Beetles Dataset

Beetles Dataset


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A population is a group of organisms of the same species in an ecosystem. This dataset allows us to investigate whether the availability of resources affects the population size of ground beetles (Order Coleoptera; Family Carabidae). Order Coleoptera is the largest order of insects. The Family Carabidae is an especially useful group to study because it is a large, widespread beetle family. Previous studies have shown that carabid beetles, also called ground beetles, are excellent indicators of changes in the environment and overall arthropod diversity.


The data below comes from three deserts in North America: the Chihuahuan Desert, the Sonoran Desert, and the Great Basin Desert. Although these deserts are similarly hot and dry, they are home to different plants and animals. By tracking how beetle populations change in these three deserts, we can answer questions about how plant resources affect beetle populations.




Black Ground Beetle. Photo by Jim Moore,


Scientists from the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) collect data on the number of ground beetles using pitfall traps at sites across North America. Pitfall traps are small containers that are buried in the ground so the rim is even with the ground surface. Insects and other arthropods fall into the trap. The data presented here show the number of carabid beetles caught in pitfall traps between 2016 and 2019 at three NEON sites: the Jornada Experimental Range near Las Cruces, New Mexico, the Santa Rita Experimental Range near Tucson, Arizona, and the Moab Site near Moab, Utah.


These are the methods used to collect the beetle data at all NEON sites:


  • Scientists placed four pitfall traps in 10 plots (40 traps total).
  • To install traps, scientists placed 16-ounce plastic containers filled with propylene glycol (a colorless, odorless preservative) into holes in the ground. Insects fell into the container.

    Pitfall trap. Source: NEON.

  • Every two weeks during the warm season, NEON scientists collected and identified the organisms in each trap and reset the traps. Beetles were sorted by species and counted.
  • The data shown here report the total number of carabid beetles found in the traps each year from 2016 through 2019.


Scientists at each of the NEON sites also measure plant cover, which can be used to estimate the plant resources in an area, using these methods:


  • Scientists measured plant growth at eight 1-meter squares at each of the 10 plots (80 squares total).
  • Measurements were made during the “greenest” part of the year, after the summer rainy season.
  • In each square, scientists identified the plants and estimated what percent of the ground within the square was covered by plants.






CODAP is a free educational software for data analysis, a product of The Concord Consortium ( and funded by NSF grants.