Sunday, May 30, 2010

Holiday Weekend

The ALE lab is enjoying a 3-day weekend. I'm spending the weekend at home and finally got my containers planted. Thank you to Buckeye Blitz volunteer Eunice Shonk for the Lady Beetle Flag! The Hibiscus tree is from the student plant sale at the OSU Agricultural Technical Institute. If you are in the Wooster area I highly recommend checking it out, the students do a great job. Annual flats and perennials are available.

As for the other ALE Lab members: Chelsea, Scott, and Ben went to MI to catch up with family and friends and Alfred is spending the weekend in Columbus.

...and if I had to guess I bet that Chelsea is hunting insects today for her collection!

Happy Memorial Day Everyone!

Friday, May 28, 2010


Here in the fine city of Wooster, a natural phenomenon occurs on the byways as a result of sentimentality, sloth and confounding city ordinance. Erosion of rock and reclamation of vegetation is the most important step in an ecological process, called succession. In different environments, soil structure determines what types of plants can take hold, then those plants determine which other plants and animals can succeed after. Within a block of my house I can witness all stages of this erosion and vegetative coup d'├ętat. For instance, on Founder's Row you can see that the sidewalks here were originally made of red brick, and when unmaintained the cracks created from ice and blunt trauma became filled with vegetation. Lawnmowers and dog-walkers are the only ones keeping these yards from returning to wild landscapes.

Have a good Memorial Day weekend!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

How important is your wallet?

Question: What is THE most important item NOT to forget to take along on any trip?

The answer to this question will likely depend on one's destination, nature of the trip, and in some cases locality of the trip. In my humble opinion, I'd say that the answer to this question would be one's WALLET, and here's contains one's valuable items like ID card, cash or plastic, membership cards, maybe a house spare key, etc, etc. I would equate one's failure not to have a wallet in one's possession, especially on a solo trip, to locking oneself out of one's house.

On a recent solo work-related trip I had the misfortune of separating myself from my wallet, which normally is wouldn't happen. However, on this particular trip I happened to be running late so I unknowingly bolted out of the house without it. On completion of my trip's purpose, I turned around for my next destination...home. I stopped at a restaurant to grab a quick bite. The restaurant wasn't crowded for that time of day, which was good for me because I was absolutely hungry enough to eat a horse! Now, I have this habit of reaching for my wallet before placing asking for a menu or placing an order. So, as I'm making my way to the counter, I instinctively reach for my wallet, which until that point I hadn't realized that I didn't have it. About five steps away from the counter and a "hello-can-I-take-your-order" request, it hit me...the darn thing wasn't in its usual pocket! I froze, patted myself down just be certain that it wasn't there. And sure enough it wasn't!

At that point I looked at my hands as though they needed to be washed, spun around, and headed towards the bathroom door, which incidentally was close to the exit door, then chose the latter! Good enough I hadn't placed my order yet...and spared myself a close call...whew! My next concern between the restaurant and home was to avoid getting pulled over. And I succeeded in that regard!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where's Chelsea?

It took a while to see her, but Chelsea is somewhere in an alfalfa field. I zoomed in a little more to find her putting up sticky card traps. The grower had just mowed at this site, so we probably won't get as many insect specimens as usual, but we'll take all that we can get!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Insect of the Week!

Golden-backed Snipe Fly
Chrysopilus thoracicus

Since I am currently taking classes and doing field work at the same time, I try to stay sharp and pick up as many different insect families as I can for my final project (insect collection). Today I caught a Golden-backed snipe fly (family: Rhagionidae). According to (the best website!) both the adults and larvae feed on small insects.

Too bad when I pinned it, black liquid came out and coated the golden thorax so it doesn't look as nice.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Visiting Engineer

I cannot build anything. Luckily we had Electrical and Mechanical Engineer Steve Scott in the lab over the weekend to assist with the wiring of the insect surveillance systems. Steve has the DVR systems which record our insect data powered by boat batteries so that they can run in the field for up to 48 hrs. Thanks Steve!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Those Crazy Biologists...

We had some parts machined for our surveillance cameras at a local machining shop, and the guys there seemed to get a kick out of the fact that they were making parts to spy on insects.

The top camera shown has the adapter attached with the macro lens.

Friday, May 21, 2010


What you see above are a set of high-tunnels used to thwart winter weather conditions and extend the growing season in northern climates. Here in Ohio, many growers like to start their seedlings in high-tunnels to protect the plants from herbivore and frost damage at their most vulnerable life stage. Once the plants are big enough some growers transplant them into the soil outside, while others maintain their crops within the high-tunnel all year long. One of the other advantages to these common farm structures is the ability to control insect populations with greater ease. A smaller area, with limited entrances and exits, is easier pay mind to than an open air crop. But, if something goes wrong, your problem could last all year! Sometimes winter is a good thing.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The part-week that was!

Finally the wet, soggy conditions have turned for the better. The weather is warm and sweet...makes me think of DOGS (hot, corn, and whatever else exists!) and of course all of the accompanying condiments...yum!

