Insects are in rapid decline. One study found that the global total decreases by 2.5% per annumwith insect species going extinct eight times faster than mammals, birds and reptiles.
While scientists don’t yet know when insect populations can drop to the point of no return, we cannot continue losing species without an eventual catastrophic result.
Many people are concerned about insect biodiversity and are trying to do something about it. One way is to restore some habitat to the insects. wild meadows;for example, they are planted in parks and other urban green spaces.
These are usually a mixture of mostly non-native species chosen to provide nectar, pollen, and other resources for insects, as well as the visual appeal of flowers. They are often deployed for other reasons, such as reducing the need for mowing and the associated costs and carbon footprint.
But before we plant fields of wildflowers or build “bug hotels,” we need a better understanding of how these measures help — and when they don’t help. The lack of solid research means there’s still a lot we don’t know. The team of researchers at the University of Canterbury is trying to fill in some of this knowledge gap.
What we do not know
The long-term potential of wildflowers is not clear. They seem to attract insects, but there are many unanswered questions.
Do these insects come from somewhere else, or is there a real increase in their numbers? What insects benefit most? What is the balance between pests and beneficial species? Can exotic plants support an increase in native insects? Do the effects extend beyond the cultivated areas, and if so, to what extent?
Insect hotels, which generally consist of artificial homes for insects, raise similar questions. Since their design, materials, and construction are more varied, it is difficult to assess their effectiveness.
This is something we need to study further as some designs may be more effective than others. This will depend on the mix of insects in the vicinity. What works in one place may be counterproductive in another.
Long term commitment
Enthusiasm for planting wildflowers and building insect shelters rarely extends to ongoing maintenance and long-term monitoring. Many of the studies are short-term, local-scale, and somewhat ad hoc, making it difficult to compare and draw broader conclusions.
The results are often unpublished or hard to find, hidden in reports about other things. This means, if we are to use insect ecosystem restoration approaches effectively, we need to bring this evidence together and carry out more long-term studies across a variety of contexts.
Fortunately, such studies are relatively easy to perform. They just need a commitment to keep them going. We also need to share results in ways that allow for meaningful comparisons.
The research methods scientists use to study insect populations do not require expensive equipment and can be easily replicated by volunteers, community groups, and school students of all ages. For example, trapsthat measure insect activity on the ground, yogurt pots can be soaked in the soil.
The educational possibilities abound, from science fair projects to basic numeracy skills. Similar to birdwatching, volunteers can do a five-minute insect count to see which insects visit which flowers and which “hotels”.
Other entomology methods such as “beating” (shaking a low hanging branch on a white sheet of paper to see what falls off) are just as easy. The point is to choose methods and sustainable sampling frequency, and stick to it.
Understanding insect groups
Basic studies before setting up an insect meadow or hotel would make such research more effective, but this is rarely done. This is why we carry out baseline studies of areas where wildflower meadows are being planned at the University of Canterbury. We want to understand ecology and insect populations before we get into wildflowers.
Although all available evidence indicates that these meadows will greatly increase the number and diversity of insects in the area, it is surprising how many insects we found in our primary studies, including lots of small parasitic wasps, that tell us about the insects that live on them. It should be there too, although we haven’t seen much of them.
These fundamental studies will allow us to see how insect community composition changes after meadows are planted. We may even find that some types of insects are declining in numbers while others are thriving. These details are important for assessing the overall effects of the meadow.
In the process, we may also encounter the tendency towards detachment from nature, especially among young people. Wildflower lawns, insect hotels, and other interventions can be a great way to “rebuild” our urban spaces, bringing some nature back into people’s lives.
However, if we want to know how best to use such measures, we need to monitor their effects. This can be a fun and interesting way to interact with and learn about nature, and to add value to community gardens and replanting projects.
It could also provide important scientific data to help us more effectively provide the space insects they need to thrive with us.
the quote: Can wildflowers and insect hotels help avert the insect apocalypse? We Don’t Know Yet (2023, May 25) Retrieved May 25, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-wildflowers-bug-hotels-avert-insect.html
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