A few recent conversations got me thinking about whether the way we teach undergraduate ecology is doing enough to attract students into research pathways relevant to insect conservation.
I’m not talking about entomology, the specialised science of insects, which generally attracts students with specific interests and skills. I’m talking about training ecologists and environmental scientists who want to work on insect-related conservation problems.
Our new paper is out in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (open access). We used a combined search of peer-reviewed literature and iNaturalist observations to determine what evidence is available on the use of natural cavities and hollows by feral (wild) western honey bees (Apis mellifera). Our paper addresses an important knowledge gap on how invasive honey bees compete with native species in their introduced range.
The western honey bee (A. mellifera) is one of the world’s most successful invasive species. It has spread far and wide beyond its home range in Europe and the Middle East, and is found on every continent (and most islands) except Antarctica.
If you’re not familiar with the story, it goes a little something like this. “When I was a kid we would drive long distances for holidays and get bugs all over the windscreen. I don’t see any bugs on the windscreen anymore, therefore….” The interpretation, whether implied or stated explicitly, is that this is yet more evidence that a global insect decline is happening.
There are obvious flaws in this assumption, but the anecdote still strikes a chord with so many people, perhaps through some kind of confirmation bias. We know that biodiversity is in trouble, we know humans are having damaging effects on the environment, so it must be true, right?
We present an evidence-based perspective to show how invertebrates, and the ecosystems they support, face major threats as fire severity and frequency intensifies in response to global climate change. Our capacity to make effective decisions about ecosystem recovery and restoration funding after bushfires is hampered by the lack of knowledge on how invertebrates are impacted by fire, directly and indirectly, and how invertebrate communities influence ecosystem recovery.
Unfortunately, invertebrates were often overlooked in media coverage and conservation policy responses. Other than a few charismatic threatened invertebrates, the discourse focused on the tiny proportion of animals that are most well-known and loved – vertebrates.
This is largely because there simply isn’t enough information or baseline data about most of our invertebrate species to talk with any certainty about how many invertebrates were lost or impacted by the fires. Listed threatened invertebrates are a rare thing, mostly an artefact of the taxonomic expertise and recommendation activity that was available for the relevant committee, rather than knowledge of new threats facing invertebrates.
Will a new metric save biodiversity? This recent opinion piece in Science magazine argues for just that: “a single, simple indicator”, an annual biodiversity target based on species extinction rate. The idea is that the metric will encourage people and policy to protect nature.
The authors justify their argument based on two assumptions:
1) extinction fully incorporates the most fundamental aspect of biodiversity loss
2) extinction is widely understood and easy to communicate
I’ve just written a few lectures for a first year ecology unit on history and philosophy of ecology. I remembered my own undergrad education, dominated by the male European history of science, and didn’t want to repeat that history. Ecology is so much more that!
Modern science is founded on western philosophy, so it’s understandable that European science gets most of the attention. But despite what most of us learned at school, scientists aren’t all male and there were many non-European scientists that contributed to the development of modern scientific knowledge.
Most importantly, Indigenous people’s knowledge is tied to place, and we often ignore the wealth of knowledge about ecological interactions and processes that Indigenous cultures hold, as well as the respectful environmental interaction (management) that is embedded in country and culture.
This is a list of some good resources that I found useful to highlight an inclusive history of the development of ecological science, at an introductory level. There are more nuanced details, but these resources simply highlight the important fact that science has developed from diverse minds, not just a select few white guys. Some of those famous guys deserve the credit, others don’t so much.
This is a guest post from Matthew Holden, an applied mathematician based at the University of Queensland. I loved seeing his backyard biodiversity hunt on Twitter, because so many of his pictures were of invertebrates! His story…
Well that’s what I wanted to know about my home.
It all started one day, more than a year ago, when my housemate, Dr Andrew Rogers, was cleaning out his closet. He wanted to move the spiders outside and spare them from getting sucked up by our vacuum, during a much-needed cleaning session. But there was one problem, there were a lot of spiders, definitely several species. He thought, “How many spiders do I share the house with?” It was a slippery slope … it wasn’t long till we wanted to know all of the species in our home.
From then on, we regularly talked about conducting a very local biodiversity survey, but never got around to it. We were fortunate enough to even have a taxonomist, Dr Russell Yong, move in with us, who was keen to help out. But we kept putting it off.
Then the pandemic happened. We all decided to start working for home – a perfect time to do the survey. It would give us all a social activity to bond over during this time of isolation. Andrew even came up with a hashtag for us to share our findings #StayHomeBiodiversityChallenge. Continue reading →
With urban areas around the world suddenly emptied of humans, people are sharing photos and videos on social media showing wild animals cavorting in the empty streets.
I started to collate some of them on Twitter, but I gave up because it’s really hard to confirm how many of them are fake news.
The Goats of Llandudno were a legitimate lockdown observation – but it turns out they’re regular visitors to the town. Some posts are clearly a joke (a herd of buffalo in the centre of Buffalo, NY), while others would seem pretty believable to most people with no specialist knowledge of the species or location, like the ‘rare Malabar civet’ in the streets of an Indian town.
Most posts provide very little context, no confirmation of the date they were filmed, and often no confirmed source. For the average responsible social media user, there is simply no way of verifying them. Continue reading →
The latest issue of Insect Conservation & Diversity is out, a special issue on insect population trends. I’m really happy I was able to contribute to a few papers in this issue as both editor and author (obviously not the same papers in each case!).
Thanks to Editor in Chief Raphael Didham for pulling together a great collection of papers, as well as rallying the editorial team to contribute to the issue with this really useful peer-reviewed paper summarising the key challenges involved in measuring insect population trends. This paper is really timely, as it highlights some of the potential pitfalls involved in estimating population changes over time.
Ecological data (e.g. long-term data on animal population trends) are not like simplified stock market trends or sports team stats. They are confounded by numerous complex environmental and measurement factors, many of which an observer may not be aware of. Nature isn’t simple and we’re kidding ourselves if we want a quick and easy answer to sum up everything, everywhere. Continue reading →
As the end of 2019 approached, I had planned to write one of my usual New Year posts here, something about my top posts and the best papers I read last year.
But as January approached, the escalating crisis we are currently experiencing made all of that seem frivolous and pointless.
I’m an optimist and I don’t like to dwell on despair. But this climate crisis ravaging our beautiful country is too critical to ignore. This post is more personal than usual – I’ll write something about insects and ecosystem services when I have time to get my thoughts together. Continue reading →