before. Furthermore, the program has not only excited almost 3000 kids in the region but also considerably helped building our DNA Barcode reference library.

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