Beetles, biodiversity and a healthy habitat

Have you ever taken a close look at what scurries around on the ground? I had not and I have spent my last four years studying to become an environmental scientist! This changed when I began working on the Carabidae (ground beetle) survey with the Canadian Museum of Nature.

The museum is interested in furthering its records and related information about these beetles. Over the summer of 2012, the Environmental Monitoring Program (EMP) team began a survey of the beetle (Coleoptera) species on the museum’s property in Gatineau, Quebec. This area includes the museum’s research and collections facility, the Natural Heritage Campus. I joined the EMP team this summer and continued those surveys.

Lauren McGregor.

Lauren McGregor at work in the forest in summer 2013. Image: Emma Lehmberg © Canadian Museum of Nature

Beetles in the family Carabidae act as indicator species for different habitats. We collected and identified ground beetles during the past two summers, creating a reference collection that will be added to in coming years. This will help us to track habitat change at the property and maybe even climate change in the long term.

A closeup of Carabis nemoralis (European ground beetle)

The subject of the study: Carabis nemoralis (European ground beetle). Image: Lauren McGregor © Canadian Museum of Nature.

Another goal of this study was to determine the abundance of Carabus nemoralis on the property. This species is invasive from Asia and it out-competes the native ground beetle species in disturbed areas. The presence of C. nemoralis causes a decrease in the species diversity and is a bioindicator of poor habitat health. An increase in habitat disturbance leads to an increase in the presence of C. nemoralis.

We selected four habitats to set up pitfall traps. The forest types included Poplar-pine, Hemlock-birch-maple, Cedar, and Cedar-sugar maple-birch. At each trap area, three to four pitfall traps were installed.

Map with coloured zones showing location of the beetle traps.

Map showing placement of the four traps on the museum’s property in Gatineau. Image: Lauren McGregor © Lauren McGregor.

Over the past summer, 633 ground beetles were collected and a total of 803 beetles were collected. Our site B trap in the birch-spruce-maple forest yielded the most carabids. This is because the conditions at this site are optimal for ground beetles. The soil in this area, unlike the other sites, was moist but not too wet, and the leaf litter was thicker than the other sites.

Two pieces of plexiglass near trap, positioned upright on forest floor.

Plexiglass barriers increase the collection efficiency of the pitfall traps, as they block the beetles and guide them towards the trap. Image: Lauren McGregor © Lauren McGregor.

This site is also close to the Hydro-Québec corridor that runs through the museum’s property, which is a disturbed area. Beetles are abundant in the hydro corridor and migrate into the forest area over time, leading to their increased diversity and abundance at site B.

We now have a better understanding of beetle diversity and abundance on the property. This information will be important for future studies as the environmental conditions of this area change over time.

There is so much to see and learn if you just take a closer look! I have learned so much about beetles by looking more closely at the creatures scurrying around my own two feet!

This entry was posted in Animals, Collections, Education and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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