Windy Bugs in Wyoming

I just started my internship working with WYNDD, the Wyoming Natural Diversity Database at the University of Wyoming in Laramie with Dr. Lusha Tronstad, lead invertebrate zoologist, and Dr. Michael Dillon, Assistant Professor in Zoology and Physiology.  I am helping graduate student, Sarah DePaolo on a very exciting project in cooperation with the BLM.

Wyoming is very windy.  I have already experienced many excessively windy days since arriving here two weeks ago — and I’m coming from Chicago, another place known for its wind.  Because Wyoming has high plains with ridges ideal for turbine development as well as lots of publicly owned land, it is slated to house the largest wind farm in the US.  Sierra Madre and Chokecherry, the sites we sampled last week and this week, respectively, is the location for this mega wind farm.  It’s currently wide open and gorgeous — not a power line in sight!

Sierra Madre

Wind farming has been touted as clean, renewable energy.  Unfortunately, the turbines are killing wildlife.  Many studies have documented the toll wind turbines take on bird and bat populations; however, little work has been done to assess the effect of wind turbines on insect populations.  It’s well known that insects accumulate on the blades of wind turbines, cutting the efficiency of the turbines by up to half and requiring that the blades be cleaned regularly.  The commonly used colors for the turbines, white and light gray, are insect attractants.  Migratory insects will have to pass through the wind farms to reach cruising altitudes.  Some flies mate at the ridges and hilltops where turbines will be located.

For this project, nicknamed Windy Bugs, we are sampling insect abundance and diversity in plots on rims, mid-slopes, and valleys in proposed wind farm sites and adjacent control sites.  We are setting out bee cups and vane traps at three times during the summer for 288 plots in four sites.  We are also recording the floral resources available to insects at each plot.  This data will be collected next year as well, after the wind farms are up and running to measure the effects of wind farms on insects.

Adrienne Pilmanis, BLM botanist, with a vane trap/bee cups combo

We collect the insects after twenty-four hours.  We have caught quite a variety of bees, wasps, moths, beetles, and more.  Common bees include AnthophoraMelissodes, and Agapostemon.  Since we’ve been going out for about four days in the field, we have had time to pin some of the insects right away.  I’ll post on that later.

(L-R) Aaron Strube, research assistant; Joy Handley, WYNDD botanist; Sarah DePaolo, UWyo graduate student; Sadie Todd, CLM intern

The plant life here is adorable — lots of little mat plants like Astragalus as well as some showier blooms, like bitterroot and lupine, and of course Erigeron and other smaller asters.  The Opuntia are budding and I can’t wait for those!

A pronghorn skeleton laying among the Erigeron

We have seen tons of wildlife in the field!  Besides insects, we’ve seen a great horned owl, horned toads, mule deer, pronghorn, and three rattlesnakes in the last three days!  It’s wonderful to see so much life.