For my project, I will 1) learn how to take up-close photographs of grasshoppers, 2) identify the developmental stages of the grasshoppers that we found during our Orthoptera density surveys, and 3) summarize climate data for the transects at each of our seven sites and see if factors such as slope and/or aspect account for variation within a site.
Macrophotography is the process of photographing very small objects. The small objects that I will be photographing are adult grasshoppers. Different species of grasshoppers have different identifying factors. For example, taking a photograph that shows the top and side of the abdomen may be crucial in identifying the species. In other cases, I will have to carefully spread the wings and photograph their pattern and color. With our photography setup, we can take more detailed photographs than those currently present in identification keys; quicker and more accurate identification will help the USDA and land owners monitor certain species, detect potential pest outbreaks, and determine the appropriate management strategies. Also, seeing these insects up close is quite remarkable; sharing these photos with the public is likely to induce admiration for a creature that is typically overlooked.
After thawing a frozen bag of grasshoppers, I examine them under a microscope to see which one is the most intact. I want to make sure that the antennae are all present, the legs are complete, and the abdomen is in good condition. Once I pin the chosen grasshopper, I give it a bath in a jewelry cleaner machine filled with vinegar. I allow it to dry and change the position of its legs, wings, and antennae while they are still malleable. I then transfer the specimen to our photography station, where I make sure that its distance and angle from the camera are both favorable. The computer that is connected to the camera allows me to adjust the focus and lighting for the grasshopper; when everything looks good, I take numerous photos that have different body parts in focus. I can stack all of these photos to get one photograph in which the whole grasshopper is in focus. Future modifications, such as placing the insect on a black background or removing minuscule dust particles can be done in photoshop.
This year is the first year that the Orthoptera Density Survey protocol is being done in Yellowstone. From here on out, we are striving to survey each of the seven sites three times a year. This will take place in the beginning of summer and repeat two more times (each sampling session will be spaced apart by about 6 weeks). From the data we collected during the first sampling session, I will calculate the grasshopper density for each site and determine which developmental stages were present. While the first survey will give us information on the status of grasshoppers at this point in time, accumulated data from multiple years of surveying will allow us to see trends and compare them to changes in the environment, such as climate fluctuations.
At each of the seven sites, there are three transects that lie outside of the climate monitoring stations. Each transect has a temperature logger that has been recording data for the past year. I want to see if there is variation in the readings of the three loggers within each site. Microclimate is the climate of a subset of the ecosystem while climate is the overall weather of one environment or ecosystem. Slope and aspect can greatly influence the microclimate at each transect, which, in turn, dictates what type of plant and insect communities are present. As such, the microclimates we examine may be different than the climate of the entire ecosystem.