Luther College students present research at Entomological Society of America

December 4, 2019

Luther College students Maggie Anderson '20 and Lena Schmitt '20 presented their summer biology research at the annual Entomological Society of America meeting in St. Louis, Nov. 17-20.

After the meeting, it was announced that Schmitt won first place and Anderson won second place in the undergraduate poster session for their posters titled "Moths of oak-hickory forests and planted tallgrass prairies in Luther College's natural areas" and "Ground beetle communities of Anderson Prairie and Lionberger Forest Preserve." The two were competing largely against students from universities ranked highest in research activity.

"It's a big deal. There were 3,500 entomologists from all over the country and all over the world. It's pretty rare for undergrads to go to these meetings, especially undergrads from small liberal arts colleges," said Kirk Larsen, entomologist and professor of biology at Luther.   

Anderson compared ground beetle communities at Luther's Lionberger environmental preserve with Anderson Prairie during the summer of 2019.

"We found that there's a really big difference in ground beetle communities in Anderson Prairie versus Lionberger," said Anderson. "There's lower beetle species diversity and abundance in Anderson Prairie and we're not really sure why."

Over the summer Anderson collected almost 1,200 beetles representing 60 species.

"This research does influence the way we manage our natural areas. We don't know how climate changes will impact the species that are present here. These studies provide us with an important baseline upon which we can monitor impacts of change on local species," said Larsen.

Schmitt researched moth assemblages living in Luther College's natural areas during the summer of 2018.

"We compared three oak-hickory forests and three planted tallgrass prairies on campus in order to see what moth species were there," said Schmitt.

Using black light traps, Schmitt collected more than 12,200 moths representing 470 species.

"Around 90 species of moths have never been found in Winneshiek county before and nine of them had never been found in the state of Iowa before," said Larsen. "There's a lot of really cool species living right here in our own backyard that we didn't even know were here. For these research students, they're gaining really valuable experiences."

Anderson and Schmitt are both hoping to attend graduate school in biology or entomology. Both noted how their projects were different from others they had done in the past because there were no set results or formulas for conducting the research. They had to identify and solve problems as they arose, and got to discover original results. These summer projects provided vital experience for graduate school and careers in research for Anderson and Schmitt.

"I find that Luther biology students are really well prepared for graduate school and graduate programs really want our students," said Larsen. "Bringing them to a professional scientific meeting of this magnitude is giving them an incredible opportunity to get connected."

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