In the process of this study, begun in 2005, we have made over a dozen trips to Calhoun County to study the moth. Our expeditions were restricted to the roadsides of the county because we had no access to its habitat, mostly privately held. We watched through high fences as eh moths carried out their life cycle activities but close-up direct observation was an impossibility. We began to comb through the Tax Assessor records for Calhoun county to find names of landowners to approach for access to the habitat.Multiple attempts to reach out to contacts went unanswered or were met with polite denials.
Now that we have secured access to habitat, through the generosity of The Nature
Conservancy, we have made huge advances in our research. We have made three trips since January of 2015! Each trip had a stated goal and research plan. The truth of it is amazing. Each trip contained
so many surprises that we had to revise our plans on the fly to accommodate the new discoveries. That is the thing about field research -- the more you do, the harder you look - the more you learn
what you really don't know!
New things on the research agenda:
Identify the Oak Community members to Species.
When we first started going down to Calhoun County we paid little attention to the oaks -- they were, for the most part, growing behind high fences. We heard in 2012 that the low running oak may be Quercus hemisphaerica Bartram ex Willd. , but when we researched that plant it appears to be completely different. We now have a better idea (having taken 60 samples) that the oak is Quercus minima (Sarg.) Small -- but we have found specimens that are very aberrant ( too tall for Q. minima and not in keeping with Quercus fusiformisSmall). So the picture of the plants in this oak community is very confusing -- we are hoping to complete several tasks.
1) Photo survey and sample for our herbarium the oaks of this community. These will need to be done soon and we need to engage an interested Oak botanist (we are in discussion with one such person as we speak) to assist us in completing the sampling.
2) DNA Analysis of the oaks to assist in the confirmation of their identity. We have
several labs that may work with us on this and we are excited to get started on this process. DNA bar coding using the mitochondrial CO1 gene is a good way to add support to morphological and
observational determinations of species but we believe that it is not enough in and of itself.
Determine what plants are selected by the female moths for their egg rings.
We have made two trips to study the ova rings and we have observed that they appear to only
be laid on the smaller Q. minima oaks. However, on our trip in April of 2105, we found a large number of caterpillars on the much taller Q. fusiformis trees.
These caterpillars start out life together as a aggregated mass of spiny larva, chewing on newly sprouted oak leaves, but as they age they become less gregarious and tend to break down into smaller
groups until in the penultimate or ultimate instars they are solitary. While we never found any ova rings on the Q. fusiformis we need to watch mated females fly to see if we can determine that they
are selecting this tree as a larval food source as well. If so, they may be laying eggs at heights beyond easy visual identification range. We need to know to clarify this significant part of the
moths life cycle.
Determine the impact of controlled burns on the Moth Population.
On our trip in March of 2015 we witnessed a controlled burn on a prairie patch and it immediately occurred to us that fire could have a huge impact on the moth population. This is especially true if the widespread use of fire and herbicides are part of the future land use and habitat management plans.
1) We need to be present prior to a controlled burn and go in and survey to mark egg rings in the surrounding oak mottes. This research should be repeated multiple times to get more comprehensive data. We need to sample the egg rings from the burned area and see if they are viable --in the lab.
2) After the burn has completed we need to assess the damage to the oak foliage to better understand if freshly hatched caterpillars will be impacted.
3) We need to see the survival rate of egg rings in the burned area -- how many are cooked or destroyed versus how many are untouched. This will help us estimate the expected survival of ova rings in burned areas.
We need your help to conclude these studies and ensure that this amazing Oak Community in
Calhoun County is preserved and the Buck Moth is conserved. These studies will be valuable to those who are planning the future for this property!
Thank you so very much
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