Documenting the Ecological Necessity of Insects at Stratford Ecological Center
Allie Smith, Dr. Laurel Anderson, Dave Noble, & Stratford Ecological Center
My project for this course was divided into two smaller projects that were related to one another. My first goal was to establish a butterfly transect at Stratford Ecological Center, and the second goal was to develop an insect guide of specimens found at Stratford. I had been in contact with Stratford since August, and we were able to establish the transect within the first week of the semester. The transect ran at a total of 0.92 miles in length and passed through several different types of habitat, including prairie and woodland areas. I obtained a butterfly monitoring data sheet from a contact at the Wilds for Stratford to use in the future. I also wrote up instructions for Stratford to use in future butterfly surveys. Over the course of the semester, I was able to conduct a total of six surveys. I observed 19 species and 795 individuals. Volunteers will be needed for future surveys. The insect guide was not fully established, but photos and identifications were still recorded. Over 100 photos were taken, most of them from Stratford but some taken from the Ohio Wesleyan University insect collection. It was decided that a future student will need to continue this project in order for the insect guide to be fully developed.
Methods and Results:
A butterfly transect was established on Stratford property in the fall of 2018. Butterfly abundance was monitored on a weekly basis from the beginning of September to mid-October. Monitoring at Stratford took effect through the guidance of Mark Rzeszotarski and Jerome Wiedmann’s “Instructions for Recorders,” a manual designed for Ohio lepidopterists undertaking long-term butterfly monitoring. A 0.92-mile-long transect runs through four habitat areas (Figure 1). The transect is divided into six sections, one of which is in pasture, one in wetland habitat, one in woodland habitat, and three in prairie habitat. When walking the transect, the recorder must take note of the time, temperature (˚F), cloud coverage, wind direction, and windspeed (MPH), all of which are recorded before and after walking the transect. A significant factor is to record the flowers that are in current bloom, as well as the weather that pertains to each section of the transect (e.g. sunny, overcast, or rainy). Most importantly, the recorder must accurately identify every species of butterfly that flies across an imaginary 15ft3 box to ensure identification accuracy. If a butterfly is beyond these boundaries, it is not documented. Field notes are recorded, which includes interesting plants, unusual weather events, habitat disturbance, and/or various animals. Annual butterfly surveys will begin in April or May and finish in September or October each year. At least one transect walk will be completed each week. Any day of the week is acceptable to record, provided that the weather is suitable. Surveys are to take place any time between 11:00 AM and 5:00 PM EST. The transect is to not be walked when the temperature is less than 60˚F.
Figure 1. An outline of the butterfly transect at Stratford. Numbered areas represent individual sections of the transect.
While the insect guide was not established during the semester, photographs were still taken. Pictures at Stratford were taken during the day in the month of September. Insects and some arachnids of any species were photographed at Stratford. Photos were also taken of insects in the Ohio Wesleyan University insect collection. These were insects that were encountered at Stratford or likely to be encountered. The photos from the collection were taken in early December. Insects and spiders were identified using iNaturalist, insect guides, or online sources.
Over the six surveys that were taken in 2018, a total of 19 species and 795 individuals were recorded (Table 1). The three most abundant species at Stratford were the Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice; 351), the Cabbage White (Pieris rapae; 180), and the Monarch (Danaus plexippus; 66).
Table 1. A listing of common and scientific butterfly names in correspondence to the total number of times observed as well as number of times observed during each survey.
The total number of butterfly individuals was recorded in comparison to each butterfly survey. Butterflies slowly declined throughout the month of September but dramatically increased at the beginning of October (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Total number of butterflies recorded for each butterfly survey.
The top three butterfly species (Clouded Sulphur, Cabbage White, and Monarch) were compared to one another for the entirety of the season (Figure 3). Clouded Sulphurs increased in numbers overall, Cabbage Whites increased over time with a drastic drop at the start of October and an increase during the last survey, and Monarchs underwent some drops and inclines over the course of the season.
Figure 3. Total number of butterflies in top three species recorded for each butterfly survey.
The top three butterflies were compared to total butterflies recorded for the season (Figure 4). A noticeable decline can be noted over the course of the two months surveys were taken.
Figure 4. Top three butterfly species compared to all butterfly species recorded in 2018.
The top three butterfly species were also compared to all butterfly species in each transect section (Figure 5). Each species followed a similar trend in each section, with the most butterflies being observed in section 4 and the least recordings taken in section 5. Table 2 was constructed to portray each butterfly species compared with the numbered transect sections.
Figure 5. Top three butterfly species compared to all butterflies in each transect section.
Table 2. A listing of common and scientific butterfly names in correspondence to the total number of times observed within each transect section.
For the butterfly transect, I recommend that volunteers head out for surveys starting in late March or early April. I would be more than happy to come back in the spring and conduct some more butterfly surveys. I would like to recruit some volunteers that are devoted to learning about the different butterfly and plant species there are on site so they know what to look for. I would also be willing to take them out on a few surveys so they get a feel for how the transect goes, where the sections start and end, and how to document species. As easy as it would be to recruit some middle-schoolers to take surveys, I would prefer older volunteers who are experienced in plant and insect ID, or individuals who are eager to learn how to identify the different plants and butterflies we see out in the field. However, kids are welcome to come out on surveys. The more eyes to spot butterflies, the better! Dave (the apiarist at Stratford who helped me with this project) and I had discussed possibly making a posting on the Stratford website about getting volunteers to meet once a week starting in April to do surveys. I can get in contact with him within the next few months to discuss getting a posting up on the website asking for volunteers.
In terms of the insect guide, the next step is for another OWU student to take over getting the formatting down and incorporating photos into the guide. Unfortunately, Dr. Anderson and I did not have access to Sydney Spotts’ insect guide until the very end of the semester (Sydney was a previous student who had begun developing a guide but did not complete it). Hopefully, another intern at Stratford will be able to continue it if they choose to do so. Otherwise, there is not much more that can be done. An idea that may be fun for the photography club at Stratford is to take photos of insects and give the incentive that those photos will be featured in a student’s future insect guide, which will then eventually be used by all of Stratford. I think people in the club may get excited about that.
Dr. Laurie Anderson – firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Noble – email@example.com
This is the butterfly monitoring recording sheet used during butterfly surveys. This can be printed and used for future surveys.
I do have many pictures that I photographed and ID’d of insects and some spiders. Some can be found in my PowerPoint presentation, which can be referenced under my Final Project Blog Post. If you request for any photos as attachments (i.e., versions that are not on the PowerPoint), please email me for those photos. They’re too difficult to put on here.