Palouse Prairie Remnants Offer Unique Perspectives on Insect Communities

Less than 1 percent of the original Palouse Prairie remains. Split into patches of a few acres or less, the remnants tell an interesting story about insect communities, a UI researcher says.

Sanford Eigenbrode, interim Entomology Division chairman, is overseeing a study of insect communities in the prairie remnants that occupy small patches of hillsides across the Palouse.

The rich soils of the Palouse and modern agriculture meant that most of the original prairie was put to work growing crops. The expansive fields of crops now isolate the remnants like scattered islands.

Eigenbrode and his colleagues and graduate students are collecting insects from the prairie remnants to understand which species are present. The remnants may protect native insects and serve important conservation roles. The remnants also might serve as reservoirs for pests harmful to agriculture.

The new Center for Research on Invasive Species and Small Populations will help the prairie researchers use powerful new molecular techniques. Those techniques will help the researchers to better understand what they find in the field.

The researchers will use standard field ecology methods, like collecting insects from native rose bushes, in the remnants, Eigenbrode said. Comparisons between remnants will allow researchers to understand the insects’ population dynamics.

The new DNA analysis tools and expertise provided through the new center will allow the team to study whether the genetics of the insect populations are changing, showing the isolation of the prairie remnants.

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