What exactly is an arthropod?
Arthropods are a large group of animals that includes spiders, millipedes, shrimp, crabs and even extinct animals, like trilobites. This group also includes insects: arthropods with six legs, three body segments and a single pair of antennae!
Arthropods’ ancestors date all the way back to the Cambrian explosion, a period of geologic time marked by the emergence and rapid diversification of multicellular life. Their name comes from the Greek word ἄρθρον (meaning 'jointed' and 'foot'), which refers to their characteristic appearance. All arthropods are invertebrates — they lack spines — and support themselves with a durable exoskeleton; their jointed body segments and appendages enable them to move.
Why did you study arthropods?
I like studying arthropods, in part, simply because they are everywhere. This quality makes them easy to find and study. It is also easy to fall in love with them! But, more seriously, I chose to study arthropods because they are so diverse, so versatile and reflect so many life styles.
Across the globe, there are more species of insects than any other group. This variety of appearance and behavior means there is an insect for every situation. Thus, there is tremendous value in studying arthropods because they enable us to investigate the interactions between humans and life on Earth in virtually any environment.
Plus, the sheer variety of arthropods really impresses me, as well as all their unique abilities — spinning webs and cocoons, dissolving and rebuilding their bodies during metamorphosis, producing bioluminescence, navigating by scent and light cues, the list goes on. I’m always learning something new about these amazing creatures!
What benefit do arthropods provide to grassland ecosystems?
What benefits don’t they provide? As the base of the animal food chain in most situations, they directly or indirectly feed most wildlife. They are highly mobile, ubiquitous and regularly interact with plants and animals. As such, they fulfill flowering plants’ need for pollination and seed dispersal. They also control pest populations and consume living and dead organic material — like leaves, bark, fungus and carrion — which is essential for promoting the decomposition and recycling of nutrients in an ecosystem.