Sunday, 25 December 2016

Developing a County Atlas

A County Atlas project is a very good way of generating local interest in any group of organisms, especially if there is an active group and a dyamic organiser. To my mind, the best model is that of the Surrey Wildlife Trust's County Atlases, which now form quite a remarkable canon of work. As a result, Surrey is probably the best documented county for its invertebrate fauna. A lot of credit should go to Martin Newman, the Chief Executive of the Trust who was responsible for turning into reality the basic model suggested by yours-truly and Graham Collins over lunch one day in Pirbright in spring 1994 (I think).

This series of books has far-surpassed what I think any of us foresaw at the time. I hoped that we might manage to publish the work of several active recorders at the time – David Baldock, Roger Hawkins, Graham Collins and me. But, twenty years later the range of titles far exceeds the original aspirations of Butterflies, Moths, Dragonflies, Hoverflies, Shieldbugs and Orthoptera. There has even been a second edition of Butterflies that provides a chilling oversight of the decline of some of the county's iconic species. These are lasting records that form an important baseline for future generations upon which to base analysis of newer data.

I always hoped that Surrey would be in the vanguard and that its series would stimulate other counties to do something similar. There have been occasional volumes for a few groups in other counties, but to the best of my knowledge no other County Trust has attempted anything on the same scale; yet we have shown that it can be done!

How is it done?

In short, hard work! But the scale of the job depends upon the numbers of recorders. For some insect groups there should be no problem generating sufficient records. There are often good numbers of capable butterfly and dragonfly enthusiasts. Things become a little more difficult to achieve good coverage of moths but, again, there are far more people running moth traps that in the 1980s and 1990s. In theory, the same applies for hoverflies: the numbers of active recorders have grown substantially, but here we see that the available capacity is thinly spread. I dare say a similar situation obtains for bumblebees and some other Hymenoptera. So, for these groups, why not give it a go? Equally, there may be other relatively popular families – Longhorn Beetles, for example.

When Graham and I started on our atlases we set out to cover Surrey at 5km resolution, but over time that refined to tetrad level, which I think is about right. Any coarser resolution makes it difficult to relate species' distribution to solid and drift geology, or to urbanisation. Each weekend, in suitable weather, we would choose an area of Surrey and visit as many squares as possible, often stopping for just sufficient time to achieve the '80%' rule. In other words, you generally assemble 80% of the list relatively quickly, but can spend innumerable hours adding the occasional additional species. That is not terribly efficient, and so it is best to move on and cover several more squares and in doing so you increase the overall species list but make sure that those that are abundant on the day are recorded at the majority of sites. Repeat visits help to fill in the gaps and can be targetted to fill in obvious shortfalls. As I recall, it took about 10 years before we were convinced we had adequate data to produce an atlas. I would guess that about 75% of the data for hoverflies was generated by Graham and me.


When we were active in Surrey, it was much more difficult to distribute provisional maps. Now it can be done electronically and pdfs can be made available quite readily. Once working maps are distributed, people are often encouraged to fill in the gaps in their area. So, the obvious lesson is to produce a set of working maps and make them available to anyone who is interested.

Most people will not travel very far from home, but if they can be encouraged to fill in the squares in a radius of 5km from home you will soon start to see the benefits of developing a network. Then it is up to the project organiser to visit under-recorded areas and fill in the gaps. I used to check out particular geological formations to look for species that I suspected might be found. Obviously, a different assemblage is likely to be found in different situations, but there will also be surprises, so one should not be too presumptive about what might turn up. I also found that when certain species turned up, it was worth visiting similar habitats across the county over the next couple of days, as some species are very short-lived. This seemed to be the case with Brachyopa and with Myolepta as well as some Cheilosia.


The Surrey Atlas Project was structured to attract sponsorship for the first couple of titles, after which we were able to use income from preceding titles to fund later ones. Our design was pretty up-market, but simple soft covers using 'print on demand' models could be a lot cheaper and easier to update. One can design to fit the budget. It striikes me that maybe today there could be support from sources such as Lottery and Aggregates Levy funds. The important point about this part of the project is to try to do a bit more than just a set of maps. Interpretation is the critical issue. For younger readers, this part of the job is a great way of improving your ability as an ecologist if you have aspirations for a career in conservation and ecology.


