BOZEMAN – A Montana State University professor has created a way for people across Montana and beyond to access photos of an often unseen world.
Robert Peterson, professor in MSU’s Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture, has created an online collection of his photos showcasing the insect world of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Peterson hopes the online photobook—which includes more than 120 images taken over a period of 14 years—will be used and appreciated by the public.
“There’s an entire, hidden world beneath our feet that’s not well understood or appreciated,” Peterson said. “Insects are the most abundant and diverse multicellular organisms in the GYE, and they play a vital role in how ecosystems function, but because they are small and people rarely see them close up, they’re overlooked in regard to their importance.”
The website, Insects of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, currently features close-up images showcasing the bright colors, delicate features and habitats of regional butterflies and moths, beetles, flies, bees, wasps, ants, sawflies, grasshoppers and other types of insects. Scientific names of the insects are listed, as is brief information about the insects’ anatomy, behavior and habitat.
The GYE includes Yellowstone National Park, comprises 34,375 square miles, and is one of the largest nearly intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth, according to the National Park Service. Peterson said at least two out of every three species is an insect within this ecosystem.
“Their diversity and abundance is staggering,” he said. “Insects aren’t viewed as charismatic as some of the large mammals in the region, but they are critical to any healthy ecosystem because they serve as pollinators that stimulate plant diversity, they’re an important food source for other organisms, they recycle nutrients, and are a crucial foundation for watershed health.”
The project includes a Facebook and Twitter page as well, where Peterson posts pictures and descriptions of insects. Photographs of insects can be added indefinitely because there are thousands of species in the GYE, giving scientists plenty of insects to photograph.
Eventually, Peterson hopes to incorporate images from other photographers and encourage novice entomologists to explore, identify and share findings.
“The ultimate goal is to develop an appreciation, support education and spur an awareness of this hidden world,” he said. “You don’t have to go to far-flung places to study insects; there’s a jungle right outside your backdoor.”