Active Research Projects

Summer research students conducting a butterfly survey in the Decorah Community Prairie

I have an active ongoing research program on insect biodiversity of Northeastern Iowa and insects of tallgrass prairies that typically involves at least 3-4 students per year, with at least one summer research student (sometimes several) paid to spend the summer performing entomology research.  If you are interested in one or more of these projects, please contact Dr. Larsen.

A Comparison of Bee, Ground Beetle, and Butterfly Diversity and Floral Resources of Remnant and Planted Tallgrass Prairies. In 2015, the Luther entomology lab performed a survey of four remnant and four planted tallgrass prairies in NE Iowa.  The specific goals of this project are to compare the abundance and diversity of bees, ground beetles, butterflies, and flowers which they pollinate between remnant and planted prairies.  We predicted that the diversity (species richness) of these insect groups would be greater in remnant prairies than in planted prairies, and that species richness will be related to plant species richness, and pollinator abundance (bees and butterflies) related to floral nectar availability.   If prairie plantings are successful in restoring prairie function and structure, we expect there will be no difference in insect or plant abundance or species richness between remnant and planted prairies.

Impact of Oak Woodland Burning on Ground Beetle Communities. In 2015, Luther initiated  woodland burning within several of the on-campus forests, including Hickory Ridge Woods and Flying Squirrel Forest, to help restore historic savanna and open woodland communities, and to try to control European Buckthorn, garlic mustard, and other invasive species.  As part of the ongoing research of the impact of woodland burning, the Luther entomology lab has begun pre- and post-burn monitoring of ground beetle communities within these research plots.

Surveys for the Leonard's Skipper Butterfly on Allamakee County Hill Prairies.  Hesperia leonardus, the Leonard's skipper, is an Iowa species of conservation concern.  In collaboration with the Iowa DNR, we are surveying hill prairie sites in Allamakee County to estimate the health of the populations of Leonard's skippers and what factors contribute to the success of this prairie-specialist butterfly.

Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium.  The Luther entomology lab is an invited founding member of the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, and in collaboration with Iowa State University is involved in several studies relating to milkweed use and nectar sources for monarch butterflies in Iowa.  The goal of this project is increasing suitable monarch reproduction habitat in the Upper Midwest.  On campus this includes research plots with nine species of Iowa-native milkweeds to compare egg laying and larval development, and a 2 acre prairie planting with nectar sources which will be monitored for adult monarch use.

Students have also had summer research experiences in entomology at:

  • Iowa State University, Department of Entomology
  • University of Hawaii
  • Blandy Research Farm, University of Virginia
  • University of Minnesota, Department of Entomology
  • US Forest Service in Black Hills N.F.
  • Cedar Creek Natural History Area, Bethel, MN
  • University of Puerto Rico
  • Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia (in Mongolia)
  • Smithsonian Museum of Natural History
  • Montana State University, Montana Department of Agriculture
  • Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory