Insect Armageddon reprise

I was recently interviewed for a great new podcast on ABC called Science Friction by Natasha Mitchell. The episode is about insect declines, including the Insect Armageddon story I blogged about last year. Natasha also talks to two well-known Australian entomologists, Ary Hoffmann and Ken Walker, as well as Caspar Hallmann one of the authors of the German insect decline study. It’s really nicely produced and explores more than just the decline issue, showcasing how wonderfully unique insects are and why we need to spend more time getting to know them!

You can listen to the Insect Armageddon story here, or subscribe to Science Friction through your favourite apps.

 

Workshopping invasive insects

Last week I was delighted to attend a workshop at Monash University focused on using EICAT methods to assess environmental impacts of invasive insect species. Thank you to Melodie McGeoch and her team (Dave, Chris & Rebecca), and Andrew and Carol from the Invasive Species Council, for inviting me in the first place, and for organising an excellent, productive week. We were also very lucky to have Sabrina Kumschick and Helen Roy there to share their expertise in developing and using EICAT.

It was a ‘proper’ workshop, i.e. a small group of researchers working on a project together with planned outcomes, rather than a training or upskilling ‘workshop’ (why aren’t they just called courses?!). As an early career researcher, it was so rewarding to be there. Research workshops have similar benefits to conferences, in that you have the opportunity to discuss new ideas and network outside your normal collaborative groups. But I find workshops much more fulfilling than conferences, because you have more time to develop those ideas, learn new perspectives, and really get to know people you may not otherwise cross paths with. Continue reading

A scientist by any other name: more disciplinary diversity in science communication please

What do you say when someone outside your work circle asks what you do?

I’ve tried a few different responses, depending how much time I have to explain details. I sometimes think I should say ‘I’m a scientist’…it’s more recognisable, and maybe more ‘legitimate’ to doubters (ecology is a misunderstood discipline), and it makes the point that ecology is a bona fide science. But it’s also ambiguous.

What if the person I’m talking to thinks ‘science’ is just the physical or medical sciences? It gets a bit awkward when I hear back something along the lines of ‘Oh medical research is so important, I’m so glad you’re doing something to help’. When I say I’m an ecologist, it’s equally disheartening how many blank or confused looks I get. Continue reading

Flower Visitors vs. Pollinators: no evidence that honey bees are the most important pollinator worldwide

Pollination is a complex process. It’s not as easy as an insect simply visiting a flower.

This is important to remember when talking about which species are the ‘best’ or ‘most important’ pollinators. Simply observing an animal visiting a flower is not, on its own, evidence that the animal is pollinating the flower.

Many insects (and other animals) visit flowers, to feed on pollen, nectar or other flower parts. Many of these interactions result in pollination…although some visitors are better pollinators than others. Some of these visitors commit floral larceny – they are robbers or thieves (there’s a difference!) of either pollen or nectar, and they leave without pollinating. Some might even damage flower parts so much that they indirectly affect the flower’s capacity to be pollinated by other visitors.

To know for sure that an insect is pollinating a particular flower, we first need to know what kind of reproductive system that flower has. Is it male, female or bisexual (containing both male and female parts)? Can it self-pollinate, or does it need to be outcrossed to another flower or plant of the same species? Once we know this, we then need to watch the behaviour of the insect that visits that flower. Does the insect visit one flower and fly away, or many flowers in a row? Does it move between plants? Does it actually touch the reproductive parts of the flower when it visits each flower? Continue reading

Science needs Nature: so why keep them apart?

A few years ago, I wrote an article for Ensia about how popular media tend to separate science and nature stories as if they’re unrelated categories. Most major online news websites have separate pages for ‘Science’ stories (predominantly technology, space and medical research) and ‘Environment’ stories (mostly pieces on nature, wilderness, environmental activism, or cute wildlife, sometimes with a few pieces on climate change thrown in for good measure). Continue reading

‘Tis the season for Christmas blogs: but what about the archives?

The cultural traditions of Christmas, like every aspect of our lives, are embedded in stories of science…botany, ecology, chemistry, entomology etc. If you blog about science and nature, Christmas-themed posts can easily become an annual habit.

Unfortunately, because of our distracted relationship with the internet, many timeless Christmas posts are read once and discarded, just like the wrapping paper and festive napkins at the end of the big day.

So here are a few Christmas posts from the archives that you may have overlooked, or might just enjoy reading again! Continue reading

Insects in decline: why we need more studies like this

Ecological Armageddon is a bit dramatic. But the message from this paper published in PLOS One is important. The study shows an 82% decline in mid-summer flying insect biomass since 1989 over multiple sites in Germany. Mid-summer is usually peak insect activity, so this is weird.

But every ecological study has a context. This context is described in the Methods section – the most important but least-read section of a scientific paper. For this study, most of the media stories glossed over or overextended the context. Continue reading