The Greenler Insect Study was a citizen science project envisioned and implemented by Andy Larsen in the 1990’s. The concept was to have citizen volunteers from Riveredge’s Habitat Healer group collect and identify insects from specific prairie plants at Riveredge. The purpose of this study was to survey insects present at Riveredge, determine if relationships between specific insects and prairie plants existed, determine if the health and maturity of the prairie plantings could be associated with the presence or absence of specific insects, and to foster citizen science involvement in invertebrates at Riveredge.
There are fields of study vital to the acquisition of scientific information that are too costly in terms of time and money to be carried out
by professionals. The involvement of “amateur” unpaid volunteers, aka citizen scientists, is invaluable in such studies. Andy believed the gathering of information on invertebrates at Riveredge was such a study. He recruited Barbara Greenler, a long time Habitat Healer, to lead this study. With the help of Habitat Healers, Barbara oversaw the gathering, identifying and recording of more than 1700 specimens over an 11 year period, from 1992 through 2002. She immersed herself in learning to identify insects, though that was not her background. Several helpers also became very proficient at collecting and identifying specimens. Most Habitat Healers would collect a few specimens while they were out working on the land.
The project ended when Barbara moved away in 2002. Some work continued on identifying stored specimens after that, and several different individuals worked on entering the data into the computer. Over the years, the project was partially forgotten and, due to many people handling the specimens and data, things got a bit muddled and there was a danger that valuable data and the time spent to gather it would be lost.
Barbara died in 2006 and a memorial in her name was left to Habitat Healers. A committee was formed to determine how to use the funds. It was decided to use most of it to “tidy up” the Greenler Invertebrate study, both physical specimens and data, so it would always be accessible for research.
In 2011, the collection was sent to the Milwaukee Public Museum where a graduate intern, Teresa Cira, supervised by Susan Borkin, the Museum entomologist, examined the collection, confirmed and expanded the identification of specimens and updated the data base. Duplicate specimens were kept in the Museum collection for research purposes and the remainder of the collection was returned to Riveredge. Teresa also did a presentation at Riveredge about the collection.
In putting the collection away, volunteers noticed that some things needed to be reorganized. There were specimens not gathered at Riveredge mixed in with the ones from Riveredge. (Andy encouraged volunteers to gather specimens off Riveredge grounds as well, but these needed to be kept separate from the Riveredge specimens.) There were also specimens that had been removed or not included in the database due to incomplete or missing data.
Over the past year, volunteers went through every drawer of insects and sorted out the ones gathered off site. They also noted that many of the “no data” insects had enough data on their identifying pin tags to be useful. Those were put back in the study drawers and reentered into the computer data base. All drawers were frozen and put away in storage cabinets. There is still some tidying up of the data to be done, but at this point, the collection and data are in a form useable for research. The collection is a valuable resource for Riveredge and the scientific community because surveys of this kind are rarely done. The collection is a unique snapshot of what insects were found here during that time period.
Written by current Habitat Healer Jan Beimborn, 2014