One of the Postdoctoral proposals I’m writing is all about dead wood- and the beetles that depend on it. On my trip to Costa Rica, I learn SO much about beetles (check out my posts about beetles living with termites, dung beetles, and cool pictures here), but one thing that was prominent throughout my trip and learning experience was that beetles love dead wood. I already knew that there were many dead-wood-loving, or saproxylic, beetles out there but I didn’t realize how many! When I think about the rainforest, I mostly think about lush green plants….and all the beetles that eat them. But, really, there are so many resources in the rainforest, including poop, rotten meat, and dead wood!
Of of the many collecting techniques we employed in Costa Rica, my two favorite involved dead wood- “barking” and “fogging”. Barking basically involves carrying around a crow bar and diving in whenever you come across a good looking dead log. Barking is extremely fun because it is like digging up treasure- you never know what you are going to get, but, in Costa Rica, you always get something awesome. Fogging is another
collecting technique that I did for the first time in Costa Rica. I must admit that I was a little hesitant to do this because, well, it has the potential to kill a lot of beetles. Luckily, my fellow beetle students used only a few sprays of Raid (yes, Raid) and in the open rainforest, it only lasts a couple hours before it breaks down. I’ve heard of scientists using more potent insecticides that last a lot longer. During my first fogging experience, I wasn’t sure how I was going
to feel about seeing many insects fall out of a log, dead. But that actually doesn’t happen- they come out alive (but not all stay alive 😦 ) The Raid flushes them out, causing the concealed beetles to come out of the wood and escape the poison- And you’ve got to be ready to catch them! Many of them plop out onto the white sheet under the log, but a lot try to fly (if they can fly) or crawl away quickly. It is SO exciting see all of these neat beetles come out of a seemingly lifeless dead log (except for the fungi, of course).
As you can see, I really got into dead wood-loving beetles while in Costa Rica and wanted to learn more about them and their conservation concerns. It turns out dead-wood loving insects are of particular conservation concern because, well, people just don’t keep dead logs around! Unlike flowers for pollinators or ponds for dragon flies and frogs, dead logs are not on the must-have item for your weekend yard project. But that is changing. Many habitat managers realize the importance of dead wood resources in forests and parks for dependent insect species. My proposed work is on the connectivity of these deadwood resources and how corridors might be an effective solution to dead wood habitat fragmentation. Yes, I want to place dead logs around the landscape! I’ll write more about that work in another post, but next time think twice about “cleaning up” those fallen trees in your backyard. They are most likely home to a beetle or two.