UH Hilo graduate student Heather Stever wins competition at international entomology conference

Stever presented her research, on arthropod biodiversity on Maunakea, at the 25th International Congress of Entomology.

By Susan Enright.

Heather Stever in the field. She wears a light reflector vest.
Heather Stever. Courtesy photos, click to enlarge.

Heather Stever was awarded first place in the 15-minute graduate student oral competition at the 2016 International Congress of Entomology in Orlando, Florida. She is completing her master of science degree in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

Stever on Maunakea, seated on a downed tree branch, looking over papers.
Stever conducts her research on Maunakea. Click to enlarge photos.

The theme of the 25th congress was “Entomology without Borders.” Scientists and students interacted with the world’s leading experts in many specialties to exchange ideas and build on their research. Symposia highlighted the most recent advances in a wide diversity of entomological subjects from around the world. Students and early career scientists presented their research in front of a global audience and competed in global competitions.

Stever’s winning presentation was entitled “Arthropod Biodiversity Estimates for Three Native Subalpine Plant Genera on Hawaii Island’s Maunakea Volcano,” and the title of the session in which she gave her presentation was “Biodiversity, Biogeography, and Conservation of Arthropods: Diversity.”

Background on Stever’s research from her bio web page:

Insects and other arthropods are among the most abundant and diverse animals on Earth. This is especially true in Hawaii where they constitute the majority of the islands’ endemic fauna and play important roles in Hawaii’s ecosystem functions. Although arthropods are omnipresent in nearly every terrestrial ecosystem, studying these animals is challenging.

Detection and identification is difficult because many insect species are small and very mobile with immense population sizes, complex morphologies and diverse life histories. Moreover, their habitats may be in harsh climates and terrain that is difficult to access.

I am interested in figuring out how to overcome these challenges so that Hawaii’s arthropod diversity can be studied effectively and efficiently. To do this, we have catalogued nearly 7,000 [now 13,000] individual insect records from 2012-2015 as the baseline biodiversity estimate for three prominent native plant species (Chenopodium oahuense, Geranium cuneatum, and Sophora chrysophylla) in the 2,800m elevation subalpine region of the Maunakea Volcano on Hawaii Island.

We used statistical software (EstimateS 9.0) to estimate and compare arthropod abundance and species richness on these three plant species. The ultimate goal of our research is to demonstrate the use of limited empirical data to develop an alternative, targeted sampling approach that uses species accumulation curves and sequential sampling plans to offset the challenges of arthropod sampling and diversity estimates for Maunakea’s subalpine plants.

By developing quantitative models that facilitate arthropod monitoring and annual comparisons, our research results will help the Office of Maunakea Management minimize the cost and effort required to monitor and protect rare endemic species, and mitigate invasive species effects in Maunakea’s subalpine environment.

Stever’s adviser is Jesse Eiben, assistant professor of entomology at UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resource Management.

Stever graduates this December, after which she plans on applying to PhD programs and studying endemic Hawaiian arthropods for her doctoral research.

She hails from Detroit, Michigan, and has lived in Hawaii since 2005.


About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.