Insect Communities

New research sites in Krkonose montane grasslands

Štěpán and Antigone identifying flowering herbs.

As a conclusion to the busy month, a large part of our team (Rob, Stepan, Kobe, Antigone, Dominik and Sailee) spent the last week of June in the Krkonose mountains. We hiked along the ridge of the mountain range, looking for suitable areas to study pollination networks with the Czech Science Foundation (GAČR) project PI-ed by Rob. As opposed to our spring sampling in the semi-natural forests, we were scouting for natural grasslands above the timberline. All throughout (minus a foggy day), we hiked through beautiful landscapes and fair weather.With Stepan and Antigone proceeding at “botanical” pace, we spotted numerous interesting plant species, some of them endemic! Not surprisingly, there were plenty of insects too. Our trip has been highly successful, and we now have a few potential sites to choose from for our longer sampling sessions next summers!

Field courses for students in Czechia

June has been a rather busy month! We’ve been on and off field quite a bit, but we have also did some field teaching of ecology. In early June, Kobe and Sailee assisted with teaching a field course of the Department of Ecology, Charles University, for bachelor’s students in Lomy u Kunžaku, South Bohemia. Despite the frequent spells of rain, the students made the most of the course and learnt basic insect sampling techniques among other things. In mid-June, they also helped with a field course of the Plant-Animal Interactions lectures for MSc and PhD students of the University of South Bohemia in Holubov, South Bohemia. The more specific focus of the course helped students learn about pollination biology, ant-plant mutualisms and herbivory. Assisting with these courses has been rather rewarding to Kobe and Sailee; teaching concepts to students has helped reinforce ideas and notice gaps in understanding. We look forward to more of such opportunities!

Sailee (under Stepan’s supervision) is helping students to measure floral colours by a spectrometer during the field course.

Spring sampling in the Krkonoše Mts.

During May, our group (mainly Sailee, Kobe, Antigone and Eliska, but with a strong support of many others) resumed sampling in the Krkonoše Mts. in northern Czechia. We recorded floral visitors of plants in semi-natural forests along their altitudinal gradient. For comparability, we followed our protocol from Mount Cameroon. Having sampled lower elevations in the last year, we moved on to two higher elevations this spring. The fieldwork was interrupted by snow, which led to some mixed reactions from us. Fortunately the spring insects weren’t affected much, and we finished sampling successfully. Although we’ve got a lot of desk work ahead of us, our sampling in the forests of Krkonoše is complete!

Snapshots from Krkonoše: Some of the species we recorded, our study area, and our team.

 

Popularising of our research

Štěpán being interviewed in Krkonoše.

In the past months, our research has repeatedly appeared in media, especially in Český rozhlas Plus, the Czech public radio focused on science and society. Our last sampling trip to Kruger NP was accompanied by a journalist Ondřej Novák who recorded rich material. Mainly, it resulted in an episode of the Adventure of Science, a series specialised on international research of Czech Scientists. Some additional material from Kruger was used for three (1, 2, 3) episodes of the Natura broadcast dissecting particular aspects of our work, as well as biodiversity and protection of African savanna. Ondřej Novák also accompanied us to our fieldwork in Krkonoše where he recorded a long interview with Robert on ecological and evolutionary aspects of pollination interactions. Our research has appeared also in a broadcast on biological research in the Krkonoše NP. Last but not least, Robert also gave an interview on urban biodiversity in Prague, including its efficient protection. It is always fun for us to participate on popularising of ecological knowledge in media. (Unfortunately, all above-mentioned broadcasts and interviews are in Czech.)

Sampling in Kruger NP

Our team in the Kruger NP. © O. Novák

In late March, just before the covid lock-down, we have arrived from South African Kruger NP. Rob and Sylvain did the last sampling of insects for the large collaborative research on the role of large herbivores and water availability for savanna biodiversity. We were accompanied by Marketa Stankova setting bat recorders in our plots. This time, everything was smooth and without any problems and we brought a lot of material which will be processed in the next months. After sampling, we stayed in Skukuza and attended the Savanna Science Network Meeting. Sylvain presented his results from our previous project on moth diversity patterns along an environmental productivity gradient in south African savannas. Although our sampling in Kruger is already over, we are sure to find more opportunities to study insects in south African savanna.

New publication on a butterfly pollination system

Our case study of the butterfly pollinated Scadoxus cinnabarinus has just been published in the Arthropod-Plant Interactions journal. Our so far unique system of flowers video recording system was developed on a few case studies on the slopes of Mount Cameroon. The butterfly-pollinated S. cinnabarinus is the second one, which have just led to a publication. We (with Jan as the leading author) confirmed butterflies as the primary pollinators. However, they were supplemented by bees at the upper edge of its elevational range. Therefore, we show that even for particular species, the pollination syndrome concept is a useful tool to predict the primary pollinators. However, its predictability can be reduced under some conditions. We also discussed this should be considered in any large-scaled and multi-taxa studied. Check the paper, Jan prepared beautiful figures! And mainly check Jan’s “video abstract” on the studied pollination system below:

New publication on Afrotropical butterflies

In the last days of 2019, our new publication on understudied Afrotropical butterflies has been published in SHILAP Revista de lepidopterológia, the pdf can be downloaded here. In this study, Rob has participated on the description of unknown females of Euriphene lomaensis, E. taigola and E. bernaudi, and an unknown male of Bebearia inepta. All these species occur in forests of Africa, Rob was involved in the collection (and discovering) of part of the unknown sexes in Liberia and Cameroon. Such smaller studies are surely important for better knowledge on biodiversity of still largely understudied tropical Africa.

Female of Euriphene bernaudi from Mount Kupe, Cameroon. © SHILAP/Sz. Sáfián

Work in the Krakow museum

Vincent is introducing how to work with moths to Fotini

After some time, we have continued to process our moth material curated in collections of the Nature Education Centre of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. The main aim was to introduce our material to Fotini, our new Erasmus intern. For her project, she has been taking pictures of selected moths from Mount Cameroon to investigate their inter-elevational and inter-seasonal variability. Vincent and Jan helped her, while they also worked on other tasks. Rob has brought more material from our other Afrotropical projects and broadened our collaboration with Dr. Tomasz Pyrcz. The visit has been as fruitful and comfortable as all our previous work in the friendly and professional environment.

A sampling trip to Kruger

A moth trap in the Kruger NP.

Pajá and Sylvain have spent the past three weeks in the Kruger National Park in South Africa. They continued sampling of moths and recording of bats for the project led by Petr Pysek and David Storch focused on the role of seasonal rivers in dynamics of biodiversity in African savannas. This visit was a bit more adventurous than the previous ones, including storms, getting stuck in between swollen rivers and their fording, or a cancelled flight home. Despite such minor delays,the sampling was successfully finished and they brought material and data from 30 plots in the northern part of the park. This material will be processed in the coming months, whilst Rob and Sylvain are already arranging the last sampling in February/March 2020.

Vincent got the postdoc position!

Vincent Maicher has defended his thesis just a few months ago. We are very glad he found his first postdoctoral position almost immediately. From February, he will start working in the Poulsen Ecology Lab at the Duke University in North Carolina, US. He will be working on impacts of forest elephants on tropical rainforests in Gabon, i.e. one of his thesis topics and surprisingly close to our Cameroonian locality. Vincent, congratulations and good luck in the new scientific environment, it has been a big pleasure to work with you!