Insect Study Enriches Climate Change Models
Four universities are splitting funding from the National Science Foundation to get at the mechanisms of insect life as creatures adapt to warming waterways. Aquatic insects will change territory as creeks and rivers change temperature, but models of how this will occur are lacking data on some of the specifics, like the insects physiological adaptations.
Two of the grant recipients are in the southwest: University of Arizona and Utah State University (USU). Researchers with expertise in aquatic insects will be out in the field collecting samples to begin studying how temperature affects oxygen consumption.
Chuck Hawkins, a professor from USU, has already spent time wading the streams around Blacksmith Fork River, searching for salmon flies. He’ll transport them back to the lab for study. The insects are placed in a chamber full of water for 12-hour monitoring. Within the watery cage, oxygen sensors are used to gauge amounts as temperature is slowly heated. Oxygen consumption by the insects correlates in known patterns with insect maturity and reproductive patterns.
Hawkins explained that the experimental data will be used in conjunction with models for climate change that scientists have already developed.
“There’s going to be a sweet spot at which oxygen consumption is optimal, and we’re looking for that sweet spot,” he said. “We need to know that point because it helps us confirm or validate our models that make predictions about which species occur where, given variations of temperature across the landscape.”