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Biodiversity Science:
City and Nature

In 2012, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County launched a new research initiative: NHM Biodiversity Science: City and Nature (NHM BioSCAN). This first-of-its-kind scientific investigation will discover and explore biodiversity in and around one of the world’s largest cities: Los Angeles. In three years of sampling from the urban core right out through less-urban surrounding areas, we will focus on the insects, the most diverse group of animals on our planet.

We will discover and document the diversity of insect species living with us in Los Angeles as well as test intriguing hypotheses about how natural areas around the city affect its biodiversity, and specifically, how light in the urban environment is affecting its inhabitants. NHM BioSCAN will take full advantage of our Museum base by directly engaging the public in the discovery and exploration of their home city.

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Emily Hartop

2 January 2014

New Staff: Emily Hartop

Happy New Year!

We are very happy to welcome our new Assistant Collections Manager, Emily Hartop, to the BioSCAN team! Emily’s experience and background in Entomology from the University of California at Riverside will be a vital asset as she trains students in the identification, preparation and investigation of the thousands of specimens pouring in from our 30 sites across Los Angeles (see photo of Emily already hard at work!). Emily will also be a part of the “field crew,” visiting BioSCAN sites for routine maintenance, weather data and sample collection, as well as checking in with our wonderful BioSCAN site hosts.

BioSCAN Site Map

26 December 2013

Sampling Array Complete!

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of BioSCAN Assistant Collections Manager Lisa Gonzalez, we have now completed the installation of all thirty BioSCAN sampling stations across the chosen swath of Los Angeles.

The good news is that we’re now receiving insect samples and physical data from the full sampling array. The challenge, of course, is that we now have 120 insect samples per month to sort and quantify. But that’s the part where we start to get answers to our research questions!

Dohrniphora cornuta

15 December 2013

Creating a Pictorial Guide to Phorid Flies

As we have mentioned in previous posts, the BioSCAN project incorporates a team of uniquely talented work-study students from USC to achieve our project mission by processing samples and interacting with the public in the Nature Lab, to name two important roles. Some of our students bring with them specific skills that we are very glad to use!

One such student, Kelsey Bailey, has been photographically documenting the myriad of species of flies within the family Phoridae that have been collected from the BioSCAN sites. The goal: to create a guide so that the assistant collections managers can assist our Principal Investigator, Dr. Brian Brown, in identifying these flies to genus, or in some cases, to species, so that we can analyze phorid diversity across the sampling gradient. Even though the project has just begun, we have already identified over 30 species in 14 genera of phorids, with many more specimens awaiting further scrutiny as we dissect them, prepare slides, and pore through existing literature. We are pretty well guaranteed to find new species in this family…

If you’d like, you can see more about two rare phorid species we have found.

18 November 2013

Last Sites in Sight!

Happy BioSCAN site host!

We are nearly complete with the installation of our goal of 30 BioSCAN research sites! It has been a very exciting past few months as we have visited the homes of incredibly gracious and enthusiastic potential participants, setting up in areas of L.A. from Burbank to Glendale, to Mid City and Korea Town, to areas surrounding the Museum and back up through Northeast L.A. Heat waves, slippery hillsides, rainy days, and mischievous raccoons may have slowed us down a little bit, but the Malaise traps are up and running, and we can not wait to see the untold entomological treasures in L.A.’s back yards!

A very special thank you to our current BioSCAN site hosts. Although some homes of willing volunteers turned out to be outside of our research range, we are so appreciative of those that expressed interest in the BioSCAN Project! Without exaggeration or hyperbole: this entire project would be impossible without the willing participation of all our site hosts.

October 2013

October Outreach Events!

Childrens Nature Institute event

This month, BioSCAN staff members were graciously invited to participate in a number of outreach events.

Halloween-themed events, such as NHM’s annual Haunted Museum, provided Assistant Collection Manager Lisa Gonzalez with an opportunity to talk about her favorite animals on the planet, insects, within the context of the BioSCAN project and urban biodiversity. One such event at the Children’s Nature Institute aimed to educate the local community about the biological wonders living beside us in the city — a perfect venue to introduce families living in the surrounding areas to insects discovered through the BioSCAN project.

On October 25, Molly Porter (NHM’s Manager of School Programs), Richard Smart (NHM’s Citizen Science Coordinator), and Dean Pentcheff (BioSCAN Project Coordinator) were invited to give a workshop at the annual California Science Teachers Association conference in Palm Springs. The workshop, Citizen Science: Project-Based Learning at the Museum and in the Classroom, introduced science teachers to the concepts of Citizen Science projects and how to integrate them into science teaching and learning. One featured aspect of the presentation was the insect light trap that BioSCAN developed for the NightWatch project.

September 2013

Meet our Hardworking USC Work-Study Students in the New Nature Lab!

BioSCAN staff in the Nature Lab

The USC school year has begun and that means it is time for BioSCAN HQ (also known as the Biodiversity Processing Center) to be bustling with worker bees — our dedicated USC work-study students! This academically diverse group of freshman-to-senior undergraduate students is integral to the success of an ambitious project such as BioSCAN. From helping to assemble weather stations, to preparing or photographing specimens, to processing the constant influx of samples from BioSCAN sites, the students are in the lab every day (yes, even on the weekends) working to make this project a success.

Although many hours are spent behind-the-scenes in the lab, the students can often be found interacting with the public in the new Nature Lab. Visitors can interact with the students as they peer into a sample from one of our research sites, discuss the Project, and talk to them about their experience being part of the BioSCAN team.

Right now, we are usually in the Nature Lab from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM on Wednesday through Friday and from noon to 4:00 PM on Saturday and Sunday. Come say hi!

11 August 2013

Research Partnership: Ancient and Modern Bees

Megachile wheeleri male (USDA)

The BioSCAN project, in addition to its own biodiversity research goals, partners with other researchers and projects. One great example is the partnership we have with Anna Holden’s research on solitary leafcutter bees. (The leafcutter bee photo at right comes from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and is a male Megachile wheeleri, a species found around coastal dunes.)

Like most bees, leafcutter bees are solitary (yes, that’s right: most bee species don’t live communally in hives). What’s especially cool about these bees is that they carefully cut up leaves to line their nests, which are holes in wood. What’s doubly cool about this project is that Anna Holden, working on insect fossils at NHM’s Page Museum (La Brea Tar Pits), has discovered fossilized remains of Pleistocene leafcutter bees and nests.

To try to learn more about the fossilized nests (including the cut-up leaves and bee pupae), Anna is looking at modern leafcutter bee nests. If we know more about the nest cell architecture of modern bees, we’ll be better able to identify and understand the Pleistocene fossil bee nests.

To catch a solitary bee, provide an enticing home: a bee hotel! That’s just what Anna did, both at the Page Museum and here at NHM in Exposition Park.

Not content with just trying to catch bees, we also wanted to know what environmental conditions might influence a bee coming in to lay its eggs (or not, as the case may be). To do that, we hooked up with Edward and Lorenzo of Valarm, who make remote-sensing data loggers that can be field-emplaced and report readings back via wireless or phone.

So, with each bee hotel, we also had continuous monitoring of the immediate environmental conditions. See the Valarm site for more information and pictures on the deployment.

What did we find?

Well… science is hard. Despite exquisite hotels and innovative data collection, no bees used the hotels this year. It’s possible that we weren’t set up near the right flowers (the bees are pollen-specific), NHM’s garden may be too new to have resident bees, or we may simply have started too late in the season.

The beauty of nature is that it just keeps on keeping on, so we’ll try again in 2014. Check in to see how it goes!

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