Learning from the dragonfly

Professor Wade Worthen furthers his research with the help of a faculty research grant

April 15, 2014 | Tina Underwood

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Who knew a pecking order exists among our dragonfly friends? Biology Professor Wade Worthen, Ph.D., knows and will be advancing his understanding through a newly awarded Furman Standard Faculty Research Grant.

Through the Furman Standard, donors may honor one or more faculty members by pledging $25,000 (payable over five years) or by establishing a $100,000 planned gift. Contributions to the Furman Standard are pooled to help provide professors the materials, training, development, and other opportunities they need to remain leaders in their fields.

Dr. Worthen will use his award to continue research on the effects of competition on biodiversity. Worthen says while competition can result in the elimination of an inferior competitor, competitors can coexist (and thereby preserve diversity) by ‘partitioning’ a resource.

Researching dragonfly species in South Carolina, Worthen has found that species reduce competition for territories by perching at different heights, in a pattern that correlates with body size. Large species use taller perches, relegating smaller species to lower perches. During a Tropical Ecology study away course in Costa Rica, Worthen saw suggestions of this same behavior pattern.

The grant will allow Worthen to replicate his South Carolina experiments in the rainforests of Costa Rica to determine whether the partitioning phenomenon is a general pattern that occurs in tropical as well as in temperate communities.

Worthen says the funding will help him fulfill a “lifelong goal” of researching in Costa Rica. He says since his research isn’t costly, and therefore not suited for support from large funding agencies, the Furman Standard grant is “just right in so many ways."

Since its inception in 2010, The Furman Standard program has garnered $2.3 million toward the goal of $3 million. Thirty-six current and former faculty members have been honored by 28 donors.