Keen to save our insects? Here’s how to help scientists this summer

The flower fly
Experts have gathered in Brisbane this week to discuss insect declines at the Australian Entomological Society conference. Image: Denis Anderson

With the Aussie insect population declining fast, scientists are calling out for our help this summer.

Over the years bugs have gotten a pretty bad rep, but research around the world is fast realising that they’re vital to our ecosystems – and in fact working really, really hard.

“They provide billions of dollars’ worth of ecological services to us each year, such as plant pollination, waste disposal and pest control,” stresses Director of the Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC) at the CSIRO Dr David Yeates. “They’re essential!”

Earlier this year, a research review of existing insect surveys by the University of Sydney’s Institute of Agriculture revealed 40 per cent of insect species are likely to be in catastrophic decline within a century.  Scientists are well aware that the decline is happening, but in Australia the extent of the problem is still unclear.

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“We have a good data on declines in some iconic species such as the Bogong moth, green carpenter bee and Key’s Matchstick Grasshopper,” explains Dr Yeates. “However very few of our estimated 250,000 insect species are being monitored.”

And although ANIC holds the world’s largest collection of insects used for research – on biosecurity, natural resource management and ecology  – for most species, the data-sets are still not enough.

green carpenter bee
Australia’s Green Carpenter Bee is one of the many insects in decline. Image: Katja Hogendoorn.

“We really need long-term data sets that would provide a better picture of what is happening with our insects – where they are and in what numbers,” Dr Yeates said. “This is valuable information we need to better understand the insect biodiversity we have in Australia.”

Buzzing for data

Experts have gathered in Brisbane this week to discuss insect declines as part of the Australian Entomological Society conference, and are urging Australians to help out in collecting data where they can… from their phones.

Dr Yeates stresses that if more Australians used citizen science apps – like iNaturalist Australia, Wild Pollinator Count and Butterflies Australia – then solutions could be targeted in problem areas.

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“We know in alpine NSW, there’s been a collapse in Bogong moth populations – a staple food source for iconic Mountain Pygmy Possums in spring, and this decline is resulting in the possums starving, but for most species these detailed interconnections are unknown,” he explains.

Yep, by bugging out over insects – recording sightings, uploading photos and even noting absences – you could make a major contribution to maturing our national data-sets.

Download the Yeates-approved citizen science apps here, here and here.

Cassie Steel

Author: Cassie Steel

As Refraction’s digital assistant, Cassie Steel spends her days researching robots and stalking famous scientists on Twitter.

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