My big regret about the Surrey Atalas series is that we did not have numbers on the spine. I did suggest this but it was not pursued. Had we had numbers I feel sure there would have been more sales as the series gained popularity and people started to collect the books. In this respect, I think it is important to remember that printing is expensive and that unit costs can be reduced by increasing the volume sold. But, if you print more you must sell more – storage is expensive and it is dead money, so the length of the print run is always a balancing act and marketing techniques are essential to make the project viable.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

An exercise in parataxonomy

Earlier this month, I discussed a new paradigm in parataxonomy. In this post I describe some of the data developed by John Bridges (NE Wildlife) who has combined his amazing photographic skills with equal dedication in trying to make sure that the subjects captured as photographs are correctly identified. John's approach is one that might be of interest to other photographers who want to build up a more complete picture of the hoverflies that inhabit their favoured wildlife site(s).

John's technique is to settle at a chosen location and to wait for the subject matter to come to him. It can be extremely successful, as John has shown that there is a constant turnover of flies at suitable lures. His daily species lists are remarkably close to the level of coverage I would expect to achieve using net and pooter.

In addition to photographing everything that attends the chosen lure (a flower or possibly sugar-sprayed leaves), John captures a selection of specimens and retains them for photo-stacking at home. Each specimen is logged against the number of the photograph that recorded it. In this way, it has been possible to develop a quite comprehensive set of photographs with a firm identification of the corresponding specimen.

Once the specimen has been run through the keys, it is bagged up and retained for me to check later in the year. I have just completed this year's sample and thought it worth sharing with a wider audience because it is highly instructive of what can be achieved. His species-list for the year is just shy of 100 species, which is impressive when you bear in mind that north-east England is relatively species-poor and that John records from quite a restricted range of habitats. The list also contains a number of noteworthy species, including one of fewer than 20 confirmed records of Eristalis similis and one of Platycheirus aurolateralis, which is rarely seen and is extremely difficult to separate from the commoner P. splendidus. The list of species represented in the collected sample is represented in Table 1.

Table 1. Species represented in samples retained after photographing.

In addition to generating reliable records, John is helping to build up a valuable portfolio of live animal photographs that should help taxonomists better understand how to describe live animals rather than using specimens. This may, in the longer-term, help to improve our ability to provide reliable diagnoses from photographs.

Storing specimens

John's system involves labelled polythene bags that take up relatively little space and can be stored until the autumn when they are sent to me for verification (figures 1 & 2).

Figure 1. Samples awaiting identification

Figure 2. Sample checking in progress

In theory, it is possible to identify some of the specimens through the bag, but in practice I find it easier to remove them from the bag. I dispose of the majority of specimens on the compost heap, so I remove all from their bags anyway. A few are retained where they are important vouchers - they will find their way into my storage system. Others are retained to become part of the teaching pack that Stuart and I use in training courses.

This system has obvious advantages in providing a clear way of retaining specimens without having to pin them and then label them. There are drawbacks, however. The main problem is mould and decomposition. Last year, John stored the bags in the freezer, which meant that once defrosted they were still relatively fresh and could be pinned. Unfortunately, a small proportion went mouldy for some reason. This year, the specimens were simply stored at room temperature. Again, mould was a problem in about 10% of cases. The problem is more acute where an additional (un-photographed) sample is retained in the same bag. More condensation develops and mould is therefore a problem, as is specimen decomposition. In almost all cases I was able to verify the determinations made by John, but it was more tricky in some cases.

One answer would be to place specimens in the bags and leave them unsealed for a few days until the specimens have dried out. If left for 24 hours in this state, I think there will be lower risk. The system will hopefully be refined further in 2017.

Working through specimens stored in this manner is a little more time-consuming than working from pinned specimens, but it is a more practical way of working with recorders who don't have the facilities to pin and store specimens.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Animations of range change

Having recently seen BWARS animations of range change in the Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum I brought this to Stuart's attention. Stuart has produced several animations and I did try to post them on the UK Hoverflies FB page. Unfortunately they did not work! So, instead, I have embedded three into this post.

