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Battle of the Aphids

Hello FLOG friends,

well, what feels like ages ago (actually about a month ago) Erin and I began the Aphid addition and exclusion experiment for the 2019 season. We volunteered for this task, not knowing a whole lot about what we were getting ourselves into, but we read up on past FLOG posts and procedures and even got a live demonstration from Stuart to learn how to properly remove and transplant aphids. What used to take us over 2 hours, we can now get done in just a little over an hour, so I guess you could say we are no longer novices. You’ll see in a picture or two below but these specialist aphids are not big, at all, and they definitely aren’t good cooperators, but once or twice a week Erin and I take to the field with our petri dishes and paint brushes ready for a fight.

We start each round by checking our 15 exclusion plants for aphids, and if we find any we record the amount and then harvest them for later. The tricky part about aphids is that they don’t like the sun, and they don’t like to move a whole lot unless they have to. So as we turn over leaves, exposing the aphids to the obnoxious UV, and poke at them with brush bristles, trying to agitate them into freeing themselves from the leaf, we wonder why they try to escape our dishes. As this experiment has progressed we’ve seen success in our exclusion efforts, which means that once we remove aphids from a plant we haven’t seen many come back.

Now on the other hand, we have addition. Our addition plants don’t seem too happy with us all the time. At each plant we record how many aphids it has retained and we carefully add some more. The majority of the time we add 10 aphids to each addition plants. With the passing of brushes, wrangling of aphids, and a steady hand, we get the job done. Most days, like today, the sun doesn’t give us a break, but we’ve learned to have some sort of patience as we putz around with bugs in the grass.

The management of Aphids has proven to be a much more complex task than Erin and I initially thought, but it’s been fun. The aphids make good company in the prairie as we like to talk to them, sometimes nicely, and while I can’t speak for Erin, this experiment has taught me a lot about the behind the scenes of field work. While it is a simple project, there’s nothing simple about getting 100+ speck sized bugs from one group of plants to another. This project has taught me a lot about the importance of having patience and finding purpose in our work.

Until next time,

Shea Issendorf.

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