Ridin’ on the milkweed bus

June milkweed fieldwork is thoroughly underway! We have been collecting data for a couple weeks now and have almost collected data on every transect. We ended up abandoning one transect at New Quarter Park. However, we have since visited and collected data on our five transects at Yorktown Battlefield, seven at Blandy Experimental Farm, and two at Sky Meadows State Park. We are winding down on plant data collection this weekend with four transects at Prequile National Wildlife Refuge. We began at Blandy where we learned methods for measuring and recording data. Though I was slow both at measuring and recording at first, after hundreds of milkweed plants I have gotten more proficient with the meter stick, calipers, and rugged handheld field PCs. When we return from Presquile next week, several of us in the milkweed crew will go back to Blandy to collect data for our individual research questions.

While we were at Blandy last week, I had several opportunities to collect insect data around our established transects. It was interesting to see how the insect community differs from Williamsburg to Winchester or even just among fields at one site. One very dense milkweed field was thick with small milkweed bugs while another patchier field had high numbers of lightning bugs but few small milkweed bugs. Another tricky component of collecting insect data is timing. Most herbivores do not tend to be out in the early morning when the plants are still damp but are also not out in the direct heat of the day. Therefore, there is a small window of time where insect data collection is ideal. I will experiment with evening data collection as the air cools down but plants do not hold dew quite yet. If later in the day is more appropriate, I will begin collecting more of my data in the evenings as opposed to early mornings. In the coming days, I will begin collecting insects for my teaching collection of the milkweed insect community. I am looking forward to being able to focus in on my research question as I gather more data and begin exploring ways to analyze what I collect!

Here is (most of) our milkweed crew at Blandy Experimental Farm!

blandy group picture