Decomposer Natural History

I am surveying the abundance and studying the lives of some common decomposers in North America.

The roly-polly (Tracheolipus rathkii) nestled in a dead log at the Yale Preserve.


There is a diveristy of cool species living in and on top of the soil in New England and Ontario. Many of them we see fairly regularly, but that doesn't mean we know much about them. For example, I have seen at least six species of rolly-polies in Connecticut (one of those, the beautiful Porcellio spinicornis , only once!). Some live in greenhouses, others in almost every forest I visit. Connecticut also hosts a reasonable diversity of millipedes including the amazing American giant millipede. We also have lots of ants, non-native earthworms, crickets, centipedes, spiders,etc. All of these animals can be seen under decaying pieces of wood and/or rocks. I have been counting and keeping track of these animals at Yale-Myers Forest in Eastford, CT and in the Yale Preserve in New Haven, CT. At the Yale Preserve I am working with Max Lambert who studies the salamanders and frogs there.

One of my cover boards used to track soil fauna with lots of worm middens and a worm escaping into the grass.

My goal is to see what species are common, how their abundance varies over the year, and what we can learn about their lives. I really love studying these animals because they live in my backyard and I come across them regularly going about their lives. It becomes more fun to notice these animals around the cities and forests I visit as I learn more about them.

A rare sight: the American giant millipede Narceus americanus in an old field.