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Researching Unexplored Habitats

Photo: Peak of the Canigou in the Pyrenees by Sylvain Perrinel

Thanks to the faculty research award he was given through AU’s Office of Academic Affairs, environmental science professor David Culver will be spending his summer studying a variety of insects that dwell in the unique, cave-like environments of Europe and Hawaii.

These shallow, subterranean habitats are home to creatures normally found far removed from the light of day. This would usually serve a logical explanation for their lack of eyes and pigment and their long appendages. They have been discovered, however, in unexpected places, including springs, rock piles, and volcanoes. “The question is how did they get there,” says Culver. “What role did natural selection play in their existence?” 

These quandaries are exactly what Culver plans to explore. His trip will take him to the foothills of the Pyrenees for three weeks and then to Hawaii for another ten days, where he hopes to find some answers.

While Culver has been working on this project locally for the past few years, this grant provides him an essential opportunity to take it to the next level. “The big challenge is always to get funding,” he says. With that initial hurdle out of the way, he hopes to conduct enough research to garner more funding to support further work on the subject.

Culver plans to incorporate his findings into a book about these creatures and their unique homes. “We are really the first ones that have called attention to these habitats,” he says. “It’s always interesting when you find something that hasn’t been more studied.” He hopes that his research helps foster “a better understanding of the way that evolution works and…appreciation of habitats and where animals live.”