It's not an experiment you'd want in your kitchen, but 10,000 flour beetles raised in milk bottles are changing the way scientists count animals.
In a new study to be published Friday (Oct. 19) in the journal Science, researchers used six years of beetle population data to improve the modeling tools widely used to explain fluctuations in animal numbers. That should help the people who rely on the tools for understanding or managing a variety of animal populations, including wildlife, commercial fisheries and agricultural pests.
"A primary goal of ecology is understanding population fluctuations. Our study continues that effort by teasing out more of the underlying mechanisms that drive population patterns," said mathematician Shandelle Henson of Andrews University, the study's lead author. "We want our laboratory studies to lead to useful, working concepts that can be applied to real-world problems ranging from food production to the conservation of species diversity."
The new report was written by the "Beetle Team," composed of leaders in the study of nonlinear population dynamics from several U.S. universities, and a collaborator from the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California, Davis.
This is the newest in a series of reports on population dynamics that the team has developed over the past decade using flour beetles as its animal model. In the University of Rhode Island laboratory of biologist R.F. Costantino, the rice-sized beetles (Tribolium castaneum) live in old-fashioned, half-pint milk bottles in one-quarter cup of, yes, all-purpose white flour and a pinch of dried brewer's yeast.
In the current report, the researchers compare the accuracy of two kinds of population models: the usual kind that allows animal numbers to be fractional (as in, the typical family has 2.5 offspring) and a related model that requires animals to come in whole numbers. Using each of the models, the te
University of California - Davis