Stuart tells me that 'These animations attempt to show the relative frequency with which the species was recorded (i.e. attempting to correct for recording effort) over a five year period, finishing in the year shown. It uses the neighbourhoods and weights from Frescalo, i.e. a combination of the proximity and environmental similarity of a neighbouring square relative to the target square. So, for a given five year period and 10km square - the weighted total number of records in a neighbourhood is accumulated and also the weighted numbers of records of the targeted species. That leads to a calculation of the weighted proportion of the number of records of the targeted species in the neighbourhood. These calculated proportions form a 3D surface which is represented as shades of blue - darker the blue, higher the relative proportion of the species. Although the proportions are not scaled the same between species, they are between years within a given species. So if there are years when the species was recorded less frequently, the overall colour will be paler. Of course the opposite is also true - a spike in the proportion will peg the darkest colour. So I think there must be such a spike early in the run for V. zonaria, and that leads to everything being pale later in the run! It does seem to work OK for the other two species.'

Rhingia rostrata
When I first started recording hoverflies, this was a very rare animal that was confined to a ver few locations. It was even given Red Data Book 2 status is the first Insect Red Data Book. Today, it is remarkably widespread!

Rhingia rostrata
Volucella inanis
This was formerly a largely southern species and a classic example of one associated with urban heat islands. Today, it has escaped that envelope and has spread far into Yorkshire, but quite a bit of its northern rage is within the largely urban environment; possibly because its favoured wasps nest in houses?

Volucella inanis

Volucella zonaria
Until the 1940s, this was a rare vagrant but it became established at several locations on the south coast before gaining a foothold in London where it was a classic associate of urban heat islands. It has spread a long way northwards - with a slightly more northerly range than the (assumed) native V. inanis. It is, however, much more coastal in the north.
Volucella zonaria

Thursday, 15 December 2016

HRS training courses - some basic facts

In a recent thread on UK Hoverflies, an observer made a comment that strongly suggested that the HRS was in the pockets of the Wildlife Trusts.

I would like to make clear a few basic facts about the courses that we run:

1. Courses are run on a non-profit basis. We charge the costs of: fuel, accommodation, basic subsistence and any other charges we incur (e.g. Dartford crossing). We also make a charge for course materials - to cover re-printing costs. We do not charge for mileage, but in the course of any year I would expect to cover between 2,000 and 5,000 miles in support of such courses . That means that over five years I provide a set of tyres free of charge to training events - at about £250 for  a set of boots.

2.  If we did not have Wildlife Trusts and Local Records Centres to act as local organisers, these courses would not happen. Courses are open to all, not just to WLT members, so anybody who participates is getting a subsidy from those who support the Trusts. The WLT are an essential part of the network that provides training to field naturalists. If they were not there, we would NOT be running courses.

3. We do not charge directly to the course organisers. I cover all of the costs. An invoice is then sent from Dipterists Forum and monies are paid to the Forum. I subsequently invoice the Forum with receipts for all costs incurred. Consequently, at all times there is a strict audit trail of the costs incurred. I must stress that we make absolutely NO income from these courses. Thus, I pay out anything up to £400 in advance and am subsequently reimbursed. I wonder how many people would be prepared to pay costs up front in this manner!

4. I subsidise the courses by covering the costs of collecting material for the courses - in any one year I prepare somewhere around 250 specimens for use by students. I have also provided all of the store boxes (10) and provide the storage for the material - that is two metres of shelf space. Stuart provides accommodation for the 13 microscopes - about a cubic metre of storage.

5. A typical two day weekend course involves me leaving Stamford at 13.30  on the Friday and collecting Stuart and the relevant equipment from Peterborough before travelling on to our venue. We rarely get back to Peterborough much before 8.00 on Sunday, and often later still. I then have a further 30 minutes drive to Stamford. In total, I reckon we provide between 50 and 60 hours of our time for each course, to which we should add pre-course preparation, which is sometimes considerable.

6. We have travelled to very diverse locations - from Lerwick in the Shetlands and Kirkwall in the Orkneys, to Bangor, Gateshead, Glasgow, Exeter, Studland, Norwich and various other locations in SE England. Overall, I wonder how many people would be willing to donate anything up to 8 weekends a year running such courses?

