September 22, 2021

Summer Moth Data

I have been working on a moth project this summer (2021) to work out some project ideas I want to incorporate into undergraduate research at Austin Community College.

The goal of the summer project is to calculate a biodiversity index of moths at one location using incidence data (using photos) rather than abundance data. The majority of moth surveys use light traps and calculate biodiversity parameters using the captured moth abundance data. These projects also preserve and store specimens for further research and identification.

While abundance data may be preferred it has considerable drawbacks. For consideration of undergraduate research at a community college the biggest drawbacks are the preservation, preparation and storage of specimens for the long term. Most community colleges lack research lab facilities and extra storage space as well as the expertise to curate the specimens for long periods of time.

Fortunately, there are statistics that can calculate biodiversity parameters and indices using incidence data rather than abundance data. But there are also considerable drawbacks to using incidence data as well especially if coupled with a lack of facilities to store voucher specimens. For instance, observations may never be identified without a voucher specimen.

Given the potential drawbacks to incidence data, the moths of Austin, Texas are fairly well documented and the majority of them can be identified through a photo although there exist several exceptions. However, it is not necessary to identify everything to species to accurately describe the biodiversity of a group of organisms. The use of morphospecies can help estimate diversity even without specific identification.

By posting this in my journal I am hoping to share this protocol with a few people to get feedback to help refine the techniques I am using and to interest others in developing and/or participating in these projects.

Methods and Materials

The location, my home, for the moth sampling was chosen specifically for convenience. Having a convenient location for future students (their own homes) to conduct surveys helps to eliminate some of the potential barriers to doing research (e.g. traveling, discomfort in being in unfamiliar places, etc.) and it connects the student to the research at their own home making it relevant to their immediate environment. This is a key factor in helping students, especially those unfamiliar with scientific research, connect to research and to the scientific method.

The nights chosen for the survey were also out of convenience but with some attempts at meeting a few criteria. Nights of rain or high wind were not sampled. However, temperature, humidity and moon phases were not considered during sampling even though each of these were measured to determin later if they had an effect on the diversity of moths appearing at the light.

A blacklight was hung in front of a white surface 30 minutes before dark (usually around 7:30pm CST) and remained on until midnight. The light was turned off at the end of the survey period and not left on overnight so as to minimize any interference it might be causing in reproductive or feeding behaviors of the moths or any of the other arthropods that might have been attracted to the light.

Surveys were conducted using a camera. I took a picture of each moth species that appeared at the light. I would start taking photographs for about 20 minutes making sure that I had accounted for each of the species present and then I would repeat the survey every hour making sure to photograph any new moths at the light. Each survey date represented about 4.5 hours of blacklight luring and about 1.5 hours of total surveying.

I used 2 different macro lenses to take clear images of the moths and this greatly aided in the ability to take photos of the micromoths.

Photo processing was required to elimate bad pictures and to crop and rotate images for easier identification once put into iNaturalist. Each species from each survey was input into iNaturalist for purposes of records and identification.

The survey dates include:
4/23/2021
4/29/2021
5/1/2021
5/2/2021
5/3/2021
5/9/2021
5/30/2021
6/3/2021
6/5/2021
6/6/2021
6/7/2021
6/8/2021
6/13/2021
6/27/2021
6/28/2021
6/29/2021
7/1/2021
7/2/2021
7/13/2021
7/15/2021
7/22/2021
7/25/2021
7/26/2021
8/1/2021
8/3/2021
8/5/2021
8/13/2021
8/17/2021
8/23/2021
8/26/2021
9/5/2021
9/9/2021
9/10/2021
9/16/2021
9/17/2021
9/20/2021

Ongoing Results

I am currently still doing the surveys and plan to continue doing the surveys until the end of October.

The results that I have started to piece together are very rough still and unfinished because a great deal more work needs to be done to work in identifications (either to species or assign a morpho species designation).

