Since I finished volunteering on the BESS Earthworm Project I have been continuing to work in the Natural History Museum Soil Biodiversity Group sorting leaf litter samples on my day off. After the sieved leaf litter samples have spent three days in the Winkler bags the pots are removed and the alcohol containing the invertebrates (and hopefully not too much mud and debris!) is decanted into tubes ready to be sorted by volunteers. Each litter sample is poured into a petri dish and put under the microscope for sorting. If you are lucky the sample looks like this; a nice clean sample with not too much debris where the the invertebrates can easily be picked out and counted.
However sometimes the samples look like this! This one I had to split into parts and dilute in order be able to pick out the specimens from the murky alcohol. The invertebrates are identified to order level and each group counted into its own glass tubes which are labelled with the sample details and bundled together, some will eventually go on for species identification, and in the case of some tropical samples, DNA sequencing.
I started off sorting litter samples from Borneo, these are from one of my many projects run at Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE). This site provides a gradient of forest modification, from primary rainforest to increasing levels of logging and fragmentation, and finally oil palm plantation. I was excited to work with tropical samples for the first time although I did not find them as different from UK leaf litter samples as I expected. Many of the groups were familiar, within the beetles there were Staphylinidae which I recognised as from subfamilies Pselaphinae and Aleocharinae; but every so often though I was reminded that I was ‘abroad’ when a sample turned up exotic invertebrates such as termites, scorpions and crickets.
|Hundreds of termites sorted from a Soil Biodiversity Group litter sample|
|Scorpions and a pretty fly from Borneo leaf litter samples|