EntoSci16 – a conference for future and budding entomologists

Fig 1a

Some of you may be wondering how this World’s first came about. Well, it was all due to Twitter. After a lot of nagging encouragement from one of my PhD students, I finally joined Twitter at the back-end of 2012. Shortly afterwards I met another new Tweeter, @Minibeastmayhem (Sally-Ann Spence in real life) who approached me with an idea that she had tried to get off the ground for a several years – an entomology conference for children. This sounded like a great idea to me and I was extremely surprised to hear that she had been told by various entomologists that it wouldn’t work. After a bit of ‘to and fro’ on Twitter we met up for a very nice Sunday lunch and hammered out a basic plan of action and a mission statement.

Fig 1b

Sally-Ann had done a lot of the preliminary work in approaching potential presenters and over the next couple of months we came up with a few more. I then sounded out my University (Harper Adams) who were very keen on the idea and agreed to do the publicity and the catering. We then began approaching a number of organisations for financial support and/or for stuff to put in the conference goodie bags. Surprisingly, some organisations that claim to support invertebrates and are keen on education, such as the RSPB and London Zoo, judging by their response, obviously didn’t even read our letters or only pay lip-service to the majority of the animal kingdom as they were singularly unhelpful.  Undeterred by these setbacks, we persevered, and with very generous support from the Royal Entomological Society , both financial and in the person of their Director of Outreach, Luke Tilley, were able to put together a very exciting package of events and presenters. And very importantly, because of the generosity of our sponsors, all free for the delegates. The big day, April 13th 2016, arrived and we were as ready as we would ever be. Almost 300 students and their accompanying adults (science teachers, careers teachers and some parents) turned up on the day, and to think that at one stage we were worried that no-one would be interested:-)

The delegates were all issued with colour-coded conference lanyards, and with the enthusiastic help of MSc and BSc students acting as guides, were then 

Fig 1

 

started on the action-packed, and hopefully enthralling and stimulating conference circuit.

Fig 2

George McGavin (our Patron) and Erica McAlister from the Natural History Museum (London) got the conference off to a great start with two very entertaining plenary talks about the wonders of entomology and flies respectively. After that it was on to the zones.

Graham & Janice Smith with the help of Tim Cockerill, were kept very busy with their Bugs and Beetles room, Steffan Gates (the Gastronaut) gave a dazzling and interactive display of entomophagy, Amoret Whitaker from the University of Winchester introduced the students to forensic entomology which included them processing a ‘maggot-infested crime scene’, and current and past MSc Entomology students (Soap Box Scientists), the Field Studies Council, RHS Wisley, and other exhibitors provided a very interactive and informative session in Zone 5. In the main lecture theatre, Max Barclay, Erica McAlister, George McGavin, Andy Salisbury, Darren Mann and Richard Comont were subjected to a barrage of questions ranging from how much they earned, to their favourite insects, their most dangerous insect encounter, some much easier to answer than others.

The day was especially long for some of us, as BBC Breakfast came and did some live filming, which meant that the organisers,  presenters and some hastily drafted in students had to put in an appearance at 0645. I think that they felt it was worth the effort though, if only to be able to say that they had been on TV.   All in all, the day was a real buzz. Of course the real stars were the insects and other invertebrates which managed to generate real enthusiasm among the delegates and their accompanying teachers. It was wonderful to see how many of the students responded so favourably to the insects, many of whom, at first, were reluctant to get close-up and personal with them. Seeing so many young people “oohing and aahing” rather than” yukking and gagging” really made my day. I really, truly believe, that we will be seeing many of the delegates becoming professional entomologists.

I leave you with a few images to give you the flavour of the day. For more professional images this link should keep you happy.

Fig 3

Early morning preparation, coffee was very much needed

Fig 4

And we’re off to a great start

Fig 5

and it just kept getting better

Fig 6

and better

Fig 7

Some of the team, Luke Tilley, Sally-Ann Spence, Graham Smith, Tim Cockerill, George McGavin and me.

 

Fig 8

A really huge thank you to Laura Coulthard and Helen Foster, from the Harper Adams Marketing and Communications Department, who put their hearts and souls into making sure that the event ran smoothly. We couldn’t have done it without them.

