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➤ It’s the little things that keep us busy

Published on September 17, 2016, by in All, News and musings.

The counts are in! In fact the counts were in a couple of months ago but final checking and verification of reference material is now complete and we have more than half a million invertebrates in pots, and identified, all thanks to the bug ID crew. This phenomenal task was undertaken with the help of many people, including student volunteers who have, we hope, been enthused about entomology rather than deterred by the scale of the job.

We would like to say a special thank you to Emily Gravestock, Edward Lim and Rachel Clark who have done the lion’s share of the sorting work and who can now identify creatures only dreamed of by science fiction writers. Ed and Emily started with us as third year project students and have returned as research assistants, along with Rachel, around their other studies. After the final bug was potted Ed and Emily headed off for overseas conservation adventures while Rachel stayed on a while working on the aesthetic perception of urban landscapes, before successfully completing a charity cycle trip through Europe. As well as working in the lab with unbelievable focus and patience, Rachel, Ed and Emily have also helped out with data entry and field work, including collecting bugs, measuring water infiltration and taking surveys of park users . Many thanks to all three.

All sorts of creatures

Along the way we have been surprised, challenged, exhausted and enchanted in varying measures by the creatures we’ve come across. We collected bugs using sweep nets and vacuum samplers, which pick up everything in their path unselectively. The samples include many favourites such as beetles, damselflies and the occasional bumblebee. But in far larger numbers are the tiny creatures most people don’t think a lot about, including collembola (springtails) and mites – we counted approximately 150,000 of each. There are exquisite, but minute surprises, such as the hundreds of parasitoid wasps, and species that have never been recorded in the area before. In between all of these are the psyllids, psocids, aphids, thrips, woodlice and many of the other thousands of creatures quietly sharing the world with us.

cat-faced-larva

Insects are one of the largest groups of invertebrates we found in our samples. Insects can change shape quite dramatically throughout their life – think about a butterfly changing from a caterpillar to its spectacular adult phase with colourful wings. It’s not just butterflies that undergo this transition, though, and one of the interesting challenges with the samples has been to see insects at many different life stages, and trying to work out what they are.  It’s not easy to link this intriguing little ‘cat-faced’ grub, with the adult fly it would have soon become.

About half of the invertebrates that have been sorted come from the experimental meadow plots in Bedford and Luton, which you can find out more about here, here  and here. The other half come from surveys we undertook in 2013 right across the project study area in green spaces of all different types. We are particularly interested in looking in more detail at this second group, to assess community diversity and ecosystem service provision by these creatures across a range of green space types and configurations and in different urban contexts. To this end, Emily, Ed, Vicki Senior – who is now undertaking a PhD project on moths and climate change-, and Paul Richards have been identifying selected groups in more detail.

While the really hard work of collecting and identifying the bugs is now complete, we now have to work out what it all means: watch this space.

Briony Norton

 
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