Value your insects
Appeared on Space For Nature on June 30th 2003
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has enlisted a novel sampling technique to help establish if declining invertebrate populations are contributing to the decline in some of our birds.
From the common perception that, at the end of the summer, cars are not covered in as many splattered insects nowadays as they were a few decades ago, was born an idea to formally measure the effect. Scientists at the RSPB are trialling a method whereby small sections of transparent PVC film are attached to the front of cars (e.g. over the registration plate or bumper). These can be removed later and the splattered insect remains counted using modern sensor technology, without the need for laborious manual counting at all. This simple technique promises to yield large quantities of extremely important data about geographical and temporal populations trends of our insects.
Anecdotal evidence of declining insects over the last few decades abounds. Among those particularly badly hit seem to be beetles (particularly larger species), butterflies, moths, bees, dragonflies and mayflies. Britain does have existing long term monitoring projects for insects, but they suffer from the disadvantage of being based at fixed locations and the trends vary considerably from one station to another, making it very difficult for general trends to be nailed. The mobile 'splatometers' will overcome that disadvantage.
All this can only reinforce the importance of gardens as sanctuaries for our beleaguered wildlife. Of course healthy insect populations depend, more than most other animal groups, on the general health of our environment as a whole, but we shouldn't let that detract from the important contribution that can be made in the garden. The garden is a place where changing attitudes towards wildlife, especially 'creepy crawlies' which have too often been seen as pests, could have a disproportionate impact on societies attitudes to our wider environment.
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