Sunday, March 23, 2014

Exploring the Carolina Coastal Plain

   Our second weekend in South Carolina was an interesting one. A very well-timed symposium on the responses of biodiversity to climate change in the southeast was held at East Carolina University, in 'the other Greenville' (North Carolina) organized by David Chalcraft, Trip Lamb and others. I thought this would be a great opportunity to familiarize myself with research going on in the region, as well as a nice chance to see some more of the surroundings, particularly the coastal areas of the Carolinas.

   The last talk of the symposium, by Reed Noss of the University of Central Florida, was not only interesting, but fairly tranformational in terms of my thinking about the area. I've always been far more drawn to montane areas than coastal areas in general, for both the scenery and the insect diversity, and coming to Clemson my presumption was that the southern Appalachians would be my primary beetle-hunting grounds. Well, Reed's talk laid out the case for formal recognition of a biodiversity hotspot along the southeastern Coastal Plain (more or less as outlined in the map at right.) Not only are levels of overall diversity and endemism surprisingly high, but the threats from both development and sea level rise. Of course while he was able to base a strong argument on plant, vertebrate, and fungal diversity, he threw up his hands when it came to arthropod diversity (for the most part - he had some pretty compelling ant data from Florida scrub). So this not only changes my mind about what's interesting in this area, but serves as something of a call-to-arms. Entomologists could help considerably in substantiating this case. More collections and data compilations from the area are needed.

   Following the symposium Katie and I were energized to get out and see some of this Coastal Plain diversity for ourselves! It was quite early in the year, and there wasn't a whole lot to see. But we looked at each find with a new appreciation for what they might represent.
   We spent just a short day wandering in the lowland coastal forests around Carolina Beach, NC, in some bald-cypress bog and carnivorous plant habitat, as well as drier longleaf pine areas. The earliness of the season was exemplified by the finding of numerous larvae, including the longhorned and click beetle larvae shown above, as well as several others.

Our adult beetle finds in the pine forest included a newly eclosed Rhagium inquisitor in its pupal shell, not quite ready to face the light of day, an Alobates pensylvanicus (or maybe A. morio - evidently rarer but not easily distinguished), and a fungus weevil, Euparia sp. (maybe E. marmoreus, as suggested by BugGuider Mike Quinn).
   We ended the day with a walk on the beach, and a little sifting in the limited coastal dune (hemmed in pretty tightly by housing right up to the beach). The only beetle that turned up was a little scirtid, Cyphon sp. (in one of those genera that seems terminally hopeless for identification), rather a strange place for what is commonly known as a 'marsh beetle'.

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