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Hard work, perseverance make local collegian expert in Adirondack insect taxonomy

CLAYBURG In the next few months, Clayburgs Luke Myers will be awarded his masters degree in insect taxonomy from the University of Colorado. While visiting his parents over New Years, he took some time to talk about the long and difficult road to his success. Luke sat at the dining room table in his parents Silver Lake Road home nestled on top of a hill overlooking a rugged whitewater section of the Saranac River. Flocks of hardy winter birds flitted about the feeders hanging near the large windows a fitting setting for a young man who has devoted the last few years of his life to preserving the pristine Adirondack environment. Luke recalls having a curious interest in insects when he was a young boy of about eight or nine. He spent many hours around the Saranac River and the pond his father made on the family property he named Lukes pond, in honor of his youngest son. But, it wasnt until his young adult years his interest in insects turned into a passion. Luke graduated from Saranac Central School in 2000, which was in itself an accomplishment, as academics, especially mathematics, never came easily to him. He continued his education at Canton where he earned a degree in building and construction, but decided it was not the field he wanted to work in after all. Next, Luke worked on his associates degree in fish and wildlife management at Paul Smiths College. His coursework included work in stream ecology under Saranacs Dr. Janet Mihuc. It was during this course work Luke developed a passion for the study of aquatic insects. Spurred on by his newfound love, Luke continued on at Paul Smiths and earned his bachelors degree in natural resource management. One by one, he overcame several academic hardships, especially calculus, but he took stock in the old adage, If at first you dont succeed, try, try, again. It actually took three tries for Luke to overcome the mathematic obstacle. The highlight of Lukes undergraduate work was his involvement in a Capstone Project. He was among a group of students at Paul Smiths and SUNY Plattsburgh who applied for a grant from the National Science Foundation to research the influence of forest management on leaf litter and invertebrate communities in the streams of the Adirondack Park. Luke was one of three Paul Smiths students and 15 SUNY Plattsburgh students to be accepted to work on the project. Saranacs Dr. Timothy Mihuc, the coordinator of the Lake Champlain Research Institute at SUNY Plattsburgh, and the husband of Dr. Janet Mihuc, who was one of Lukes Paul Smiths professors, worked closely with the students. During his final months at Paul Smiths, Luke began looking into graduate programs where he could specialize in aquatic insect life. He took a trip out to the University of Colorado to visit with Dr. Boris Kondratieff, a specialist in the taxonomy of insects, especially aquatic insects. He is a one in a million guy, Luke explained. He can pick up any insect and know how to identify it or know who to send it to. Luke and Dr. Kondratieff hit it off and Luke was accepted into the graduate program at the University of Colorado. Not only has Dr. Kondratieff been helpful in passing on his entomology expertise to Luke, but he also found work for Luke to take part in that funded a large portion of his education. Some of the funding came from Lukes work administering biodiversity surveys, mostly at military bases. He enjoyed spending some time collecting specimens in places such as Oklahoma and Wyoming. Luke also began writing applications for grants to help fund his research. His first one was denied, but that did not phase him. He applied for two more grants, and both of them were accepted. The first of those grants, which came through the New York State Museum in Albany, has formed the basis of his thesis which is completing a survey of mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies in and around the Adirondack Park. This has meant his time is divided between the Adirondacks collecting specimens and time in Colorado. The main importance of my work is that these insects are environmental indicators of pollution and land degradation as they are highly responsive to any changes in the environment, Luke explained. As part of his survey for his thesis, Luke has collected specimens from more that 210 sites in 19 different counties. His techniques included the use of beating sheets, aerial and sweep nets, hand picking, light traps, and dip nets. Luke brought many of the larvae back to Colorado in coolers where he reared them to their adult stage in a specialized facility. The facility is composed of an artificial stream with a cooling unit. The value of this is to be able to associate the larva with its adult stage, since the larvae are so similar between various species, Luke said. During the course of Lukes survey, he has identified and databased approximately 14,000 specimens. At least six species of mayflies, 16 species of stoneflies, and 30 species of caddisflies made new state records, and three new species were discovered. Two of the three new species were stoneflies and were collected from the Catskills and the Alleghenies, while one of the new species was a mayfly Luke collected from the Hudson River in the North Creek area. Luke has already begun work on his second grant, which is funded by the state Department of Environmental Conservation Wildlife Grants Program, to conduct surveys on rare and threatened organisms in the state. Through this grant, Luke will have the opportunity to gain considerably more knowledge and write many research publications. This new grant will be a collaboration between SUNY Plattsburghs Lake Champlain Research Institute and the University of Colorado. Luke will work closely with Dr. Kondratieff in Colorado, and Dr. Timothy Mihuc in Plattsburgh. His survey will include a broader and more intense sampling of the mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies across New York State, but especially in the watershed areas of Northeast Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain and the Upper Hudson. He will be focused on 18 endangered species of the mayfly, stonefly and caddisfly. One of the many exciting aspects of this new grant is an artificial stream for rearing aquatic larvae to their adult stages, identical to the one at the University of Colorado, will be installed at the Lake Champlain Research Institute at SUNY Plattsburgh. This will make the university one of only a handful of places in the United States to have such a facility. Luke hopes the artificial stream will be in place before the end of March. When Luke is not out in the field collecting specimens or peering through a magnifying glass at a specimen, he can usually be found sitting at his laptop compiling a database of the populations of mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies in New York State. With at least 173 species of mayflies, 105 species of stoneflies and 283 species of caddisflies in the state, he has an abundance of record-keeping ahead of him. Surprisingly, no one has yet undertaken this important but daunting task that will provide an indispensable tool for scientists monitoring the health of the environment for many years to come.

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