Here's how rooftop research in SF could capture new data on pollinators and other insects

"We're trying to build a DNA library of California insects."

ByDan Ashley and Tim Didion KGO logo
Tuesday, May 9, 2023
Rooftop research in SF could capture new data on pollinators, insects
A research center in San Francisco studying flowers and species is working to better understand the evolution and biodiversity of insects.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- In springtime, the California Academy of Sciences' Living Roof is alive with swaying grass and blooming flowers. But these days, the iconic dome in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park is also working overtime, as a living laboratory.

"So this is our Malaise trap, which is basically a tent with a hole in the top that catches flying insects.," says Chris Grinter, collection manager of entomology and a self-described bug guy.

The traps he's checking on the Academy's roof are part of a multi-site project that could help us better understand the evolution of insects, not just on the Academy's roof, but around the California and around world.

First, the insects captured in the trap are sent off to the lab, where researchers will sequence their DNA for a project funded by the California Institute for Biodiversity.

"So we're trying to build a DNA library of California insects that'll become public knowledge and better, you know, equip every not only entomologists, but agricultural entomologist, or scientists in the world to better understand California insects," adds Grinter.

MORE: Here's how Bay Area researchers are using plants to fight climate change

He says another set of samples are being collected for a parallel project based at the University of Helsinki, called Lifeplan. It's goal to document species and biodiversity across the globe

"Trying to build a back backbone understanding of the biodiversity in sort of a snapshot way, where we can have this standardized protocol that will be repeatable in the future to so we can say, with certainty, the abundance and species that are occurring in a given place and time," Grinter explains.

And if it's an interesting time to study bugs, it's also an fascinating year to study their ecosystem, including plants and flowers. Assistant botany curator Sarah Jacobs, Ph.D., says the current Superblooms popping up around California are only part of a complicated and diverse environment

MORE: California Academy of Sciences researchers breed sea stars to help protect coastal ecosystem

"So, you know, the, the cool thing about Super blooms is that we will see some species explode, whereas, you know, it will explode in numbers, whereas other species might not bloom as big or as with as many individuals. And so we have that opportunity to see how that affects the pollinators or the other organisms living in the environment," Jacobs points out.

And she says it's possible that the pollinators may take a season or so to catch up in numbers. While documenting those potential fluctuations is another key benefit of the ongoing research.

MORE: California Academy of Sciences study finds 28 new gecko species

"Insects rely on plants as a food source habitat to raise their young to feed their larvae. You know, they have a very tight connection," she says.

And with climate change introducing new pressures, researchers say it's even more important to understand the critical relationships that effect our entire planet. Pieces of a puzzle, being gathered on a sunny, green rooftop in the middle of Francisco.

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live