The Invisible Forest

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 2, 2010

samples.

While our long-term goal is to find out how logging affects leaf litter arthropods, we already know some interesting things. We know that mites and springtails prefer cool, moist northeast slopes, that predators are more abundant on southwest slopes and that flies appear to favor more acidic soils. We also know that the group with the most species depends on whether you are talking about samples (it's mites) or about the whole forest (it's beetles).

Figuring out what causes the differences in the distribution patterns of these groups will help us understand how ecological communities work, an understanding that will help us keep ecological communities functioning in the face of ever increasing environmental stress.

Toward the end of A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold writes: "Daniel Boone's reaction depended not only on the quality of what he saw, but on the quality of the mental eye with which he saw it. Ecological science has wrought a change in the mental eye. It has disclosed origins and functions for what to Boone were only facts. It has disclosed mechanisms for what to Boone were only attributes."

I would have liked to see the forests that Boone saw, the huge trees and the diversity of plant and animal life that existed before European settlement. But I have a clear and beautiful vision of a forest that Boone never saw, and it would be hard to decide which of us is more satisfied.

Visit Our Web Site

Keeping track of hundreds of different species is no easy task. To make identification of species faster and simpler, we decided to take photographs of each species and store the photos on a computer for easy access. Sarah Heyman photographs our arthropods through the microscope using a digital camera, edits the images and passes them on to me so I can put them into a computer database.

The Bay Foundation and the University of Missouri gave us funds to buy a camera, computer and software for our project. While we were still figuring out the best way to handle the pictures, the world wide web took off, and we decided a web page would be a great way to display the pictures, allowing us to search for species with a click of a mouse. The other advantage was that we could make this key to our arthropods available to anyone interested in leaf litter arthropods.

Our web page has a brief introduction to arthropods, a guide to identifying them for novices and an introductory key to major arthropod groups. We also have finished our springtail pages and are getting ready to start on fly larvae. Visit our web site.

 

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