7. Over the years, we have donated earnings from more commercial courses (e.g. FSc) to Dipterists Forum - we make nothing from them. Often, we don't charge at all, and simply take the view that without such venues it would not be possible to provide training to those who want it. We have also donated all proceeds from the Hoverfly WILDGuide to Diptersists Forum. This income has been used to subsidise a variety of people to attend training courses.

So, I must protest that anybody that thinks that we are profiteering from an association with the Wildlife Trusts is grossly mis-representing the true situation.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Trends in photographic recorder activity

Following up on yesterday's post, I thought it likely that there would be some correlation between some of the trends in species recording and trends in recorder activity. I therefore looked at the numbers of recorders in each year since 2013 and the composition of the dataset in terms of the numbers of records submitted by recorders.

What emerges is a fantastic story of evolving active recorders. The UK Hoverflies Facebook page started in 2013 and at that time was pretty much like other FB pages - lots of posts of photographs, but rarely great runs of photos of different species. By 2016, there were about 30 people who took such an interest that their posts often depicted 10 or more species for a single observation session. Obviously, this translated into vastly more records and individuals who are submitting sizeable datasets. This shift is most heartening because it is this sort of recording that is most likely to generate the sort of data that is needed to detect long-term trends.

The graphs strongly suggest that change in recorder activity is indeed the main factor in some of the relative abundances seen in the species data. I suspect that the transition has now taken place and that from around 2015 onwards the data will be robust enough to detect trends. In that time, there have been a number of other changes. For example, several recorders now submit data as spreadsheets comprising anything from several hundreds to several thousands of records. I have not included these in the analysis because they would complicate the picture. Nevertheless, for long-term trend analysis these sorts of datasets are essential.

If, over time, we see a shift from existing active members submitting records as posts on FB to submitting records as spreadsheets, the dataset for long-term analysis will continue to be strong. Meanwhile, I would hope that there would be newcomers that start to post long runs of photos. Thus we might hope to see a gradual stabilisation of the numbers of records directly extracted from the FB page, and a growth in records submitted as spreadsheets.

For me, the big challenge comes in developing mechanisms for providing regular feedback via this page and via the FB group. That should be possible, but will require a bit of data manipulation. I will have to look at the best way of achieving this.

The data on numbers of records submitted are presented here as two graphs. The first is a simple log2 expression of the numbers submitted. It tells quite a similar story to the second, which is a log2 scale of the percentage of records submitted each year. This latter expression is helpful because the numbers of recorders has dropped from a peak of 1271 in 2014 to 938 in 2016. Much of this decline almost certainly arises because I am not as assiduous in scanning Flickr for new recorders; most of whom would probably only contribute a few records. This, too, is part of the evolution of photographic recording: there is less time to concentrate on the process of searching for recorders and more time needs to be committed to providing feedback!
Figure 1. Numbers of recorders of a scaled range of records submitted (at log 2 scale).

Figure 2. The numbers of recorders, represented as a % of total recorders, against a scaled range of records submitted (at log 2 scale).

Monday, 12 December 2016

Some trends from photographic records

During the course of this year there have been indications of some species being commoner or scarcer when compared with previous years. I therefore thought I ought to take a look at the data to see what has happened.

The following graphs are organised in sequence for the most positive change in declining order, and then comparable charts for the most significant declines.

To reach these results I too the counts for all species since 2009 and constructed a table of the proportion each year's records for each species ([total species x records for 2016 divided by total records for 2016] multiplied by 100). The species illustrated are those that showed the greatest gain or loss over the data for 2015. The results have not had a regression line superimposed, but many tell quite an interesting story.
Figure 1. Hoverflies showing a positive variance from 2015
It comes as no surprise that the species that shows the greatest variance from 2015 is Eupeodes corollae (Figure 1). The numbers of this species in 2016 were remarkable in July and early August and this shows in the graph. The data clearly show that its numbers fluctuate very broadly, so one cannot read too much into the spike for 2016 as it is quite likely to be followed by a dip in 2017. A similar explanation holds for Eupeodes latifasciatus (Figure 3)

I was surprised to find that both Melanostoma scalare and Syritta pipiens seem to have undergone a consistent upward trend. I suspect that this reflects the developing maturity of the UK Hoverflies Facebook group, which is now dominated by a group of between 50 and 70 people who regularly report everything that they see, and are always on the lookout for new species. Both M. scalare and S. pipiens are relatively small and would probably have been overlooked by many of the casual photographers whose records populate data for the early years of photographic recording. This change is seen in other species such as Melanostoma mellinum (Figure 3) and Platycheirus albimanus (Figure 4). A similar trend seems to follow in Meliscaeva auricollis (Figure 2), but I am less sure that this is the result in a change in recording patterns, although that cannot be discounted.

