Research

Colorado Plateau Museum for Arthropod Biodiversity (CPMAB) staff members participate in research activities that range from developing a state-of-the-art virtual collection network and examining the potential effects of climate change on arthropod communities to collecting and inventorying arthropod species. Working in partnership with other institutions such as federal land management agencies is a hallmark of many of the CPMAB’s research efforts. A selection of current research projects is listed below:

Southwest Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN)

The Southwest Collections of Arthropods Network, or SCAN, brings together resources from 10 regional arthropod collections located throughout the Southwest to create a virtual online library of ground-dwelling arthropods. SCAN will develop a dynamically structured, state-of-the-art digital platform designed to facilitate arthropod biodiversity and ecology projects in the Southwest. The project focus on ground-dwelling arthropods—ants, selected beetle families, grasshoppers, spiders—because they are highly responsive to temporal and spatial environmental changes, taxonomically diverse, and among the most commonly monitored terrestrial arthropod taxa. SCAN will use the best museum stewardship practices and leading-edge informatics, drawing on recent advances in collection cataloging, imaging, networking, remote identification, and web delivery.

Specifically, SCAN will (1) assess and develop mechanisms for integrating the different database systems in operation by the participating institutions; (2) capture label data from more than 750,000 specimens and image about 15,000 arthropod specimens; (3) develop and implement new cybertaxonomic practices, based on the Symbiota top-level software and the Filtered Push semantic model, to significantly increase the capacity of taxonomic experts to provide remote e-identifications; and (4) produce a coherent georeferenced dataset and virtual taxonomic identification library. By allowing researchers from multiple disciplines to quantify the ecological and evolutionary impacts of climate and land use on key arthropod groups, SCAN will help facilitate future taxonomic research on Southwest arthropods and usher in a new era of specimen-based biogeographic research in the Southwest. 

Project Timeline: 2012 –16.

Pollinator Networks

The CPMAB has partnered the U.S. Army Engineer Research Development Center’s Environmental Laboratory to undertake three studies of pollinators that are to be conducted at Fort Huachuca, a U.S. Army post at Sierra Vista, Arizona. The first study examines the direct and indirect impacts of Lehmann’s lovegrass (Eragrostis lehmanniana), an invasive bunchgrass, on plants and pollinators in desert grasslands within the Fort Huachuca post. The second study explores the pollinator networks of three Erigeron plant species of conservation concern. Erigeron is genus of flowering plants that are used as food by the larvae of some pollinators. The third study examines the role of pollinators as vectors of yeast found in nectar. Fundamental information on plant and pollinator community structure and pollination dynamics using network theory will result from the studies. Additionally, an extensive number of flower-visiting arthropod specimens have been collected as the result of these studies. 

Project Timeline: 2008 –13.

Pipe Springs National Monument Inventory

As part of the Colorado Plateau All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory, an arthropod collection is being created at Pipe Springs National Monument, a National Park Service (NPS) unit 15 miles west of Fredonia, Arizona. CPMAB staff and volunteers are working with NPS staff to collect more than 5,000 arthropod specimens for the collection. The collection, which will be displayed at Pipe Springs National Monument, will serve as an important outreach tool as well as provide important occurrence data for regional analyses. 

Project Timeline: 2012 –13.

Ground-Dwelling Arthropod in the Canyonlands Region

The CPMAB has undertaken a study of the distribution of ground-dwelling arthropod species in the Canyonlands Region, a diverse region in southeastern Utah that encompasses a wide range of vegetation types. The study was made possible by the creation of the Canyonlands Research Center, a research facility focused on long-term ecological research, monitoring, and assessment of the Canyonlands Region. This biogeographic survey complements other CPMAB pitfall studies and will provide critical information on the occurrence of hundreds of species across habitats ranging from desert flats to aspen-mixed conifer forests. 

Project Timeline: 2010 –14.  

Arthropod Communities along an Elevation Gradient

CPMAB staff initiated two studies, one that focused on insect pollinators and the other on ground-dwelling arthropods, to determine the degree to which community composition changes across space (elevation) and time (seasonal and annual). Both studies made use of five study plots along a 3,200-meter elevation gradient that lies north of the San Francisco Peaks, the highest mountains in Arizona. Established by NAU’s Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research in 2002, the five plots are outfitted with weather stations to collect temperature, precipitation, wind speed and direction, and other data. The plots encompass five vegetation communities that range from desert-shrub to mixed-conifer forest.  To date, more than 160 bee species and more than 350 ground-dwelling arthropod species have been documented as a result of these two studies. 

Project Timeline: 2010 –15.