What's In Our Park?


What's In Our Parks? Invertebrates!

George Washington Memorial Parkway of the National Park Service

Scientific knowledge serves as the foundation for preserving national parks, so science must be a fully integrated part of the National Park Service organizational culture, as reflected in the Service’s value system, its worldview, and its daily management of the parks. 

- National Parks Science Committee Report, 2004

    The George Washington Memorial Parkway was packed with cars in typical morning commute fashion. The stop-and-go traffic gave me a moment to get to know three park rangers whose task for the morning was to collect the accumulated insects at one of the trap sites. Brent Steury, the park's Natural Resources Program Manager, led the charge on the park's goal of identifying and documenting all living biological species that reside in the park. From flora to insects, Brent wanted to know what lives in the park

    Not often do we glimpse into the inner-workings of our National Parks. Sure, we get to see the magnificent beauty our parks protect, be it the snowy-rimmed Crater Lake or the powerfully-cascading Great Falls. But it's not an everyday park activity to witness the scientific inquiry that takes place in our parks on an almost daily basis.  

    The George Washington Memorial Parkway of the National Capital Region is rich with biodiversity and serves as a critical refugia for a variety of organisms, including invertebrates. But what do we really know about these small gems that hide under foliage and slink across the forest floor? 

    As we pulled off the Parkway, the four of us unloaded a small amount of gear and headed into the forest where the team had four Malaise traps setup. I learned that the trap is designed to be placed along pathways insects typically travel and lure them into a tent-like structure that funnels them into a jar filled with alcohol where they unfortunately "succumb," as one of the rangers pointed out to me. The liquid grave also serves as a preservation so that they can be transported back to the lab where they are sorted, identified and documented. 

    Once we collected the four traps jars of alcohol and insects we head back to headquarters where volunteers take over.

    In the lab, it became very clear to me that it took a focused, keen-eye to make sense of the slurry of insects. I watched as four observant volunteers, tweezer's in hand, carefully picked through each petri dish. Searching through microscopes for minuscule indicators that what they were looking at was indeed the insect they believed it to be.

    This vital and time-consuming step of the process was then recorded into record, providing critical data on the story of what lives in the George Washington Memorial Parkway. 

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