Figure 2. Hoverflies showing positive variance from 2015 (2)
The graphs for Eristalis nemorum and Eristalis arbustorum (Figure 2) also suggest a rise in representation in the dataset, but as numbers appear to fluctuate more markedly, it is possible that these species are showing natural fluctuations. The genus Eristalis is well represented in the data each year and therefore one might expect these species to have always been a major component of the dataset. There is a complication, however. It is now 3.5 years since the UK Hoverflies Facebook Page was established. In that time lots of members have become better acquainted with hoverflies and now know the angles they need to use to get a chance of a positive determination. It is likely that this is a partial factor behind any apparent rise an numbers.

Figure 3. Hoverflies showing positive variance from 2015 (3)

The slight downward trend for Myathropa florea (Figure 3) over the period since 2009 is possibly a further indication of the changes in the composition of the recording community: it is a species that is usually very obvious and is more likely to be recorded by the novice.

Figure 4. Hoverflies showing positive variance from 2015 (4)
The final two species chosen for positive variance over 2015 tell two very different stories. Helophilus trivittatus (Figure 4) is a migratory species that had an exceptional year in 2012 and has not been in evidence subsequently. The story for Helophilus pendulus (Figure 4) is potentially more complicated because there appears to have been a spike in abundance in 2013. Two immediate possibilities spring to mind: that this is a partial migrant or that 2013 was a good year for this wetland species because there was more rainfall in preceding months. This needs a bit of further investigation.

Moving on to species that showed a decline between 2015 and 2016, there are nine examples to consider. Here, the results are more difficult to interpret. Two species, Volucella inanis (Figure 6) and V. zonaria (Figure 5) show consistent declines since 2010 that I suspect are simply because they used to form a large part of the data because they are big and obvious. With the shift towards more comprehensive recording, their impact on the dataset has diminished. The same possibly obtains for Merodon equestris (Figure 6) and perhaps also Sericomyia silentis (Figure 7); although the latter may also have responded to lower rainfall in a similar manner to Helophilus pendulus. The shape of the graph for Episyrphus balteatus (Figure 7) is also likely to reflect the changes in the composition of photographic recorders and the trend towards comprehensive recording in place of ad-hoc recording by relative novices.

We are left with three aphidophagous species whose graphs involve significant spikes and dips. The shape of the graph for Scaeva pyrastri (Figure 5) is likely to be a combination of changing recorder composition and a natural fluctuation in the abundance of this migratory species whose numbers peak intermittently. It is noteworthy that the other two species in this group, Eupeodes luniger (Figure 5) and Syrphus ribesii (Figure 6) are also aphidophagous. Both are largely resident but may be bolstered by migration, and both are well represented by relative novices. I suspect these graphs primarily represent natural fluctuations but may also be influenced by a growing awareness amongst recorders of the characters that need to be depicted if a firm identification is to be achieved.

Figure 5. Hoverflies showing negative variance from 2015 (1)

Figure 6. Hoverflies showing negative variance from 2015 (2)
Figure 7. Hoverflies showing negative variance from 2015 (3)

Concluding remarks

These graphs are presented to illustrate the ways in which individual species' abundance varies within the photographic dataset. A fuller analysis using the entire HRS dataset is needed to be sure of some interpretations, but I think there are some important positive messages to be absorbed. For me, the critical issue is that photographic recording is maturing with the advent of the UK Hoverflies Facebook page and the mentoring that has been possible. The datset is definitely shifting away from the bold and showy species towards a much wider spectrum of species. This is to be expected as members gain experience and start to develop visual cues that take time to acquire.