And who knows, perhaps we will do it all again next year:-)

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Not all aphids get lost

Although aphids are very good at kicking, we know that aphids would not be very good at football as they are very short-sighted (Doring et al., 2008) but does that mean that they are not very good at finding their host plants? There is a common misperception, and not just confined to non-entomologists, that aphids are no more than aerial plankton. In 1924 Charles Elton

Lost 1

whilst on an expedition to Nordaustlandet* (the second largest of the Spitsbergen group and almost entirely covered by ice) reported finding large numbers of aphids, many still alive, later identified as Dilachnus piceae (now known as Cinara piceae) (Elton, 1925).

Lost 2

Cinara piceae the Greater Black Spruce Aphid –big and beautiful.

http://www.diptera.info/forum/attachments/dscn4632-blattlaus-schenefeld-siedlung-010611.jpg

 

He suggested that the aphids came from the Kola Peninsula, a distance of about 800 miles (almost 1300 km) due to the strong south and south-east winds blowing at the time. He estimated that they would have made the journey within twelve to twenty-four hours. This was regarded as being an example of totally passive migration and used as one of many examples of aerial plankton** (Gislen, 1948). This is, however, probably not giving aphids credit for what they are capable of doing when it comes to flight. Berry & Taylor (1968), who sampled aphids at 610 m above the grounds using aeroplanes, implied that the aphids, although using jet streams, were flying rather than floating (page 718 and page 720) and that they would descend to the ground in the evening and not fly during the night.

Lost 3

Aphids don’t usually fly during the night. (From Berry & Taylor (1968)).

Dixon (1971) interprets this somewhat differently and suggests that the “movement of the air in which it is flying determines the direction of its flight and the distance it will travel” but then goes on to say “after flying for an hour or two aphids settle indiscriminately on plants”. So yes the speed of the air in which the aphid is flying will determine how far it flies in a set time, but as aphids can fly much longer than an hour or two, active flights of from between 7-12 hours have been recorded (Cockbain, 1961), this rather suggests that the aphids are making a “decision” to stop flying and descend from the jet stream. That said, in the words of the great C.G. Johnson “aphids are weak flyers”, they cannot make progress against headwinds of more than 2 km per hour (Johnson, 1954), although Trevor Lewis gives them slightly more power and suggests that the can navigate against winds of up to 3 km per hour (Lewis, 1964).

Whatever the upper limit is, it doesn’t mean that they are powerless when it comes to ‘deciding’ when to stop flying. In the words of Hugh Loxdale and colleagues, “aphids are not passive objects” (Loxdale et al, 1993). Aphidologists, were until the 1980s (Kennedy, 1986), generally somewhat sceptical about the ability of aphids to direct their flight in relation to specific host finding from the air and not just flying towards plants of the right colour (Kennedy et al., 1961), or at all after take-off (Haine, 1955). The general consensus now, is that aphids control the direction of their flight in the boundary layer*** but that it is determined by the wind at higher altitudes (Loxdale et al., 1993).   Whilst we are discussing viewpoints, another point of debate is on whether aphids migrate or not. Loxdale et al., (1993) state that “migration can be viewed ecologically as population redistribution through movement, regardless of whether deliberate of uncontrolled or from the behavioural viewpoint of a persistent straightened-out movement affected by the animal’s own locomotory exertions or by its active embarkation on a vehicle”. In the case of aphids the vehicle could be the wind. Under both definitions, aphids can be defined as undertaking migrations. Long-distance migration by aphids is defined as being greater than 20 km and short-distance (local) migration being less than this (Loxdale et al., 1993). Long-distance migration is likely to be the exception rather than the rule with most aphids making local flights and not venturing out of the boundary layer, sometimes travelling distances no more than a few hundred metres (Loxdale et al., 1993).

There are different types of winged aphids (morphs) and these show different angles of take-off and rates of climb.  In Aphis fabae for example, which host –alternates between spindle and bean, the gynoparae which migrate from the secondary host to the primary host, have a steeper angle of take-off and climb more rapidly than the alate exules which only disperse between the secondary host plants (David & Hardie, 1988).

