Mission: Hungry, Hungry Beetles

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Research Question

Student scientists at Massabesic Middle School in East Waterboro have observed an apparent balance of invasive Lythrum salicaria and non-native Galerucella beetles on their school grounds. Can they replicate this balance on a larger scale by introducing Galerucella to a larger site where loosestrife is spreading?

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Mission Details

Student scientists have been monitoring invasive Lythrum salicaria since 2010 on their school grounds (Mission: Massabesic). They have discovered what seems to be an ecological balance with Galerucella, a non-native beetle species released in southern Maine, that seems to be keeping the one known loosestrife plant on campus from spreading. Japanese beetles, an invasive species, seem to be helping to keep loosestrife flowers in check each fall while Galerucella feeds on the leaves.

Students have read and learned a lot about Galerucella since identifying it on campus soon after Lythrum salicaria was first discovered. They have learned about the successful introduction of Galerucella on the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Wells, Maine. This collaborated effort by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the York County Soil and Water Conservation District is sited by many for its practical approach of raising Galerucella as a biological control of loosestrife by using their coauthored protocol titled Beetle Rearing Guide.

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Because students have found what seems to be a balance between loosestrife and Galerucella on their campus, they now want to try to achieve a balance on a larger scale.

Student scientists at Massabesic Middle School have begun to follow an established protocol for raising and introducing Galerucella to a nearby area infested with Lythrum salicaria. They plan to predict, and then monitor the change in the loosestrife and Galerucella popultations over time.

Mission Timeline & Methods

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Fall 2012
1. Identify loosestrife at the new site and submit the findings to Vital Signs
2. Measure the overall area of coverage of loosestrife at the new site
3. Do a quadrat count of the number of loosestrife stems to gauge the density of loosestrife
4. Measure the average height of the loosestrife
5. Search for evidence of the presence of Galerucella and Japanese beetles

Winter/ Spring 2013
Students will research and prepare a site on the Massabesic Middle School campus to raise Galerucella. Established protocols for gathering and growing loosestrife, collecting, raising and releasing Galerucella will be followed by following the Beetle Rearing Guide. The basic procedure is summed up as follows:

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Spring/ Summer 2013
1. Dig up and gather loosestrife root crowns in early spring
2. Grow loosestrife on campus
3. When plants are big enough (.5 meter height), collect Galerucella from an established site
4. Release collected beetles on campus plants and cover with nets
5. Allow Galerucella to live out its life cycle (laying eggs, hatching larvae etc.)
6. Bring plants with Galerucella to the loosestrife infested site and remove nets to release beetles in mid summer

2013 on...

Students will monitor the change over time of the loosestrife and Galerucella populations. Specific things that will be monitored include the change in height of the plants and over time as well as the density. The standardized protocol of Bernd Blossey of Cornell University for post-release monitoring of Galerucella on Lythrum salicaria will be followed as closely as possible.

If proper protocol can be established, our findings will be submitted and referred to as further evidence of biological control effectiveness of Galerucella on Lythrum salicaria.

For more information about this Mission, please leave a comment below for Pat Parent and his MassabeSci team!

Comments

This mission was put on hold last year when there were questions as to whether or not the plant roots that were dug up to plant in a secure area to use to feed the beetles were actually loosestrife. When watching these plants' early development, there were distinct differences with the plant on our school campus. We were concerned that the plants we had gathered might be American germander, a loosestrife look alike. It would have been disastrous to try to raise Galerucella without Lythrum salicaria so the project was scrubbed.

We grew the potted plants, one student volunteering to bring home a plant to raise it to flower. The plant was positively identified as loosestrife. Plants were dried out and not allowed to go to go to seed.

We now have a plant source that is positively loosestrife, so the project can proceed. Not sure if we have time to proceed this spring. We do plan on revisiting the off campus loosestrife site to see if there has been a change in that population and also look for signs of Galerucella. We'll keep you posted.

We decided as a group to postpone our beetle raising for a year. We started the project on a small scale in the spring by growing loosestrife to be used. The loosestrife root balls (five) were gathered, potted and brought to school to be grown in a secure area on campus. Questions began coming up as we monitored growth. We were also monitoring our campus plant at the time and we noticed differences. Our potted plants had very reddish stems and leaves were much less lance shaped compared to our campus plant. We were a little concerned that if we gathered Galerucella beetles, we'd hate to have them starve to death. We decided instead to be sure of the identification of the plants we were raising by allowing one to grow to flower to confirm identification.
The delay in the plan to raise beetles allowed us time to prepare more carefully for the project. Students visited the CMP power line site in late spring to confirm that the plants that we are planning to release our beetles on are in fact loosestrife. We will visit the site again in the fall to check on the id of the plants and hopefully find a source of Galerucella beetles for our project.

I know you guys are into insects. I thought this was a pretty cool resource with lots of helpful fact sheets. http://entomology.cornell.edu/cals/entomology/extension/idl/index.cfm

Check it out. Hope it's helpful!

-Christine

This sounds interesting, can't wait to see the results.Very well planned out to.

I really like how planned out all the steps of this mission are. Good luck, I'll be following your findings!

I was one of the people who helped submit the pictures to Vital Signs about the loosestrife.

cool!!!!!!!!!!!