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Walking in the footsteps of 19th and 20th century naturalists
Date:2/28/2013

d and described several hundred insects previously unknown to science. So respected is he among entomologists that roughly 20 additional species have been named for him. Robertson's meticulous database is probably the oldest of its type for flower-visiting insects.

"Before Robertson," said co-author John Marlin, PhD, a research affiliate at the University of Illinois's Prairie Research Institute who had re-collected part of Robertson's network in the 1970s, "almost all insect collecting was done independently of the plant. Robertson was one of the first to record the insect, the plant it was collected on, to the extent possible what the insect was doing, and other factors, which led to an explosion of information on insect-plant relationships."

Burkle said she particularly enjoyed the sleuthing needed to figure out Robertson's methods so that they could replicate them. "It was like solving a mystery, she said, trying to deduce what he had done from old ledgers, specimen i.d. tags, and his privately published book Flowers and Insects."

How Robertson's network is doing

"Robertson studied it all," Knight said. "He studied forests, he studied prairies, he studied roadside plants, he studied old fields; he even moved some plants to his own yard so he could study them more easily. If it was a species of flowering plant within a 10-mile radius of Carlinville, it was in his study. "

"To keep our project manageable," Knight said, we re-collected a subset of the network Robertson collected, focusing on one plant community: forest spring ephemeral plants. We looked at 26 plant species in this community, which were associated with 109 bees in Robertson's time."

"If any community is going to be affected by climate change," Knight said, "it would be this one, because the plants flower soon after the winter snow melts."

In many ways the most startling finding to emerge from the re-collection was that half Robertson's b
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Contact: Diana Lutz
dlutz@wustl.edu
314-935-5272
Washington University in St. Louis
Source:Eurekalert  

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