Moths are an ideal group to study for scientific, educational and logistic reasons --
a fun pastime for naturalists and the scientifically inclined.
For Mothing at its simplest, switch on your porch lights and wait in the safety of your home.
After photographing them, switch your lights off and they fly away unharmed.
Over the course of a year, hundreds of species are likely to come in, sit on your wall, and enable
you to study them and enjoy their diversity.
There are over 12,000 moth species north of Mexico, over ten times as many species as birds.
Their diversity provides greater opportunity for those of you who wish to keep a
'life list' of the species that you have observed.
With the advent of modern digital cameras, moths are now one of the easiest groups
to document and identify accurately. While challenging, most moths can be identified to
species from digital photographs using resources on the web.
Moths are relatively poorly studied. Much about them awaits discovery, including undescribed species new to science.
Their study could provide much material for many science fair through university-level research projects.
they neither bite, sting nor vector diseases,
and hence, are an extremely safe group with which to work.
Understanding the potential impacts of climate change and
other large-scale factors on biological systems is a formidable task.
It is not feasible to conduct randomized, replicated experiments at regional and continental scales.
Instead we can use natural field experiments, such as droughts and urban heat-islands, to study such phenomena
(ref: Hargrove and Pickering 1992).
Mothing participants can rapidly collect and share vast quantities
of high-quality data from numerous study sites with digital photography and online tools.
By collectively monitoring moth communities, we can take advantage of natural experiments to better understand,
predict and manage moth populations and their interactions with other species.
We can learn how ecological communities respond to weather, pollution, invasive species and other environmental variables.
For example, the following
compares across years the dates when we photographed two species of moths with different numbers of flights.
Our scientific goals are to answer questions such as
What drives changes in the relative abundance of moth species across time and space?
How do unseasonable temperatures and other climatic factors affect their populations?
Are there life-history traits or other characteristics that make
some species more susceptible than others to extreme weather patterns?
Do some populations respond to warmer years by having more generations?
In terms of their seasonality, are some species more sensitive to yearly weather differences than others?
Are the moths with caterpillars that feed on lichens good bio-indicators of air-quality, as are lichens?
What is the relative importance of host plant communities, latitude, elevation, climate and land use
in determining species distribution and relative abundance?
What are the causes of long-term changes of the distribution and relative abundance of species?
Which species are more susceptible to invasive fire ants and other introduced species?
What factors cause some moths to have population outbreaks?
How does the abundance and rarity of each species at different sites vary across the entire range of each species and why?
How are mites that infect moths distributed across species, sites and over time?
Is the abundance and phenology of migratory species more variable than those of species that do not migrate?
How does the lunar cycle, sampling frequency and time of sampling affect results?
How do phylogeny, biogeography, host plant and other species interactions constrain or enhance whether species coexist
at different geographic scales?
What are the effects on diversity and abundance of open, forested or mixed landscapes around study sites?
How does the proximity to wetlands and other specialized habitats affect results?
What can we learn about moth longevity and predation pressure from wing wear and tears?
Does the size distribution of individuals and the sex ratio within a species differ across populations, seasons and years?
How does the species richness of moth and plant communities increase relative to each other as a function of distance?
In conjunction with Discover Life's other projects collecting data on plant flowering,
lichens, and other indicator groups,
we will be able to predict the impact of potential long-term changes on communities
of species and their interactions. For example, how are the biologies of plants and their insect pollinators synchonized?