Anyhow, the part-week (Friday excluded) was quite interesting...the big day was Monday, a day of drenching. Not sure about the rest of ALE'ers who equally got drenched, but steam was needed to bring my "core temperature" back up to speed. Other than that the loads of pollen that filled the air, the rest of the week seemed to go smoothly. We also talked to a few Ashland county residents and farmers who seemed interested in the pan traps as we emptied and changed them.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rainy Field Day

We were in this grassland collecting lady beetles and aphids with Chelsea on Monday. She has started her field research examining native lady beetle decline. Chelsea has been hard at work in the field all week, I am happy she is finally getting some nicer weather!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Top Bar Hives in Southern Ohio

We were in Piketon, OH last week meeting with Brad Bergerfurd. Brad is a collaborator working with us on Ben's pumpkin research (discussed in our March 25 and May 14 posts). He showed us his bee hives which included two top bar hives. Honey bees attach their wax comb to the top of the hive. This type of hive can be incorporated in community or backyard gardens.

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Re-evalute yourself!"

Hello readers,

My name is Ben Phillips, and I'm a new graduate student with Mary. Interestingly enough, another Michigander as well. I graduated in Fisheries and Wildlife Management at Michigan State University. I am personally interested in how farmscapes can be managed as an extension of their surrounding habitats by maintaining a diversity and abundance of insect and animal wildlife.

For the next 3 years I am taking the lead on a project that Mary and Scott have started, evaluating the effects of floral strips on pumpkin patches. Based on previous research, we expect that native perennials and exotic annuals will provide more nesting and forage habitat for beneficial insects like parasitic wasps, ground beetles and solitary bees. These good bugs will enter the main crop to provide pollination and predation services, which make a farmer's life a little easier. When the pumpkins are ripe, we will asses them for their market value and enlist the help of economist, Erik Nordman, to help us figure out if floral strips can be an affordable and competitive alternative to heavy pesticide usage. The results of this study can be used to help growers of squash and gourds as well.

Though I have only been here for one week, I have already learned so much. For example, we ran into a problem with our study design, and have had to begin adapting our plan to account for insecticide usage on larger scale farms. In the words of one OSU professor, we've had to "re-evaluate ourselves."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Still standing!

The weather in our area this past week was rather "dodgy" thanks to the thunderstorms and tornadoes that went through here. Despite all this weather-related issues, almost all of the aphid pan traps survived the week. We lost only four (4) pan traps, which was quite impressive given the strength of the winds. Hopefully next week will be better.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lots of Driving!

This week we are spending time looking for fields in which to conduct the lady beetle study! In all 8 counties we are working in we will be using a soybean, alfalfa, and CRP grassland field. In each field we will be taking surveys of lady beetle populations as well as doing experiments to find out what the levels of predation on native and exotic lady beetle eggs are.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Graduate Student Assistantship Avaliable

You could be cruising Ohio in this awesome ride next summer! We have a research assistantship available in the ALE lab to study the ecological impacts of common buckthorn. The selected student will run a multi-state research and outreach program to understand how the abundance and distribution of common buckthorn facilitates additional invasive species in the agricultural landscape (check out our March 28th post describing the buckthorn "triple threat"). Both MS and PhD students will be considered. Please contact Dr. Mary Gardiner for more information on this opportunity.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Goodbye Hilary!!!

Hilary has been a dedicated worker in the ALE lab for a year now, and we are soooooo sad to see her go! This is her last week of work, as she will be visiting Germany for the summer. Hilary starts grad school this Fall and we wish her all the best. We hope she will visit us soon!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Up and running

Pan trapping of soybean aphids or "bad guys", as one farmer so humorously referred to, is finally up and running. Day 1 couldn't have gone any better. There was plenty of "weather"...clear skies filled with the golden rays of the sun and a warm breeze...which made it good to be out. There was also plenty of dust around farm fields generated by farm equipment as we were not the only ones out doing our thing.

We zig-zagged and snaked our way from one grid point to another along state highways, county, and township roads for most of the day with no issues from either local residents or other motorists. I think that was partly because of the yellow sign that was at the back of the van (see pic above) and also bright orange vests that we wore as we went about "planting" our traps along the roads -- we actually looked like a road maintenance crew. Hopefully, the next outing will be just as good!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Common Buckthorn ID

I've been working on a bookmark with identification information for the invasive common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica). Here you can see the rounded, shiny leaves with small teeth on the edges. Each leaf has 3 to 5 pair of upward-curving veins. Also noticeable is the "thorn" in buckthorn. Each branch ends in a short, sharp spine. If you find any while you are out and about this summer, let us know. We'd love to see some pictures.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Insect of the Week

14-spotted lady beetle (Propylaea quatuordecimpunctata)

This is an exotic species of lady beetle. We have seen populations of the 14-spotted lady beetle increasing as populations of native lady beetles have been decreasing. It is still too early to tell whether or not this species is a factor for the decrease of native species'

Native to Europe, this lady beetle was probably accidentally introduced to North America by shipping in the St. Lawrence Seaway in the late 1960's.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Buckeye Blitz Volunteer Training Wraps this Week

If you are interested in becoming a buckeye lady beetle blitz volunteer you have two remaining opportunities to attend a training session. Our last two sessions are scheduled for this week: Cleveland, OH (May 5) and Mansfield, OH (May 6). More information on both of these workshops can be found on our BLBB website. The samping begins the week of June 13. It will not be long before envelopes of data begin to roll in to the ALE lab!