There are around 10,000 species of birds living today, with about 950 species occurring within the United States. From the regal Whooping Crane to the feisty yet small Calliope Hummingbird, birds are renowned and idealized in songs, poems, paintings, cartoons, and even on clothing. Our feathered friends have become a multibillion-dollar industry providing a major source of income to some rural communities. In addition, multiple studies have found that spending time in nature and watching birds relaxes our mind and bodies as well as recharging our spirits. However, too infrequently, even for the nature enthusiast, do we consider the community which birds occupy. The warblers are a delight to see, sought-after phantoms of color high in the canopy. But few of us are just as excited about the insects that feed these colorful birds as they move through the trees. We do not see the birds as part of a bigger system, a system whose players are mostly invertebrates - particularly insects. On a global scale, biologists have noted that insectivorous birds consume 500 million tons of arthropods annually! Scientists have found that more than 70% of North America's birds are insectivorous. But to most, insects or icky bugs are not to be bothered with or, at most, only as tidbits of food for the birds. Interestingly we do not see this dismissal when considering the interactions of birds and plants. Whole texts have been written about gardening for the birds. Few devote space to growing an ecosystem focused on promoting insects. However, insects drive bird survival and even promote species evolution. During Dr. Dash’s presentation we will explore the importance of insects as partners to bird biology and how you can view the birds with the insects as vital players in the web of life.
Dr. Dash is currently Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at Hampton University in Hampton VA. He is an expert in the field of myrmecology, the study of ants, but also includes biodiversity and the faunistics of insects and invertebrates in his overall research. As an undergraduate at the University of Delaware he completed an undergraduate research project on cucumber beetle mating behaviors under the direction of Dr. Doug Tallamy and was part of studies on hive beetles, box turtles, and other wildlife. Dr. Dash completed his MS at Louisiana State University with the first formal survey of the ants of Louisiana. He completed a Ph.D. at the University of Texas at El Paso in Pathobiology but with an adjunct focus on evolutionary biology, focused on the systematics of an understudied neotropical ant genus (Hypoponera).
Dr. Dash is continuing his work on ants and soil invertebrates in the context of evolution and ecology, and with his students he is surveying the soil invertebrates of the Nolan Trail and Sandy Bottom Nature Park. He is working with the researchers at the Virginia Museum of Natural History to complete a contemporary review of the ants of Virginia. In addition, he is collaborating across multiple institutions to produce a guide to the ants of the Delmarva peninsula. His research is focused on invertebrates in urban ecosystems as well as documenting the biodiversity of ants. Shawn strives to be a strong mentor for his students by involving them in original research with the hopes of inspiring them to pursue studies in organismal biology. A passionate professor and knowledgeable natural historian, he is a highly sought-after and requested speaker for various nature groups. Shawn is known for being light-hearted, and with a sense of wonder and humor he works to excite others about nature