By Nikki Evans, Sedgwick Reserve
Caroline Williams is a professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley where she runs a lab on the evolution of metabolic physiology in ectotherms. In other words, the Williams Lab studies how energy-providing processes throughout the body evolve in cold-blooded species. Her lab is particularly interested in insects. At Sedgwick, they study the variable field cricket (Gryllus lineaticeps) to understand how insect flight evolves and is maintained despite being so costly.
The Sedgwick crickets are ideal to answer this question because they have what is known as a flight polymorphism, meaning that two different forms or morphs of crickets exist in the population: one with long wings that can fly, and one with short wings that cannot fly. The short-winged crickets benefit from being able to reproduce early, and the long-winged crickets benefit from being able to fly long distances to find food or mates. Williams’ lab is looking at how the metabolism, physiology and genes differ between long-winged and short-winged crickets, so that we can understand how changing environmental conditions might impact the loss or gain of flight.
The team has returned to Sedgwick Reserve for eight years to study the variable cricket. The researchers catch crickets using pitfall traps near the pond. Buckets are buried so that the open container is level with the ground in hopes of crickets falling in. To attract crickets, they put a small speaker that plays a mating song in the container, which then attracts crickets to the traps. The crew also walks transects with headlamps at night (along with the tarantulas and coyotes!) and collects cricket for experiments and to take back to their lab colonies at UC Berkeley.
This year, they also compared the running speeds of crickets at different temperatures using a “cricket racetrack” on the Sedgwick patio. The patio transformed into a “red-light district” at night, as they watched cricket behavior under red head lamps.
This story originally appeared in the September edition of the Sedgwick Reserve newsletter. Subscribe >>