However, the raw data downloaded from iNaturalist can be found at:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1asF68vCnoToNM31h4cyMY1xLCoGLUwmExuTL0PTnRrc/edit?usp=sharing
I have attempted to create a template for the biodiversity matrix and have done a preliminary incidence graph in this google sheets file. In the future I will be generating a species accumulation curve, a rarefaction curve as well as calculations for a diversity index. I will also look at relationships between diversity and physical factors like moon phase, temperature and humidity.

I have also created a project in iNaturalist to assist in keeping track of species and to facilitate identification. It can be found at: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/moth-id-project

One of the other reasons that I took on this project is that I wanted to become more proficient at identifying moths. This project has given me a lot more exposure and practice at identifying families of moths by sight and familiarizing me with the set of species that visit this location. Since April I have identified around 300 species at my light which will grow as more of the "difficult" species are identified.

Other projects

I will be conducting these surveys with my organismal biology classes at ACC but in partnership with the cell and molecular biology and biotechnology classes I have funding to have them perform DNA barcoding on moths that may be difficult to identify. We conducted a test run of DNA barcoding on 6 different moth species that I collected from my light and had 100% success at DNA amplification, extraction and sequencing. The results also matched expected species.

The ability to DNA barcode difficult species will help to alleviate some of the problems associated with not having voucher specimens. I am hoping that eventually we will get funding to expand this research project and will be able to collect more specimens.

Conclusions

While I don't have any major data conclusions at this time I would like to say that the experience of doing this project has been very encouraging. the surveys were consistent and it helped my become much more familiar with some of the difficult species that I have had little experience with. So far this project represents about 50 hours of survey time and much more than that in photo processing and identification but it has been very engaging and has encouraged me to look deeper into the analysis of this kind of data.

Any feedback you have would be greatly appreciated and of course I want to thank everyone who has ever contributed an identification to the large number of moths I have posted this summer. If you have ideas, questions, or comments I would love to hear them. I am also open to new ideas and to collaborations.

Posted on September 22, 2021 04:30 by cmeckerman cmeckerman | 3 comments | Leave a comment

May 09, 2019

City iNaturalist Challenge - Class Field Trip (Trip)

I led a group of students and faculty on Saturday (4/27) to get observations for the iNaturalist City Challenge. I offered extra credit for the observations and so I had several students show up.

Posted on May 09, 2019 17:25 by cmeckerman cmeckerman | 144 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 22, 2019

20 April 2019 - Field Journal - TX: Travis Co., Karnes Co., Goliad Co.

This Easter weekend we were taking our annual family trip to my Aunt's country house in Kenedy, TX and then going to my in-laws country house north of Goliad, TX.

We left Austin around 8:30am and just as we were getting ready to go I snapped a shot of a cellar slug on the curb.

It was a cool morning (around 55 degrees F) and sunny. We arrived in Kenedy around 11:30am in time for lunch and some good visiting time with my family. During the course of the afternoon I took a few walks to photograph some of the flowers and wildlife on their land. They use the land for cattle and wildlife conservation.

Late in the afternoon we left for Goliad and arrived around 5pm. We had dinner and then took my youngest daughter and my two step sons fishing at the stock tank where Teresa (my youngest) caught her first fish (the bluegill observation).

I took the opportunity to take several pictures of plants around the pond as well as a few damselflies.

The day was very pleasant in both locations and the breeze was very light. I did not have a thermometer with me but I would guess that the high was in the low 80s for the day.

Posted on April 22, 2019 21:09 by cmeckerman cmeckerman | 65 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 11, 2019

April 10, 2019 - Field Journal - TX: Travis Co.; Austin; Baurle Ranch Greenbelt

Lately I have been scanning in some of my old field journals so that I can store them more effectively digitally and so that I can share some of the data that I have with some of my colleagues. It has reminded me that I used to be pretty decent at writing in my field journal and over the years I have gotten out of the habit of keeping one. There are a lot of reasons for it but in the end I feel like I need to make an attempt to write down more of my thoughts when I take my hikes or field trips to observe nature. I am going to give it a go with the iNaturalist journal because I can link all of my observations from the day.

