Full of Aspiration

So we’ve made it to Kootenay National Park! I hope everyone is enjoying the blogs the crew and I have been posting about our grand trip. We have been bunked in a house at Kootenay Crossing. So that means no hammock this week, I got to stay in a bedroom, which I have to say was great, as was having a full kitchen. It has been another great week of sampling here in Kootenay though, with a nice diverse range of habitats that we selected for our sampling sites as well as some great general collecting in some bizarre habitats, such as an ochre field.

A large abundance of insects aspirated in a grassy meadow site -- the majority are Hemiptera.
A large abundance of insects aspirated in a grassy meadow site — the majority are Hemiptera.

Here at Kootenay National Park there are gorgeous landscapes and rocky mountains that could satisfy any skill level of rock climber. What caught my eye on the mountains was the strict tree line. It was pretty amazing looking at a dense green mountain side and suddenly as you continue to look up there is no vegetation at all just grey loose looking rock. Tree lines are due to the elevation gain towards the summit of the mountains. Also the cardinal direction that the mountain face is orientated in makes a difference in the elevation of the tree line. The South facing slope tends to have a higher tree line, or at a greater elevation then the North facing slope. Tree lines are part of what is known as life zones on mountains and is a well-known concept in ecology.

A curious least chipmunk watching me aspirate.
A curious least chipmunk (Tamian minimus) watching me aspirate.

I really enjoyed one of our bottle traps that we put overnight in Kootenay Pond, which was right down the road from where we were staying at Kootenay National Park. When we went to retrieve our trap that following morning we found some interesting creatures inside.  We had some giant leeches, about 6 inches long, as well an aquatic larval salamander. These were some of the largest leeches that I had ever seen and I was glad that I found them in the bottle trap and not on my feet. The aquatic salamander really was a nice find for me as I am a salamander enthusiast. Especially the fact that it was still in aquatic form made me think of home and all the little axolotls that I have waiting for me to come back home and hang out with.Blog Post 28_August 12 2014_Photo3

One of our standardized sampling sites was pretty amazing. It was a grassy meadow surrounded by gorgeous mountains, but it also boasted the largest thistle population I have ever walked through. This was the most memorable site for me because of the biomass of insects that made this open field their home. Our sweeps were very successful, when aspirating I had to use two vials to clean my net. This was a first for me so I thought it was a lot. There was a huge abundance of tree, plant, and leaf hoppers. We also caught a lot of parasitoid wasps. In my opinion the abundance of the hoppers was attracting the parasitoid wasp. The wasps commonly lay eggs on the hoppers, or parasitize the hoppers, and the wasp larvae develop off the hopper.  This can be a problem when it comes to barcoding hoppers when there are parasitoid wasp’s larvae in the hopper. On occasion, the wasp DNA is preferentially PCR amplified, and the result is a barcode that we call a ‘non target sequence’.  Luckily these are now easily caught when the barcode library is validated, so we’ll change the identity of that barcode from ‘Hemiptera’ to parasitoid ‘Hymenoptera’ (e.g. Dryinidae).   Regardless of the difficulties it may cause, I still think that this parasitic association is quite interesting, and I am glad to be catching wasps that won’t sting me.