Sunday, 12 November 2017

How might a Malaise trap network work?

In yesterday's post I raised the question of whether we might emulate the German Malaise Trap programme? The ensuing comments were largely positive and several people raised some really great ideas that helped to get me thinking further. So here is a bit of development thinking:

Does it have to be a centralised project?

Probably not; it could be a series of projects that ran independently but then pooled their data as and when the need arose. I think, however, that there would be great benefits to some sort of central oversight and promotion of the project to make people aware of what was going on and what the opportunities might be to get involved.

In the first instance, it would help to have somebody centrally to raise the funds needed to get the project started. At its simplest level, those funds would need to cover the cost of Malaise Traps and preservatives (degraded Alcohol). I think, however, that ther could be opportunities to link up with universities to develop basic identification skills. Even learning how to sort insects to Order would be useful and might help to open a few eyes. As such, maybe there are University Biology Societies that might like to get involved and have a long-term project? So, some resources to equip study centres with requisite microscopes and keys would be a possible draw on resources.

Do traps have to be run for the whole year?

The simple answer is no. What is needed is a programme that runs consistently from year to year. If it is focussed on 'pollinators' that are of commercial interest I think the traps might best be run from the start of May to the end of June. BUT, of course, running traps for only part of the year is only one option and there might be groups who would run traps throughout the year.

Where might traps be run?

The logical place to run such traps is in association with field centres and maybe the head offices of Wildlife Trusts that have a garden or nearby wild area. It seems to me that this is the sort of project that needs to be associated with stable recording locations where it is possible to have one or more people available to operate the trap and to empty the collecting bottle on a regular basis.

How would the samples be sorted?

My initial thinking was that this is the sort of project where one could develop a nice social group that met on a regular/irregular basis to sort samples together and to learn from one-another. It seems to me that the key to any project that needs to run over many years is to make it a social as well as a serious event. It won't appeal to everybody, but providing you can peer down a microscope for a couple of hours, it offers an opportunity to get to meet people and to do something communally.

I quite like the idea of setting up such a project within the regional and national Natural History Societies. In many ways, I think there is a need for societies to develop new relevance to today's world. Events that draw together people of similar interests can be immensely valuable, especially if they include an element of intellectual stimulation that at least a small proportion of society needs: we hear that this is essential to stave off dementia so there is a growing pool of possible participants!

To what level would one sort the specimens?

At its most basic, sorting to Order would at least mean that the insects collected could be investigated by relevant specialists. BUT, when you bear in mind that there are about 80 recording schemes, there is the potential for quite a large volume of material to be identified to species. That is not to say that all scheme organisers would want to participate, but if only 30% did so that would mean quite a large volume of material identified.

Beyond sorting to Order, counts of individual animals might be possible but I think I would desist from this and concentrate on counts at a more refined level – counts of bumblebees, solitary bees, solitary wasps, some Diptera families and some beetles would be a good start. The key is to choose the taxonomic level that is possible with the volunteers available.

Disseminating the results

No long-term project yields immediate results, and the minimum number of years needed to develop a 'trend' is three years! But in reality a ten year span is needed to start to see real changes. Also, one must be realistic that the first couple of years would be a big learning curve and that the data might not be as robust as it would be after the groups had gained skills.

This brings us back to the question of whether a centralised lead is needed? If the data are to be used, they do need rigorous scientific oversight, so some sort of project management is needed. Within that 'management' team one would need both organisers and analysts, so I think it is probably essential that at some point CEH should be involved. Alternatively, perhaps there is a University team who would get involved?

These are just a few initial musings, but as I ponder I think I can see the shape of such a project developing. Now all that is needed is the fire of enthusiasm somewhere to make it happen!

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