Eilish Kennedy -Rockwell College.
One of the parts of the course I found surprisingly interesting was the terrestrial ecology practical we had with Dr Simon Harrison.
I wasn’t sure what this was but I soon found out we would be going to the ‘distillery fields’ to check the pitfall traps Dr Harrison had set earlier. This didn’t excite me very much as I wasn’t particularly interested in insects or other creatures that could be caught in the pitfall traps. However the practical involved much more than just collecting the traps. First we learned about invasive species and the effects they had on the environment. We were shown an example of Japanese knotweed and I was surprised at how well it was suited to taking over the habitat. The pitfall traps were set to help us study the effects of invasive plants such as Japanese knotweed had on organisms in the area. Pitfall traps were also set in areas of native vegetation (grass) so we could compare our results.
We brought our samples from the traps back to the labs to examine them in detail. At first it looked like we hadn’t caught any organisms in the traps set in the Japanese knotweed. However after sieving through the material and examining it through a strong microscope we saw that we had caught plenty of organisms in the traps. Lots of tiny organisms lived in the Japanese knotweed, although not nearly as many that lived in the grass. Interestingly it was mostly non-native animals we found living in the Japanese knotweed, primarily land hoppers (similar to sand hoppers found at the beach). These are a relatively new invasive species to Ireland. It is difficult for most animals to live in Japanese knotweed as its leaves aren’t good for them to live. We found native animals such as worms, beetles, slugs and snails in the samples from the grass. This helped us understand the damaging impact invasive species can have on native habitats if they are not kept under control.
I really enjoyed this practical class and I found out loads of information about invasive species that I didn’t even realise was significant. I gained a greater interest into ecology and realised there is more to it than you might think.