Entomologists, researchers who study insects, have made an exciting discovery at the woodlands tended to by the Berea Forestry Outreach Center. Over the course of nearly three years, entomologists have discovered a total of 43 previously unidentified beetle species—right in our own backyard.
We spoke with Kane Lawhorn, a biology student at the University of Louisville on the fifth year of his PhD, to learn more about this discovery and its significance to further research efforts in the Kentucky.
Beginning in 2021, Lawhorn, among other biology students, were hired to research the effects of prescribed fires on insect biodiversity, and the results shed some light on what Lawhorn describes as previously overlooked potential for future research.
Due to Kentucky’s history with the coal industry, it is speculated by some that scientific research in the Commonwealth has been scarce due to many not wanting to know what’s here, or being unwilling to confront the damages the industry has done to its environment.
However, due to the findings of Lawhorn and his fellow students, he expresses excitement for future research in the region to delve deeper into the hidden biodiversity that Kentucky houses.
The beetle trap on the right is known as a “Lindgren flight intercept trap.” This trap has been placed in a burned section of the forest to catch beetles as they go about seeking deadwood—the remains of burned trees—to feast upon.
“These traps are filled with propylene glycol to act as a preservative for the beetles so they don’t rot before we collect them,” Lawhorn notes.
Using these traps, Lawhorn and his fellow students have collected over 20,000 individual beetle specimens, each of which had to be individually removed from the traps and identified.
Among the specimens was a species of deadwood-feasting longhorn beetle that was thought to be extinct in the Midwest. However, the research done here in Berea revealed that the species is still out there.
Some of the specimens were too small to see with the naked eye, requiring the use of visual-enhancing technology. Others required the assistance of outside sources, often experts in the field of entomology, to identify certain specimens.
Lawhorn also invites the community to get involved with understanding nature by engaging with the various apps and social networks that can connect people with experts that can identify various species, from beetles to other animals, and even plants.
iNaturalist is one such social network. Its community consists of scientific experts and mere enjoyers of nature cooperating together so they both may gain a greater understanding of the species they encounter. In this way, nature-enjoyers can help the scientific community with their research.
Networks such as these are beneficial for all parties involved, and Lawhorn noted that it was all around a better option than going out into the forest on your own to locate a beetle specimen for yourself—especially the specimens that are smaller than a grain of dirt.