Entomology / AECL 425/525 - Aquatic Insects


Dr. Greg Courtney; office: 401 Science II; lab: 404 (or 419) Science II; phone: 294-4017 (office); e-mail: gwcourt@iastate.edu.

Required Text

Merritt, R.W., K.W. Cummins & M.B. Berg (editors). 2008. An Introduction to the Aquatic Insects of North America (Fourth Edition). Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., Dubuque, IA.

Course Objectives

  1. Introduce the principles and methods of entomological science, including the morphology, ecology, evolution and diversity of insects;
  2. Overview the diversity of aquatic habitats and the ways in which insects are adapted to those habitats and to aquatic environments generally;
  3. Survey aquatic-insect taxa and their morphology, ecology and phylogeny;
  4. Receive training in the collection, curation and identification (through use of taxonomic keys) of aquatic insects;
  5. Learn the significance of aquatic insects in ecosystem functioning, conservation biology, and as bioindicators of water quality, vectors of disease, and pests of agricultural crops.

Lecture Format

Introductory lectures will cover basic insect morphology, physiology and diversity, general principles of freshwater biology, and ecological classification of aquatic habitats. These will be followed by several lectures on adaptations in aquatic insects, with emphasis on features that permit insects to colonize a diversity of aquatic environments. Subsequent lectures focus on specific insect orders and will include aspects of (1) general morphology, particularly key taxonomic characters; (2) diversity and contemporary distributions; (3) ecology, including habitat, habits and life histories; (4) economic importance and role in aquatic ecosystems; (5) fossil record, geological age and biogeography; (6) phylogenetic relationships and classification of family groups; (7) potential for future research, and specific areas in need of study. The final two weeks of the course will cover a selection of special topics, including aquatic insects from unusual habitats, and the significance of aquatic insects in human health, freshwater biomonitoring, and/or conservation biology.

Laboratory Format

As reflected by the grading criteria (see below), this is a lab- and field-oriented course. Each laboratory will focus on one or more orders and will emphasize the structural and ecological diversity of each group. Particular emphasis will be on aquatic insects you are likely to encounter in Iowa. During each laboratory, you will see preserved and [whenever possible] live representatives of several families, which you will learn to identify by using a key, or by sight. If time permits, you can work on your own material during regularly scheduled laboratories. You are required to keep a detailed laboratory / field notebook.

Field Trips

Because of the required insect collection, field work will be an important component of this course. The department will make available sampling equipment (nets, vials, etc.) during the semester, allowing for independent collecting by students. There will also be several opportunities for the class, in whole or part, to participate in field trips. Weekend field trips to local aquatic habitats will be scheduled at least twice during the semester. In addition, there will be an all-day (or possibly overnight) trip to northeastern Iowa. Although field trips will be optional, you are urged to participate in at least one weekend trip. These trips will provide outstanding opportunities to collect a diversity of insect families.

Grading Criteria

1. Examinations

All lecture exams, including the final, will contain a variety of questions (multiple choice, short answer, and an essay or two). Laboratory exams will be "practicals," emphasizing morphology and the identification of insect families. Students registered for graduate credit

2. Insect collection requirements

The insect collection is an major part of your course grade because it is a reflection of the your comprehension of field and laboratory techniques, including your ability to identify taxa. Expertise in these techniques are valuable to anyone interested in a career or further education in aquatic biology. The collection will consist of a minimum of 30 taxonomic units (e.g., families), which is a reasonable number for Iowa (even during winter semester!). The collection grade is based on both your identifications and the organization / presentation / quality of the collection. The course emphasizes identification of the aquatic stages of insects, most of which are nymphs / larvae; however, the terrestrial adults of aquatic groups will be accepted in the collection and will count as a separate taxonomic unit -- e.g., if a you submit the nymph and adult of a baetid mayfly, it counts as two taxonomic units. Likewise, in those groups with aquatic larvae and adults (e.g., dytiscid beetles), you may submit both as separate taxonomic units.

Field observations and the careful recording of data are an important aspect of the insect collection. You will be expected to record data during your field studies, including: (1) location - state, county, and more specific information (i.e., enough to allow a future collector to find the site); (2) collection date; (3) collector's name; (4) collection method, if appropriate (e.g., kick sample, sweep net, light trap, emergence trap); (5) habitat or host information. Furthermore, you must organize and present your collection in such a manner that specimens will be useful to future students and/or scientists. This contributes toward specimen "quality" and your collection grade.

3. Grading scheme

Criteria for the final grade are as follows:

Lecture exams (2 X 100 points) 20%
Lecture final (150 points) 15%
Laboratory exams (3 X 100 points) 30%
Laboratory final (150 points) 15%
Insect collection / field notebook (200 points) 20%

Students enrolled in 525 are expected to also present a lecture / lead a class discussion on some aspect of aquatic entomology. Alternatives include a range of topics (e.g., ecology of hyporheic insects, secondary production of aquatic insects, aquatic insects and human health, role of aquatic insects in biomonitoring, use of aquatic insects in conservation biology). Topics must be selected AND approved by the instructor by the end of the third week of class.

Course policies

Attendance. If you are unable to attend class due to illness or some other reason, please let the instructor know ahead of time.

Honesty. Group studying can be a very effective learning tool, and I expect that you will discuss course material with each other; however, the work you submit must be your own.  Furthermore, all sources for any assignments must be identified, and all direct quotations must be attributed—plagiarism is a very serious offense.  Disciplinary action will be initiated in any suspected case of academic dishonesty.

Students with disabilities.  Iowa State University is committed to assuring that all educational activities are free from discrimination and harassment based on disability status. All students requesting accommodations are required to meet with staff in Student Disability Resources (SDR) to establish eligibility.  A Student Academic Accommodation Request (SAAR) form will be provided to eligible students.  The provision of reasonable accommodations in this course will be arranged after timely delivery of the SAAR form to the instructor.  Students are encouraged to deliver completed SAAR forms as early in the semester as possible.  SDR, a unit in the Dean of Students Office, is located in room 1076, Student Services Building or online at www.dso.iastate.edu/dr/.  Contact SDR by e-mail at disabilityresources@iastate.edu or by phone at 515-294-7220 for additional information.