Colonisation of a lowland flood meadow restoration site by invertebrates
This project will develop and implement a sampling strategy for assessing colonisation of a flood meadow restoration site by invertebrates typical of the habitat and comparing data with that from a neighbouring SSSI site.
My UROP placement is on insects and I am looking at their abundance and diversity at two sites near Reading. One is an ex-arable/pasture area and the other a nature reserve designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest; which is an important conservation designation. The habitats of both sites are predominantly flood meadows as they both have rivers meandering nearby which will flood some of the meadows in winter. The idea behind this project is to convert the ex-arable fields back to wildlife-rich meadows such as those found at the nature reserve.
My research is laying the foundations to monitor this restoration process over time. Effectively I am collecting the baseline data to show how this site hopefully improves and how its biodiversity grows ever similar in composition to that of the nature reserve’s. Insects are a good indicator of biodiversity as they are at the bottom of the food chain (after plants) and are eaten by bigger insects or birds, which in turn are eaten by bigger birds or mammals. Therefore a change at the bottom of the chain will influence the rest of the higher animals as they are dependent on their prey. This is why insects are one of the biggest players in determining the community composition of any given environment and will give a good estimate of how diverse an area is.
By looking at their abundance and diversity, we will be able to monitor how the restoration site is improving, how close it is to the nature reserve’s target and potentially advise management practices in order to meet that target.
The insects I am looking at are butterflies, dragonflies, bumblebees, grasshoppers and ladybirds – some of the most attractive groups of insects! Since the general idea is for long-term monitoring, the method must be repeatable across the years i.e. someone else can do exactly the same thing I am doing and get the same results. Therefore the sampling method is standardised and the sampling points have either been marked or I’ve written down directions and taken GPS coordinates so future surveyors can find them.
The actual sampling of these insects is divided in two, one involves walking along previously agreed transects and counting any butterflies, dragonflies and bumblebees in view. The other sampling method is “sweep netting”: essentially swooshing a net backwards and forwards hitting the vegetation, to knock over grasshoppers and ladybirds. I then collect these insects and identify their species. Though I haven’t yet reached the conclusion stage of presenting the results of my research, I have already seen some patterns between different fields and also different sites on my field days. However I shan’t spoil the surprise.
What I learned from UROP
So far, my 4 weeks have been very varied as I’ve been hovering between fields, labs and computers and to my eyes this project, though it might not look big, is very comprehensive. I’ve had the chance to explore first hand all aspects of a research project, from the initial preparation stages, which took over a week, to the actual field and lab work following that.
It is a very rewarding experience and although it is not all easy (and actually you’ve got to cope with a big dose of frustration) but you soon learn to deal with that and if something doesn’t work one way then you try another. I’ve been challenged at many levels and in doing so I learned and gained a lot – not to mention an enormity of transferable skills (one of the biggest being time management!) and had a sneak peek at what a potential career in research might be like. All in all I am very satisfied and would definitely recommend this scheme to other students!