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Testing bug biodiversity among landfill wildflowers

Randi B. Hagi
A volunteer collects samples in one of the pollinator meadows at the Shenandoah County Landfill.

The organization Sustainability Matters, which has planted native pollinator meadows at a local landfill, is now testing the biodiversity of their planting sites. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

[sound of insects, birds chirping, people talking]

At the Shenandoah County Landfill on Thursday morning, volunteers and students swung big, cloth nets through tall grasses and goldenrod, gathering up insects, spiders, and bits of plant matter. They called it the Big Bug Bioblitz.

[sound of truck driving by]

Randi B. Hagi
Sari Carp is the founder of the organization Sustainability Matters.

SARI CARP: A bioblitz is essentially collecting huge numbers of insects and plants to survey later.

Sari Carp is the founder of Sustainability Matters. This initiative at the landfill is called Making Trash Bloom.

CARP: So we are surveying both the different Making Trash Bloom plots to see what's working, what's not, whether the natives we planted are doing well, what invasive plants are creeping in, and what kind of insects are being hosted on these plants.

Randi B. Hagi
Jim McNeil is an entomologist with the Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation.

Jim McNeil, an entomologist with the Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation, was there directing the bug-catching.

JIM MCNEIL: Hopefully what we're looking to see is – are there differences in the diversity? Are we seeing lots more insects in these plantings … between this and maybe a more traditional cover that would be put over a landfill?

He said some of the bugs they're looking for are considered 'beneficial insects.'

MCNEIL: Wheel bugs are really exciting. They're a big predatory bug – very good at eating stink bugs. Things like ladybird beetles, ladybugs that people are familiar with, as well as a wide host of parasitic wasps … and they do a great number on a wide variety of pests.

The volunteers also surveyed mowed areas with a lot of milkweed, which feeds migratory monarch butterflies. The monarchs were declared endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in July.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.