Tuesday, June 17, 2014

School Malaise Trap Program Spring 2014

It's time again to share some results of a School Malaise Trap program. The spring program ran from April 22nd to May 5th involved 54 schools in 41 cities, 93 classrooms, and 2,258 students. All participating teachers will receive an email today with a big results package.

As a result of a rather long winter we had relatively cool spring temperatures during the trap deployment period. Consequently we were expecting less species and specimens than during the same period last year.

Indeed the trap catches were lower. The 58 traps on average collected 482 specimens for the collecting period. Our staff sorted 27,965 specimens and selected 12,968 to be barcoded. Our final dataset was made up of 11,425 DNA Barcodes (not all worked and short barcodes were discarded). A still impressive number of 704 putative species were collected over the two week period of the program. Here the taxonomic breakdown:

20 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. Last spring, 60 schools participated in the School Malaise Trap Program and collectively they were able to find some 1,400 species and almost 100,000 individual insects. The large difference in numbers between the two years can be attributed to the lower average temperatures of about 10°C. 
We also found that just 472 species were shared between the two years which is about 67% of this years catch. Initially we thought that this could be attributed to the fact that we had a lot of schools participating for the first time and also that our catchment area grew quite a bit. However, when looking at a handful of schools that participated both spring programs we still found many different species. There still is a chance of some data artifacts but one possible explanation might be the delay of this years' spring. Given that some arthropod species only have a lifespan as adults every shift even if it is just by a week or two might make a huge difference in the species composition of a given region. This year’s spring began about 1-2 weeks later than last year which might explain why we found so many different species in both years even at schools that participated both times.

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. 

Here an example for a species collected both in spring 2013 and spring 2014: 

Pear thrips are an invasive species from Europe. They arrived in California the early 1900’s and are now be found throughout most of the USA. They are tiny, measuring only 1.2 to 1.7 mm long, with brown-black colouration, two pairs of wings, and rasping mouthparts. They use these mouthparts to cut open leaves and buds of hardwood trees so they can feed on plant fluids. Last years collection of pear thrips by the School Malaise Trap Program marked the first time they have been barcoded from a Canadian location. They were found in 53 out 81 traps. This was a very interesting discovery last year and we speculated if it could signal a threat to Canadian forests – in the late 1980’s pear thrips were responsible for damage to 1.3 million acres of Pennsylvanian forest. This year we found this species in 45 out of the 58 traps, over 320 individuals in total. Interestingly it is thought that outbreaks of pear thrips are directly related to warm, dry spring weather that results in early budbreaks. The fact that we again found so many of them despite cooler temperatures and a long winter is puzzling. Natural Resources Canada considers these data as important and will include all locations (=schools) in their occurrence map for this species. Now, that's what I call a valuable contribution by the participating classrooms.

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