Celebration of Scholarship and Creative Activity 2021
Insects represent more than half of all species, but their sheer abundance makes the determination of species diversity in an area difficult. To solve this issue, we are studying the effectiveness of using building air handlers (essentially, giant vacuums) as a method to constantly sample from local insect populations. We hypothesized that any insects approaching the intake of the air handler would be trapped by the suction and preserved in the filter, creating a diverse sample of local species. To test our hypothesis, we obtained a sample from the UW Oshkosh Blackhawk Commons HVAC air handler filter that was in use from June-December 2019. The sample contained hundreds of thousands of insect specimens, so we collected three sub-samples of 15 cm³ each. We identified 131 likely species of insects across three subsamples, spanning 48 families and five orders. However, the number of species increased dramatically with each subsample, and each subsample overlapped by less than half of its species content, suggesting that our sampling was insufficient to capture the true diversity of the filter. Nevertheless, these findings revealed a high diversity of insects on the UWO campus and provide a model for similar studies in urban areas around the world.