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Delineation of Structural Complexity in Above and Belowground Forest Food Webs
Department of Entomology
Arthropod natural enemies frequently forage within dense and tangled microhabitats, making observations of their interactions with prey or host species, and interpretation of the data thus obtained, difficult. Such behaviors dictate the need for alternative technologies for the study of their biocontrol potential in complex habitats, such as forest ecosystems throughout Kentucky, which are replete with pest and non-pest prey.
This research will therefore focus on identifying the structure of arthropod communities in Kentucky forest ecosystems. Particular attention will be given to identifying the role of diversity, non-prey food availability and pest species on the foraging dynamics of arthropod predators. The structure of above and belowground food webs in forest ecosystems will be identified, with a view to establishing a framework for food web function and the capacity to respond to changing pest control needs within such systems.
This ability to respond requires a fundamental knowledge of existing food web structure, something that has been quantitatively examined only occasionally. This project will exploit natural spatial and temporal differences in prey communities within Kentucky forests, and will merge organismal and molecular approaches. This study will yield results of immediate relevance to pest management in forest ecosystems, focusing on pests of critical importance in Kentucky, while simultaneously fostering a fundamental understanding of how predator foraging behavior impacts pest suppression.
2010 Project Description
McIntire Stennis project started in October 2010. In two months, research sites have been established for field research in 2011. Preliminary sequencing of forest mollusks has started. Looking to recruit a graduate student in 2011 to undertake forest-floor food web research project.
Research examining a technical advance in molecular gut analysis has been started to validate pitfall trapping for predators. This included the use (and sequencing) of Philomycus slugs, important detritivores in the forest floor food web. These will form the basis of some research in 2011.