Dr. Moore's Costa Rica blog: February interim, 2019
In less than 2 weeks, I'll be taking 8 Beacon Academy seniors to La Selva Research Station in Costa Rica. We will be on an Earthwatch trip with Dr. Lee Dyer's group from UNV/Reno, studying the effect of climate change on caterpillars, their interactions with enemies, and how there are now too many caterpillars! How is this possible? What does this mean? Take a look at the picture below:
Both of these insects, butterflies and wasps, have a life cycle that includes a larvae stage: caterpillars for butterflies (pretty!); maggots for wasps (ugh!). But they are the same thing: they are eating machines that are storing up glucose (in what form, bio students?) so that when they are pupa, they can have the energy to undergo metamorphosis to their adult form (butterflies and wasps respectively).
In the wildtype situation, the eggs of the wasps are laid inside the larvae (caterpillar) of the butterflies, eventually killing the caterpillar, because the wasp eggs hatch, and the eat the caterpillar from the inside out (yes, it is gruesome). While unpleasant, it does keep the population of butterflies in check.
With climate change, the life cycles of the butterflies and wasp are no longer in the sync that is drawn above. Instead, there has been a shift, such that the wasps eggs are no longer around when the caterpillars are (warmer climate means wasps can start their life cycle earlier, etc.) - therefore, there are actually more caterpillars than normal since their enemy is not ready to lay eggs in them, and the caterpillars are eating away at the tree leaves, killing more vegetation than is healthy. Thus, they are eating away the rain forests!
Myself, Mr Rudnick, and 8 students (Ava, Jack, Ben, Jacob, Foster, Jeremy, Grayson, Drew) will be going down to Costa Rica on 2/23 to help these scientists collect the data they need to figure out the players involve that cause these shifts, and what can be done to get these cycles back in sync.