Within the data, there are also indications of possible natural fluctuations that require a bit more investigation to make anything of possible causes. Nevertheless, the data also show that whilst it is probably unwise to place too much reliance upon data collected prior to 2013 as a monitoring tool, more recent data are potentially very powerful and will become increasingly important as group members develop their skills.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Flower visit data

In the course of extracting data from photographs, I have attempted to also extract data on flower visits. This has not been entirely successful as my abilities as a botanist are somewhat limited and my problems are compounded by the huge array of domesticated species that figure - I shall never get to terms with these!

Nevertheless, there are some useful data emerging. Where FB members helpfully tell me what the plants are, my problems are more limited (although I sometimes find myself questioning an ID).

At the moment I have vast numbers of records as 'at ???' but there are about 500 species represented in the flower visit data for 2016 and doubtless there could be a lot more if somebody competent was to work their way through all the URLS! I am not suggesting that anybody should attempt this but it is an option. Over the coming years I hope we will be able to combine hoverfly ID with more accurate recording of flower visits. As you will see from the tabulation of the most frequently visited plants, several groups give me a lot of problems - yellow and white composites and Brassicas, umbellifers and Senecios are particularly apparent in this mix! Other problems occur where there are two extremely similar species and where domestic and wild species lie in the same genus - Senecio, Hypericum, Potentilla and Geranium come immediately to mind.

This seems to me to be one aspect of photographic recording that could be highly instructive over time. Which are the best flowers to plant for nectar and pollen sources? There are a few ideas emerging from this year's data.

Figure 1. Plants with 20 or more records of hoverflies in 2016

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Formatting data for submission to recording schemes

There are various ways of submitting data to recording schemes. The best one, as far as I am concerned, is the humble spreadsheet. For me it has the advantage that I can rapidly scan the data and get a feel for the skill of the recorder and where I should be making specific checks of determinations. When sent by e-mail I can usually respond within the day, which also helps to make sure that data are acknowledged (I do get swamped from time to time, but data submitted in the winter are usually dealt with quickly).

I thought it might be helpful to describe the fields and some of the do's and don't's. I produced a similar post in August 2016, ( but this one is geared more towards the recorder who wants to construct their own spreadsheet.

Species name. It is always helpful to let me know which guide you are using and which edition. The nomenclature and taxonomy continues to evolve, so, for example if you use edition one of Stubbs & Falk, there are a good many species that have been split subsequently (mainly Cheilosia and Platycheirus). If you are referring to the taxon post split, then it is helpful to annotate s.s. (sensu stricto - in the strict sense) e.g. Platycheirus scutatus s.s. If, as is sometimes the case, the split cannot be made (e.g. female Platycheirus scutatus and female Cheilosia albitarsis groups) then annotate sl. (sensu-lato - in the broad sense).

Date. The most convenient form is dd/mm/yyyy

Grid reference. I much prefer OS grid references because I cannot naturally associate lat long to locations. Also, there are several versions of lat long, so that can complicate matters (may be the only way when offshore). It is helpful to stick to the alpha-numeric format if possible because checking other formats takes time to convert to alpha numebric before checking can commence.

We all tend to move around when we record, so it is often spurious accuracy to go much beyond a six-figure grid reference. If recording from a garden, perhaps eight-figure is appropriate, and maybe tend figure is relevant if recording in the field using GPS to pinpoint each record. But if lumping records together then best to go down a notch or two.

We get a lot of grid reference problems owing to mis-reading of GPS and mis-translating GPS readings. So, a quick reminder of how to translate grid references from GPS or from mapping packages.

Your reading is, for example TQ2856568440 (a location on Mitcham Common, Surrey) the various scales would be:
Grid ref
(1 metre accuracy)
8 figure
(10 metre accuracy)
TQ2856 6844
the last figure has been eliminated from from the eastings and northings
6 figure
(100 metre accuracy)
TQ285 684
the last two figures have been eliminated from the eastings and northings
4 figure
(1km accuracy)
 TQ28 68
just the first two figures from the eastings and northings remain

I'm afraid we get rather a lot of grid references where the author simply knocks off the last two/four/six digits, which of course places the location way off its real position.

