What are beetles’ role in the ecosystem?
Some are predators of other insects; some are scavengers; some are decomposers and help aerate and create top soil. Many are pollinators (beetles actually pollinate more wildflowers than any other insect group). Others are herbivores and eat leaves/roots/tree bark.
More than two years of in-the-field research followed by more than two years of in-the-lab work.
More than 20,000 different beetles captured.
More than 50 species never before found in the Tennessee Valley.
That’s the work and findings of research conducted by Stylianos Chatzimanolis, Guerry professor in biology, geology and environmental science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. When all was said and done, 53 species were documented that never had been recorded in the past in the valley.
“In my mind this is an important discovery because we still know so little about the insects that inhabit the Tennessee Valley,” Chatzimanolis said.
He and graduate student Jessica Sanders, who is enrolled in the master’s program in environmental sciences., hiked regularly into the valley’s woods and Lula Lake areas to check insect traps and gather specimens caught.
Undergraduates Megan Roy, Hannah Hightower and Willian Cofer—all of whom have since graduated—handled the computational part of the project, which Sanders also participated in.
In the lab, an “army of undergrads” pinned and labeled the insects and entered the information into a database, Chatzimanolis said.
“When we had names for everything, then we worked to determine if these were new records for our area by combing through the literature and online databases.”
Identifying different species of beetles is a bigger task than you might think, he added. Worldwide there are about 400,000 species of beetles; a recent study indicated that one in every four animals is a beetle.
The goal of his project was to get a better grip on the diversity of beetles in the Tennessee Valley, he said, but it just scratched the surface.
“To this day, we still do not have an accurate estimate of how many beetles—or insects—live in our area. There are probably still dozens or hundreds of insects that are awaiting discovery in our area, either as new records or new species.”