Drivers and Repercussions of UK Insect Declines (DRUID)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Sch of Biology


Due to their vast numbers and diversity, insects dominate natural ecosystems and processes. Wholesale insect declines could have profound consequences. Yet despite growing public concern about a possible "insect Armageddon," evidence of widespread insect declines remains fragmentary, even in the UK (arguably one of the best studied countries on Earth); nor do we understand the value that insects provide for wider society. A far stronger evidence-base is required to provide a secure basis for policy, to devise methods to reverse insect declines and protect the roles that insects play in multiple ecosystem services.

We have assembled four of the UK's leading insect dynamics research teams to assess the causes, consequences and potential remedies of insect declines. We will combine data from standardised insect monitoring programmes of a wide range of taxa, modelled outputs of biodiversity databases, and novel assays using weather radar signals to assess shifts in insect abundance, diversity, functional composition and biomass in both terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems across Britain. Species-level trend data will be assessed relative to a range of potential driver variables and species' traits in an overarching synthesis of decline patterns across taxa and environments. The team has unrivalled access to the latest UK datasets and modelling developments covering insects and environmental drivers down to 1-km resolution or finer, through a wide range of on-going environmental research projects and collaborating partner organisations. Our results will be used to inform mechanistic models to predict the dynamics of insect species and functional-groups across the UK in space and time. Functional consequences of insect declines will be assessed, with particular focus on trophic roles as prey in aerial (bird/bat) and aquatic (fish) systems, pollination and pest control functions, and in nutrient transport between freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. How alterations in insect communities are linked to economic and cultural values will be assessed through a review of existing studies, augmented with participatory valuation approaches for ecosystem services that are poorly studied, such as cultural services. The population, community and functional models developed above will be applied to a diverse set of contrasting future climate, land-use and policy scenarios, to predict insect dynamics with and without specific mitigation measures. Both scenarios and mitigation options will be co-designed together with relevant stakeholders and linked to existing climate scenarios and planned agri-environmental schemes. Consequences of recent past, current and future scenarios for human welfare and natural capital will be estimated, using stakeholder-based valuations. Our novel, integrated approach will guarantee high quality and high impact research outputs, which will be widely disseminated to the scientific and stakeholder communities, and the general public. By engaging relevant policy and decision-makers at an early stage of the project, results will be tailored and directly relevant to on-going policy development in land management, biodiversity conservation and the implementation of natural capital approaches, maximising the likelihood of substantial impacts on both society and the natural world.
Description It is still early in the award to list the projects discoveries or achievements. There are growing sets of results showing positive and negative trends in specific insect species and groups, and responses to key environmental and management drivers. We have compiled datasets covering a wide range of UK insect taxa (including Aquatic bugs; Bees; Butterflies; Caddisflies; Carabids; Craneflies; Dragonflies; Earwigs; Empid & Dolichopodid Flies; Fungus gnats; Grasshoppers and allies; Hoverflies; Ladybirds; Longhorn beetles; Mayflies; Moths; Shield bugs; Soldierflies; Stoneflies; Wasps), both from existing recording schemes and from standardised monitoring programs -- including new data from suction trap by-catch. We have run hierarchical occupancy models for 14 of the above groups, giving species-specific annual times-series of occupancy (estimating the proportion of occupied UK/GB grid cells from 1970 to 2020+) for >2500 species and providing the most comprehensive update of its kind. The DRUID team at UKCEH have co-led development of a new framework for assessing risk-of-bias in studies of temporal trends (ROBITT). Such assessments are common in many disciplines, notably medical research, but until now have been lacking in ecology. We have developed an initial version of a shiny app designed to facilitate feedback from taxonomic group experts on the annual occupancy outputs and bias assessments described above and their associated trends.
We have also compiled data on many of the key potential drivers of insect change, and are linking these to local and national insect dynamics.

Many of our achievements so far are methodological. For example, a recently accepted paper in Methods in Ecology and Evolution applies Artificial Neural Net (ANN) methods to link species' traits to responses to environmental drivers. Our ANN builds on species traits and, as such, constitutes a Joint Species Distribution Model (JSDM), able to identify not only species-specific responses to the environment, but also shared responses across the community that are mediated by species traits. Model performance evaluated at the species level quantifies not only the reliability of species predictions, but also how much of a species' responses is dictated by its traits and how much it deviates from a stereotyped response. These developments bring ANNs unmatched predictive capabilities to the field of JSDM, at the same time of lifting their reputed drawback of poor explainability.
Exploitation Route The tools, datasets and findings of the project will help document trends in UK insect abundance, biodiversity and function, and help model the implications of future policy and management scenarios for insects and the ecosystem services they provide.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description It is still early in the award to list non-academic achievements, however, we are engaging with stakeholders that include BASF, Bat Conservation Trust, Environment Agency, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Natural England, The Natural History Museum, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the volunteer-led national recording schemes and societies. With these and other stakeholders we have and will continue to update them on the project's outcomes informally and via dedicated stakeholder meetings.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

Description Are sterols landscape limiting nutrients for wild bees in the UK?
Amount £650,280 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/V012282/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2021 
End 07/2024
Description Impact and Innovation fund
Amount £17,447 (GBP)
Funding ID 19309373 
Organisation University of Leeds 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2022 
End 07/2023
Description Building link to Sanger Institute BIOSCAN monitoring project 
Organisation The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Sample collection
Collaborator Contribution Molecular analysis and ID
Impact none yet, Anticipate taxonomic and informatic outputs.
Start Year 2023
Description Participation in NSF Status of Insects RCN 
Organisation National Science Foundation (NSF)
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution An international Research Coordination Network has been established by the US National Science Foundation. Our work is germane to the network's interests, and multiple project members have joined the network, serving within its Data Aggregation, Quantitative Analysis, Causes of Declines, Consequences of Declines and Solutions working groups.
Collaborator Contribution The RCN has run a series of webinars bringing together the global research community on insect declines. It also distr=ibutes links to recent papers on the topic, and serves as a clearing-house for international research collaboration.
Impact The Network has only just been formed. The potential outcomes are still in the future.
Start Year 2022
Description ROBITT: Risk Of Bias In studies of Temporal Trends in ecology tool. ROBITT has a similar format to its counterparts in other disciplines: it comprises signalling questions designed to elicit information on the potential for bias in key study domains. In answering these, users will define study inferential goal(s) and relevant statistical target populations. This information is used to assess potential sampling biases across domains relevant to the research question (e.g. geography, taxonomy, environment), and how these vary through time. If assessments indicate biases, then users must clearly describe them and/or explain what mitigating action will be taken. 
Type Of Technology New/Improved Technique/Technology 
Year Produced 2022 
Impact The tool is available as a supplementary file online (Appendix 1). It is beginning to be employed by analysts in the field. 
Description Presentation to CIEEM Invertebrate Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation summarizing evidence to date concerning the evidence of global and UK Insect declines, and potential drivers thereof. The presentation described the two NERC Highlights projects on this issue: DRUID and GLiTRS, and described ways in which the Ecological Consultants community can contribute to the evidence base. The presentation was followed by lively discussion and constructive dialogue.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Royal Entomological Society Keynote speech 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Dr. Chris Hassall presented a keynote speech to the UK Royal Entomological Society, discussing our two current radar entomology research projects.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020