Andrew Short said he’s enjoyed spending his days focusing on water beetles, a profession that’s taken him to some of the far corners of the globe.
The KU assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, returned from a trip to Suriname in South America this the summer with 20 new species of water beetles.
That happens relatively frequently for entomologists like Short. A piece of paper hanging on his office door reminds him daily that fewer than one in 10 species of insect has been discovered and catalogued by science.
He’s already described more than 100 beetles in his career. By cataloguing new species, he can help further describe the whole category of water beetles.
“It’s difficult to know your family history if you only know one side of it,” he said.
Knowing that family history can help out with a range of other things, too. He estimated that he brought back more than 85 species of water beetles from Suriname, but that it could be more.
And water beetles can actually tell scientists a lot about water quality and a whole other range of issues related to the biodiversity of a region.
By looking at the beetles present in a specific area, and the beetles that aren’t there, too, researchers can glean additional information they might not be able to obtain otherwise. There was a very noticeable absence of some common water beetles in South America that he didn’t find on his trip to Suriname.
“It was kind of like if you’re walking around Lawrence and did not see any squirrels,” he said. “You notice they’re not around.”
Those species of beetle happened to prefer more open areas, and the fact that the team didn’t find them meant that their particular area of the forest remained relatively undisturbed.
Many of the beetles he collected in Suriname ended up on pins, and were placed in KU’s entomology collection.
Jennifer Thomas, a collection manager for the KU Biodiversity Institute, said KU’s collection features more than 4.5 million specimens.
“For university collections, we are definitely one of the largest,” she said.
Housed in KU’s Public Safety building, the collection is well known for its tropical beetles, scorpion flies and bees, Thomas said.
The bee collection is largely thanks to the work of retired KU professor Charles Michener, who is one of the world’s foremost bee experts.