by Amor Luciano
Purchase College Environmental Studies undergraduate, interested in marine ecology
The week leading up to my arrival in Maine for the Acadia Bug Project was filled with such stomach-tangling knots and nervousness that border-lined anxiety. For the first time in my academic career I will be doing actual research and field work pertaining to my possible future career. Although I was incredibly excited to finally get my hands dirty in some field work but I was nervous that I was overestimating my abilities and would be more of a setback and slow the progress down.
My first week here was everyone else’s third week and the rest of the crew developed a rhythm and routine for gathering data at each of the sites, sterilizing the equipment on their return back to the field house, and sorting through all of the collected data, and I was being thrown in. The same nerves and excitement made it so difficult to sleep but at 7:45 am I was up and ready to start my first day. The first morning was a bit hectic with a lot of me just standing around attempting to be helpful in gathering and loading supplies into Dr. Jackson’s car while not being helpful at the same time……. kind of a rough start. But once we were at our field site for the day it became much smoother. Collecting the terrestrial bugs was different. Using beat sheets and sweep nets we were able to gather the insects and become a human vacuum aspirating them into a collection vial. Aspirating the bugs felt like I was breaking all the “rules” my mom scolded me for as a child when it came to bugs. Not only was I sucking them up (and yes there was a time or two that I’m pretty sure I swallowed a bug) but I was touching them with my bare hands and then eating afterwards!
As the week progressed, it became easier to immerse myself into the routine of each field day. Some of the days were long, with us doing field work in the morning and after a quick lunch break working with citizen scientists in the afternoon and other days were a little bit shorter but much more intensive making the day appear long. However working with the citizen scientists was such a different and unique experience. The level of enthusiasm that they would bring to the site would reenergize me for the afternoon and it was also great to see regular people getting excited to be a part of scientific research. Some were a bit more enthusiastic than others completely willing to get down and dirty to catch some aquatic insects but all were fun to have. My first week was insane, exhausting, and a bit of a blur; my second week became much more routine but just as exhausting. Between the long days of field work under the hot sun, an afternoon of bug sorting, and nights filled with either reading or movies, my time here just flew by. This was definitely an experience that not only will I never forget but has solidified my decision to work as an Ecologist and work in the environment. It has also revealed how important crowd sourcing for research, aka citizen scientists, can be and how anyone who has an interest (myself included) can help in others research.
We are all extremely surprised that we have already completed week 3 of fieldwork here in Acadia! Time is flying by and the data is accumulating. I wanted to write a short post explaining what actual data we are trying to collect. We have had great groups of citizen scientists come to 3 of the four sites now, and we collect aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates using a variety of methods. We try to sort them a little in the field, but mostly we bring them back to the lab (aka fieldhouse) and sort and count them. Right now, because we are trying to collect as much data while we are in Maine as possible, I don't want to spend all our time in the lab so we kind of do a rough sort into orders or families. We will look more carefully at these samples in the fall to further classify them, but for now, we are seeing lots of interesting diversity. Check out this photo of the diversity from the aquatic sampling at Marshall Brook:
Our goal as the summer goes on is to understand how the insects are changing at each site, so we will create graphs that show the diversity and abundance at each site... below is the data in a graph. How is this going to change at our next sampling day? We don't know! That's science! Check out our results page, which has the current graphs and trends for each site.
Professor and maker of black bean burgers.
Being one of the interns that are only temporarily involved, I had to catch on quickly to the project and give great effort to help out in my short stay (16 days). Arriving at the start of the project, however, was easier in that I was on the same page as everyone and did not have to play catch up to the rest of the group as the other temporary members would have to jump in when the plans are already in motion. This did mean that I would have to play a part in the “figuring out,” process at the beginning of any project. What the figuring out process involves is first testing to see if what was written down on paper that would theoretically work can be applied in practice to real field data. For all the kinks found in the first week or two, some adjustments are needed to create a successful project. While Professor Jackson is the one to make the important decisions, it was our job to work out the smaller issues that may arise and offer suggestions that may help everything run smoothly.
In the first week at Acadia, we visited all four of our research sites (three on Mount Desert Island, one on Schoodic peninsula) to get a feel for how to effectively use our equipment to obtain quality data as well as setting up the emergence traps. The equipment included dip nets, sweep nets, beat sheets, aspirators, and a dissolved oxygen meter. We did have to work around some rainy weather, which may not be ideal for insect collection but is completely unavoidable and definitely an expected occurrence in Maine. Week two of research was run more smoothly as everything was set up and we were able to get into a rhythm for the fieldwork. However, there were still certain things that needed to be worked out such as the whole citizen science aspect to the project as we were not able to hold any sessions week one. To me, this was my favorite part although I was only able to experience it once. Even after a full quantitative data collection on a considerably hot day, we held a citizen science session and it was great to have other people out in the field with us collecting data. It was great to see such enthusiasm towards our research and being able to show others what it is that we do and how to do it is fulfilling. It might have been the group that we had on the specific day, but it made it seem that the research that we conduct has more purpose than to simply prove a hypothesis. Especially with the big push for scientific communication, I feel that this is a great way to relay information to the public and get the involved in a fun way.
As my last few days on the job are wrapping up, I would like to shout out the commander in chief of the project and thank Professor Jackson for letting me help out and experience the ever beautiful Acadia National Park. I had a fantastic time learning about research first hand as I have never been a part of one before this. I have also never touched more bugs in my life than I did on even one day of quantitative data collection. It is always great to immerse yourself into something that you are not particularly used to and learn something completely new. For my last thought, I want to encourage whoever is reading this to go out and learn more about your local invertebrates! They are essential parts to the ecosystem!
Author: Matt Garafalo
What's up fellow nature nerds? Hopefully everyone following our project is getting as excited as we are to collect some cool bugs! So we just arrived in Maine this past Friday with our fearless leader, Dr. Allyson Jackson, at the helm. The rest of our crew (Veronica, Alex, Daniel, myself, and of course Ben the Dog) has since been settling in. Our mission is being fueled by lots of coffee and PB&J, and only the finest gourmet dog food. We've begun to explore the nearby town of Ellsworth, and the beautiful expanses of Acadia National Park. Maine is truly picturesque, and definitely a lot colder than New York. So far we've tested out some of our bug collection methods at our field sites and they've been pretty successful. We've already got a ton of creepy crawlies from both the aquatic and terrestrial realms, and we're super excited to have our citizen scientists come out and help us, and see what they find! We are in the process of deploying some of our emergence traps at our field sites so we can see what insects are entering terrestrial food webs from the ponds and streams of Acadia. We'll be sure to keep you in the loop, but for now... we've got some bugs to ID!
Don't worry, I hopefully won't be writing too many of these blog posts. I'm in the process of getting everything ready but I'm hoping the students coming with me will think of interesting things to post here. I'm counting down the days until we leave for Maine (June 1)! If you want to keep up on our summer, you can follow this blog or any of our social media accounts (@JacksonEcoLab on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter).