National Wildlife Refuge System
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BUGGED IN ALASKA 

What’s the difference between you and an entomologist?  For you, a “lousy” day is something to grouse about. For Matt Bowser, it’s a source of wonder.

So, when he found a dust louse under his desk at work, Bowser didn’t flinch. He captured the animal, the first Badonnelia tite, he said, recorded in the Western hemisphere, and added it to the refuge’s collection of about 20,000 specimens.

“It’s a fun field that way,” said Bowser, who received his undergraduate degree in entomology in 2001 and his masters in biology from the University of Alaska in May. “You don’t have to go very far to find something interesting.”

Bowser, a biological technician at Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, has spent the last year helping compile the northern state’s first comprehensive list of terrestrial arthropods. The checklist now includes more than 6,700 species of insects, spiders and centipedes. Bowser is a co-founder of the Alaska Entomological Society (www.akentsoc.org).

He’s also building an arthropod collection at the Kenai Refuge. The collection meant primarily for research -- not display -- is part of the Long Term Ecological Monitoring Program, a novel approach to inventorying and monitoring arthropods and other species across the two million-acre refuge.

Behind the fun with bugs is a serious purpose, for both the state and the refuge. “Before you can think about trying to conserve what biodiversity you have,” said Bowser, “you have to know what’s there. You can’t assume just protecting the habitat is going to be good enough, especially given climate change.”

You might think Alaska would be too cold to harbor a large insect population. You’d be wrong. “They’re tough,” said Bowser. “With the exception of a few that are parasites on birds, they all stay here in winter. Most will seek out relatively warm and stable places. They hide out under snow, mostly in leaf litter. It’s surprisingly warm there.”

So far, the insect cataloging project, headed by Derek Sikes, curator of insects at the University of Alaska Museum in Fairbanks, has identified some 600 species that may be found only in Alaska. But Sikes and Bowser expect that number to shrink as more is learned about the distributions of these species.

Among the insects Bowser finds most fascinating? Lice that live on the fur of marine seals and “snow fleas,” scorpion flies that forage on snow. But others also provoke wonder: “What’s always fascinated me is each one of those little animals has its own life, its own role in nature and has to go about all things we do. It has to find food, this little tiny thing, and has to go find a mate. And when you’re that small — think about it — in this big world, finding someone like you.”

Contact: Matt Bowser, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge at 907-262-7021 or Matt_Bowser@fws.gov.
For more information: http://www.fws.gov/Refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=74525.

Read Bowser’s online postings about his work at: http://kenai.fws.gov/overview/notebook/2009/jan/09jan2009.htm.

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