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Environmental Research in the UUFN Woodlot

The UUFN has been offered and approved a unique an exciting opportunity to partner with graduate students working under University of Delaware professor and author Dr. Doug Tallamy to research insect survival in woodlots with native trees.

UUFN's wonderful property is the perfect location for their research!

Below, you can read a synopsis of the graduate students' rationale and work.

This work will begin this summer and last until next spring.

So, if you see a small "tent" for capturing emerging insects, or lights in a limited location in our woods, or young enthusiastic graduate students walking on our property, stop and say hello (but please leave their equipment alone)!

Karen Barker, Steve Bush, Jeff Ramberg, Susan King

(for more information, contact Karen Barker at labyrinth@uufn.org)

Purpose of the research

Caterpillars are the bread and butter of terrestrial ecosystems. The immature stage of moths and butterflies (Lepidoptera) are essential protein rich sources for nestling and migratory birds as well as mammals, reptiles and amphibians. In other words, these insects are integral to the transfer of energy from plants to other animals.

Dr. Tallamy has published books (The nature of Oaks, Nature's best hope, etc) on how important the management of private urban property is for all of these species. This is because the current popular landscaping culture of turf grass and other nonnative ornamental plants create an ecological deadscape that does not feed many animals.

We have to plant native plants in our yards because they are the only plants that feed picky, host-specific insects, such as caterpillars. Previous research completed in our lab has found that 90% of Lepidoptera eat only 14% of plant genera (Oak, cherry, willow, etc) (Narango et al. 2020). These trees are called "keystone trees" because of the disproportionately large number of species they support.

Planting keystone trees is a phenomenal first step for sustainable land management.

However, this is providing for the caterpillar only during one stage of the life cycle. After they are finished eating, many important moth species pupate overwinter in the soil. The soil microhabitat near the host plant is very important to their survival during this vulnerable stage.

We are testing which ground cover is best underneath host plants for successful pupation and survival of Lepidoptera into adulthood.

Thanks to your help, we will be able to recommend ground covers underneath trees that act as a "soft landing" for these animals before they undergo metamorphosis.