Location. It is always helpful to have a name for the locality that can be checked against a map or gazetteer. If a nature reserve then I tend to use the following conventions:

National Nature Reserve e.g. Castor Hanglands NNR
Wildlife Trust Reserve e.g. Ring Haw NR
RSPB reserve e.g. RSPB Rainham Marshes
Local Nature Reserve e.g. Bennetts Hole LNR
General landscape e.g. Mam Tor or 'near Castleton, Derbyshire'

Vice County. This gives a lot of problems unless you have access to detailed vice-county maps, but in general if you have the detail it is helpful - I tend to use the numeric rather than the name. There is a very handy website for checking vice-counties, provided by BSBI - it is at:

Recorder name. Your name. If you have web name then it would help to have both e.g. Fred Bloggs (Bloggy)

Determiner name. If you made the identification then this should be your name. If somebody else checked the ID or made the determination, then use their name. In the case of records from the UK Hoverflies Facebook page, it is best to stick with just three people (me, Ian Andrews and Joan Childs) but we will be developing an accreditation scheme to increase the team of mentors. In the case of larvae and puparia use either Geoff Wilkinson or Ellie Rotheray.

Stage. We need to be sure that they are either adult or juvenile. Most records will be adults so male or female is what is needed if you have determined this. There is no requirement to add the sex but if it is possible to create the data then why not do so? I try to squeeze every ounce out of the data as we don't know when it might be useful.

If you have separate counts of males and females then create a line for each gender. If you have amalgamated counts then simply enter 'adult'.

If you have larval or pupal records then record as larva or pupa as appropriate.

Source. Lots of people use UK Hoverflies Facebook page to help secure a firm name. Thus it is always helpful to include the URL for the post (not the page). This means that you need to make sure that your post is isolated from the running sequence of posts. There is no need to isolate down to individual photos - just simply to the overall post. In effect, the post becomes the 'voucher' specimen for the record. A similar approach can be taken with Flickr and iSpot.

Notes. In this section I record aspects of behaviour such as holding territory, courtship and mating. I also record flower visits.

When recording flower visits I like to have some certainty that the animal is actually taking nectar or pollen. Just resting on leaves or petals does not really work, so I use the term at x or at y such as at dandelion. Alternatively you might say 'nectaring on ivy' or 'sun-basking on sycamore leaves'.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Do techniques have a bearing on species representation in data?

This year, I have made a serious attempt to make sure that I record everything that I see whilst in the course of daily walks. In addition to noting all visual records I have retained specimens of those species that I cannot do in the field. In this way I had hoped to replicate the efforts of several Facebook members who record on a daily basis and also John Bridges who has recorded by sitting and watching a given patch and then retaining specimens of his photographic subjects. I have still to work through the specimens John has collected, but this early analysis may help to demonstrate how the basic photographic database compares with detailed recording based on field data and retained specimens.

The charts (figure 1) show only those records where it has been possible to take individual specimens to a firm identification. I have presented data for only the 50 most frequently represented species because the tail of all three datasets is highly variable and is probably not significant in telling a story about what people most frequently see. Note that I have added one species to the photographic dataset because both the segregate and aggregate of Xanthogramma pedissequum appear in the photographic database.

The story is complicated because the general photographic dataset comprises records from across the country whereas the dataset that both I and John Bridges have assembled is much more closely aligned to a region. My data primarily cover a ten mile radius of Stamford at the junction of Northants, Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire but include regular visits to London and short visits to both Somerset and to the Spey Valley. John's data are confined to a block of four ten km squares in County Durham.

Inevitably, some of the differences are geographical. Even so, it is clear from figure 2 that once one starts to retain specimens the Tribes that figure within the dominant data change substantially (figure 2).

Figure 1. The 50 most frequently recorded in 3 datasets from 2016: RM = Roger Morris; PH = Photographic Records; JB = John Bridges. The figures represent the rank order of the species within individual datasets.

Figure 2. Numbers of species within each Tribe represented in each of the datasets depicted in Figure 1.
There is a lot more analysis to perform, but even these basic charts show how the dataset differs markedly between the general coverage by photography and the coverage that may be expected from an experienced Dipterist. What becomes very apparent, however, it the way the photograpahic dataset can be augmented by specimen retention. John Bridges dataset aligns rather more closely with my own data than it does with the general photographic dataset.