When some people think about bugs, they cringe, recall the smell of insect repellent or picture what's splattered all over their windshields. Clark Pearson, however, can't get enough of them.
Pearson, who grew up in Denver, was studying biology at Mesa State College in Grand Junction when a professor sparked his interest in entomology.
In August 2000, the professor accepted a teaching position at Tulane University in New Orleans and invited Pearson along to help set up his lab.
"I could not refuse," Pearson said. As part of a seven-year Ph.D. program he is completing, he is studying insect community ecology as the resident entomologist at Carpenter Ranch in Hayden.
By studying community ecology of insects, "by far the most diverse class of organisms," Pearson said, he is studying the roles in the insects in the ranch's ecosystem.
"They are considered 'ecosystem engineers,'" Pearson said. "That is to say, the activities among themselves and the plants they live on and off of in many ways allow for our own existence."
People will get the chance to better understand a bug's life and its importance in the local and global ecosystems at one of two free workshops to be held from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. July 25 and 26 at Carpenter Ranch. The workshop will be more informative than a class or a book because it will offer interactive discussion as well as hands-on experience, Pearson says.
Topics to be discussed include insect diversity, paleontology (insect history), natural history of other elements of the ecosystem, morphology (how to identify the insects and their relatives), collecting insects, and how the topics correlate.
Also, participants will collect specimens to curate as part of the ranch's new exhibit on insects, which Pearson is putting together.
Insects "allow for our own existence" because they play large roles in pollination and decomposition, Pearson said.
"Without insects evolved for those lifestyles or ecological roles, agriculture would stop," Pearson said. "Also, insects serve as an invaluable workhorse as the object of study for many scientific disciplines. For example, our knowledge of genetics was fueled by the fruit fly.
"Also, insects can act as model systems that we can then ask questions about scale. For example, you can ask, do patterns we observe in insect communities scale up to interactions we observe in vertebrate predator-prey systems? The list (of the importance of insects) goes on and on and on."
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