Darold Batzer: A New Approach to Wetland Entomology

Dr. Darold Batzer thinks it’s time for a new approach to the field of wetland entomology.

Batzer is a professor of entomology at the University of Georgia and a long-time affiliate of the River Basin Center. He has spent most of his career studying freshwater wetland entomology, and his work has helped define the field. He has literally written the book on the subject (as lead editor of 2016’s Invertebrates in Freshwater Wetlands), but Batzer feels there’s more work to be done.

Darold Batzer in the wetlands at the Iron Horse Farm. Photo by Dorothy Kozlowski

“What we’ve been doing for 25 years is retesting the same hypotheses over and over again, and they never work out quite right. You do the same experiment in the same wetland a different year and you get completely different.”

“We all borrow ideas from other fields,” explains Batzer, characterizing entomology fieldwork in wetlands, where hypotheses and models of the world borrowed from related disciplines are slow to be rejected, even when unsupported by data, a system Batzer describes as “I tested this hypothesis, my data did not support the hypothesis, but I still think the hypothesis should make sense,” which means that many wetland entomology papers end up with “ambiguous conclusions contradicting their hypotheses.”

“Invertebrates are chaotic, they do things haphazardly, and they don’t necessarily respond to what we think they might,” explains Batzer, “for example, I can go to a wetland where all this stuff is going on, but if I go the next year there may be no water at all, followed by a flood the year after that. The dynamics are always changing, but there are invertebrates that do very well while dealing with that unpredictability, while ignoring the things we’re told should be controlling their success.”

He continues, “I think there are different things that we should be considering. For example, insects just lay their eggs in different places, so colonization is probably a really important controlling factor, but it has nothing to do with invertebrate interaction or water quality, which are things we feel should be important controls.” Batzer argues that it’s time to let go of the old hypotheses that haven’t been well supported, and to develop new ones.

Batzer is excited to approach his work from a different direction, adding “I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and it hasn’t been working very well, maybe because I – and everyone else in the field – have been doing the same things over and over again. I’m trying to see if I can look at some of these older data sets that I have, try to look at them from a different perspective, and maybe come up with new ideas.”