Date: April 10, 2019
Location: Texas: Travis County: Austin: Baurle Ranch Green Belt Park

This morning I decided to take a walk in the green belt of my neighborhood. I walk in it often but I had more time than usual and so decided to make a morning out of it. The park is shaped like a doughnut with some development in the middle of it and so I decided to walk the entire perimeter of the "doughnut".

I started around 0900 and I didn't get back until about 1230.

Conditions: The weather was perfect. It was 23 degrees Celsius when I started (0905) and it climbed to 31 degrees by 1130. The sky was absolutely clear and there was a light breeze. It rained this past weekend quite a bit so all of the low lying areas either had water in them or were muddy. Several of the trails were muddy as well. There are two "permanent" bodies of water in this park on the North and East sides of the park and they were full and overflowing. The stream that runs through the southern portion of the park is usually dry but it had a decent amount of water in it today. I took a picture of the mosquito larva already in it (there were 10s of thousands of them!). I felt like running to the pet store and buying gold fish and dumping them in the water (I would never do that but it is going to be a very mosquito infested area soon).

Notes: Despite the beautiful day today I only saw one other person on the trail for the entire 3 hours. This was a rarity and I really enjoyed it.

My goal today was to try and get a few pictures of birds and then like always I ended up photographing anything that I ran across that I thought was interesting. Some of the notable observations for me today included the large bullfrog (I had heard it calling before I found him), the Echinocereus cactus that I hadn't seen before (there was quite a large stand of it), the little wood satyr butterfly that was in a stand of cedar trees and the completely white bluebonnet flowers (there where 2 of them).

Today I had gone to a new part of the park that I didn't know existed and it took me to a wooded area that is technically outside of the greenbelt park on the north side. It was notable because it was a much thicker stand of trees than the other areas and so had a lot more shade and that is where I got a picture of the little wood satyr butterfly which likes those conditions. It was also shady enough that there was quite a bit of moss on fallen logs there too. This is not the case in the rest of the greenbelt park.

All-in-all it was a great day. I added a couple of new plants to my list of observations that I hadn't seen before and I also added the little wood satyr as well.

Here is a link to the park in google maps https://www.google.com/maps/@30.1667111,-97.8481066,15.72z

Posted on April 11, 2019 03:18 by cmeckerman cmeckerman | 110 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 03, 2018

It's that time again for student iNaturalist projects

For the fall semester I have 3 BIOL 1407 classes (structure and function of organisms). That is a total of around 70 students in the class that will be required to do some observations. This will be the 4th semester I am using iNaturalist as one of the centerpieces of my class. You can see the work of some of my other semesters along with another teacher that is using iNat in her class at:

https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/acc-biology

For those of you interested in how I approach the use of iNaturalist here is the break down of the iNaturalist assignments. If you want the actual assignments then just email me and I will send them to you.

The following is a schedule from a typical 15-week semester.
Week 2: iNaturalist Lab (introduce them to iNaturalist and take a field trip to show them how to do the observations.
Week 3: Project (part 1) due. The students have to do 30 observations of any living organism following the iNaturalist guidelines.
Week 6: Project (part 2) due. The students focus on protists. They are required to bring in pond samples to labs each week until they get 15 protist observations.
Week 9: Project (part 3) due. The focus is on plants and fungi. They have to make 30 plant observations and 10 fungi observations.
Week 12: Project (part 4) due. The focus is on invertebrates. They have to make 40 invertebrate observations.
Week 15: Project (part 5) due. The focus is on vertebrates. They have to make 15 vertebrate observations.

Posted on September 03, 2018 20:25 by cmeckerman cmeckerman | 3 comments | Leave a comment

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