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October 17, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin Friday, October 17, 2008

By KAREN THOMPSON - Bulletin Staff Writer

Several Virginia Museum of Natural History employees met in J. Frank Wilson Park recently to conduct an eco-survey that kicked off a park inventory project.

The VMNH has decided to make a list and collect pictures and samples of the various species in the park, according to Robin Jensen, youth education coordinator and green initiative coordinator at the museum.

The museum is working with the Virginia Master Naturalist Program to inventory the species found in Frank Wilson Park, Jensen said. However, "anybody who is interested" is invited to join them, she said.

The museum plans to create a brochure detailing some of the species in the park, and Jensen said officials also want to create an online database featuring pictures of samples discovered.

Dr. Richard Hoffman, curator and director of the Research Department, spoke to the employees about techniques used to inventory insects. While collecting samples by hand is effective, he said, it often is slow and tedious. He discussed other methods of collecting insects that are easier and can collect more species.
"We're just kind of learning" about inventory, Jensen said.

Two methods Hoffman suggested are light traps and pit-fall traps. In light traps, a black light is suspended above a bucket. Insects flock to the light and fall down, where they are trapped inside. Hoffman said that this type of trap is so effective, a column of insects will form around it as "thick as water."

The other method, pit-falling, involves digging and placing a bucket filled with formaldehyde and antifreeze into a hole. After the trap is camouflaged, insects unsuspectingly crawl into it and become trapped. Researchers can then return to the trap and collect species. These traps can be left for days or even weeks and can collect numerous insects.

Other techniques include sweeping nets in tall grass to collect species; digging under fallen logs and branches; and closely inspecting the bark of trees for insects that may live there.

The group also began work on an inventory of trees. The trees in the park are first marked by a GPS unit. Their leaves and bark are studied to identify the species, said Jensen. Then, the tree's circumference and height are measured to estimate the age of the tree. Heights are estimated using a tool called a tangent height gauge and different equations.

The inventory will be an on-going process, and Jensen said the museum hopes to involve members of the community and schools in the work. In addition to inventorying insects and trees, the VMNH also will list flowers, fungi and mammals that live in the park.

For more information, contact the museum at 634-4141.


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