Developing a robust approach to the monitoring and analysis of insect populations: trends in fly numbers in Québec and implications for insectivores

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences


NERC: Kathryn Powell: NE/S007261/1

Insects underpin almost all ecosystems on the planet. They provide innumerable services to humans and other species through regulating the environment and providing resources. Abundance and biomass declines in a dominant group of species such as insects, are thought to be particularly damaging to ecosystem health due to the disproportionately large role they play in ecosystem functioning. Local studies have found evidence that insect populations are declining. However, due to data deficiencies and biases, there is yet to be a unified consensus on the extent of insect declines across the globe, and on the contribution of drivers, such as agricultural intensification, on long-term declines. Some of these data deficiencies exist because of fundamental issues with insect sampling and analysis protocols, such as using inappropriate temporal and/or spatial resolution to analyse long-term trends, and varying sampling effort. Given the scale of the challenge to assess a hyper-diverse taxonomic group such as insects, it is important to design cost-efficient yet statistically robust monitoring methods.

This project will advance the solution
Researchers at Université de Sherbrooke in Québec, Canada, aim to understand the impact of agricultural intensification on insect abundance and their predators (aerial insectivores such as tree swallows). The group has collected Diptera abundance and biomass data since 2006 from suction traps across gradients of agricultural intensity, from forest to intensively farmed arable fields. Due to extensive sampling effort, with traps checked every two days over the 15-year sampling period and over a wide spatial scale, I will be able to use the dataset to provide robust analysis of long-term trends in abundance of functionally important Diptera in Québec. I will also test how sampling scale and effort affect the outcome of analyses that monitor the impact of agricultural intensification on insects, in order to inform a future sampling protocol with optimal sampling effort for capturing long-term trends. This will help fill research gaps by re-purposing a dataset to uncover insect trends in an area where they constitute an important food source for other species like tree swallows, and laying foundations for the design of better insect monitoring and analysis protocols to understand drivers of decline. My project will both add to our knowledge of insect population trends and drivers of decline across the globe, and pave the way for future insect biodiversity research.

The outcomes of our research will therefore meet research needs of both UK and Canadian biodiversity policies, addressing biodiversity loss through developing efficient ways to capture long-term insect trends and the impacts of environmental drivers on these trends. It will also provide a baseline abundance trend for flies in this region, which will be required for Canada's new sustainable agriculture plans, given that the sites in the dataset cover a significant area important for agriculture in Québec.

The objectives I will achieve during my placement will bring exposure to skills and experiences outside of my PhD, such as taxonomic identification and interaction with public audiences, and will make me a more skilled, communicative and collaborative researcher. My project will give me exposure to a wider network of people across Canadian institutions so that I may foster long-term partnerships with experts in my field and further develop my future career in academia.


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