Over the past 75 years, biologists have become increasingly interested in how many and what kinds of organisms live in forest canopies. Numerous studies have shown that large quantities of insects reside in forest canopies, many of which were previously unknown to science. It has also been demonstrated that trees in tropical forests are often stratified in regard to the kinds of organisms found in them, with the canopies having more biological activity than the understories. In this study, the canopies and understories of four Southern Red Oaks located in the Maryville College Woods in Maryville, Tennessee were sampled over a period of eight weeks using a composite flight-interception trap. Two sample trees were located on top of a low ridge. The other two were located on the floodplain of a small creek. A total of 2,142 arthropods were collected from 11 Orders and 65 Families. Shannon’s and Simpson’s diversity indices indicated minimal difference between each sampling site. However, Sorenson’s quantitative index measuring community similarity revealed more distinct differences. The least similar communities were the ridgetop canopies versus the floodplain canopies, which shared 49% of the Families found in them. The most similar communities were all canopies compared to all understories, which shared 67% of the Families found in them. Some Families were collected only in the canopy. However, these Families cannot be assumed to be totally canopy-specific due to the small numbers collected and ground-dwelling species that they are known to contain.
Hometown: Maryville, TN
Minors: Chemistry & Psychology
Senior Study Title: “A Survey of Arthropod Biodiversity in the Canopies of Southern Red Oak Trees in the Maryville College Woods”
Advisor: Dr. Paul Threadgill, Professor of Biology
Even though recent MC students are familiar with the College Woods as a place to integrate hands-on learning with classroom studies, most alumni and students still view the 118 acres of undeveloped College Woods as a place get away from the hubbub of campus. But for Jenna Wade, the College Woods will forever be a place about looking up.
Her Senior Study, “A Survey of Arthropod Biodiversity in the Canopies of Southern Red Oak Trees in the Maryville College Woods” led Wade to study not simply what was in the Woods, but what insect life resided in the uppermost portions of the red oaks foresting the area.
“Dr. Threadgill had heard of my interest in using my Senior Study to do something with pollution and insects,” said Wade. “In ecology class, we had just covered new species being discovered. I thought the College Woods would be a good subject for study because no one had ever looked at them before in this way.”
Despite the picture Wade’s study title brings to mind—a young woman navigating the uppermost branches of oak trees—her research was more “targeted” than originally imagined. Using a sling shot designed for shooting BBs, Wade tied fishing line to a metal bolt and shot it over the branch she wished to include in her study. Next, she tied the fishing line to a rope then used the rope to hoist an insect trap to the canopies of red oaks.
To Wade’s surprise, the diversity of insect families within the woods wasn’t as high as she had expected, but she did find some interesting differences between the insect populations represented in the tops versus the bottoms of the trees.
“Insects common to all of the habitats were moths and beetles,” noted Wade. “These were consistently the highest in number.”
When asked about the experience of collaborating with her advisor on research, Wade recalled that Dr. Threadgill was very helpful, joining her several times to help select trees for the study and measure the canopies.
Reflecting on the experience of Senior Study, Wade noted several positive impacts that she won’t soon forget. “I greatly enjoyed conducting research outside and applying it to the real world; studying something that hadn’t been looked at before was very exciting.”
Although similar studies had been done at the University of Tennessee sometime during the last ten years, she was unable to find reference to a study of this nature being conducted in Maryville.
“I did end up taking a few specimens to UT to get help with identification. My study opened up working with other institutions and they invited me to come back and work with them anytime. That was rewarding.”
Once the study was completed, Wade presented her work at the Tennessee Academy of Science, Collegiate Division, Eastern Region meeting.
But for Wade, the biggest impact of her Senior Study was the role it played in her plans for post graduation. “Actually, my study helped me get to the next step in my academic career. I took a copy of it to my graduate school interviews and my review group was very impressed. Even though my study didn’t have a direct fit with what I’m going to graduate school for, the quality and depth of the study made a significant impression. I think it is very uncommon for graduate schools to see undergraduate research this involved and substantial.”
Upon graduation from Maryville, Wade will be going into a Pathology Assistant program at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.