Where in the World - Surveying Through the Seasons

When the seasons change, so do animal and plant populations, making biological inventories more than a one-shot deal.

As summer turns into fall, not only do trees' leaves take on a new shade, but the local composition of flora and fauna also adjusts. While many plants are packing away their sugars for the cold months, others are just getting ready to bloom to attract pollinators. And while most animals prepare for winter slumber, others are just heading out on the march for mates. To get an accurate idea of a region's variety of plants and animals, scientists must also adjust, and sample throughout the year.

With this in mind, Academy scientists returned to southwestern China this fall rainy season to help round out a survey begun in summer 2000. During those warm summer months, when most critters are active, researchers sampling the mountain slopes found loads of common, yet surprising species. But to widen this snapshot, they returned for the rare details-and hit the jackpot.

Beetle expert Dave Kavanaugh came across 15 pupae in one day, "a decade's worth" according to Kavanaugh, who believes this seldom-encountered developing stage of the insect will help pinpoint these beetles' life cycle. At the same time, botanist Peter Fritsch found a parasitic flowering plant (Balanophora involucrata) that looks more like a mushroom. To find this species in the field, he says, "is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a North American scientist."

In spring 2003, the team will return to China for more sampling. If their timing is right, the season's unique plants and animals will bring the picture of southwestern China's biodiversity to life.

David Kavanaugh, Liang Hongbin and Paul Marek examining an exciting beetle they had just collected. Photo: Dong Lin

Bruce Bartholomew and Peter Fritsch use pole pruner to extend their collecting reach for the botanical survey. Photo: Dong Lin
Nirmala odelli, predaceous groundbeetle (Carabideae) endemic to the Himalayan region.Photo: Dong Lin
Map: Colleen Sudekum