Lost 4

http://influentialpoints.com/Images/Rhopalosiphum_padi_emigrant_alate_departing_from_primary_host_c2013-05-21_11-25-12ew.jpg

The gynoparae are thus much more likely to end up in the jet stream and be carried longer distances, with, of course, a greater chance of getting lost (Ward et al., 1998). The alate exules however, may only land in the next field or even in the same one, and easily find a new host plant (Loxdale et al., 1993). These differences between the morphs of host alternating aphids are also seen in the bird cherry-oat aphid Rhopalosiphum padi (Nottingham et al., 1991).  Once safely air-borne, the aphids then have another set of problems to overcome.

How do they ‘decide’ when to land? How do they ‘know’ that there are host plants below them? Aphids have two main senses that help them locate their host plants, vision and smell (odour recognition) (Kring, 1972; Döring, 2014). Generally speaking, aphids respond positively to what we perceive as green or yellow light and negatively to blue and red light (Döring & Chittka, 2007) although this is not an absolute rule. Some aphids are known to preferentially choose yellowing leaves (sign of previous infestation) e.g. Black Pecan Aphid Melanocallis caryaefoliae (Cottrell et al., 2009) which indicates a pretty sophisticated host finding suite of behaviours. Aphids in flight chambers will delay landing if presented with non-host odours even in the presence of a green target (Nottingham & Hardie, 1993) and conversely can be attracted to colourless water traps that have been scented with host plant odours (Chapman et al., 1981). Aphids are thus using both visual and olfactory cues to locate their host plants and to ‘decide’ when to descend from the jet stream or boundary layer (Kring, 1972; Döring, 2014). They are not merely aerial plankton, nor are they entirely at the mercy of the winds, they do not deserve to be described as passive (Reynolds & Reynolds, 2009).

Once at ground level and on a potential host plant, aphids go through a complicated suite of behaviours to determine if the host is suitable or not; if the plant meets all the required

Lost 5

From air to plant – how aphids chose their host plants – after Dixon (1973).

 

criteria, then the aphid will start feeding and reproducing. It is interesting to note that although there may be a lot of aphids in the air, the number of plants on the ground that

Lost 6

Settled safely and producing babies:-)

http://beyondthehumaneye.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/aphids.html  https://simonleather.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/cd0a4-aphidbirth2small.jpg

 

are infested with them is relatively low, about 10% in a diverse landscape (Staab et al., 2015), although in a crop, the level of infestation can approach 100% (e.g. Carter et al., 1980). The fact that in some cases less than 1% of those that set off will have found a host plant (Ward et al., 1998) is not a problem when you are a member of clone; as long as not all of the members of a clone gets lost the journey has been a success.

They may be small, they may be weak flyers, but enough of them find a suitable host plant to keep the clone alive and kicking; not all aphids get lost.

 

References

Carter, N., Mclean, I.F.G., Watt, A.D., & Dixon, A.F.G. (1980) Cereal aphids – a case study and review. Applied Biology, 5, 271-348.

Chapman, R.F., Bernays, E.A., & Simpson, S.J. (1981) Attraction and repulsion of the aphid, Cavariella aegopodii, by plant odors. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 7, 881-888.

Cockbain, A.J. (1961) Fuel utilization and duration of tethered flight in Aphis fabae Scop. Journal of Experimental Biology, 38, 163-174.

Cottrell, T.E., Wood, B.W. & Xinzhi, N. (2009) Chlorotic feeding injury by the Black Pecan Aphid (Hemiptera: Aphididae) to pecan foliage promotes aphid settling and nymphal development. Environmental Entomology, 38, 411-416

David, C.T. & Hardie, J. (1988) The visual responses of free-flying summer and autumn forms of the black bean aphid, Aphis fabae, in an automated flight chamber. Physiological Entomology, 13, 277-284.

Dixon, A.F.G. (1971) Migration in aphids. Science Progress, Oxford, 59, 41-53.

Dixon, A.F.G. (1973) Biology of Aphids, Edward Arnold, London.

Döring, T.F. & Chittka, L. (2007) Visual ecology of aphids – a classcial review on the role of colours in host finding. Arthropod-Plant Interactions, 1, 3-16.

Döring, T., Hardie, J., Leather, S.R., Spaethe, J., & Chittka, L. (2008) Can aphids play football? Antenna, 32, 146-147.

Döring, T. (2014) How aphids find their host plants, how they don’t. Annals of Applied Biology, 165, 3-26.

Elton, C.S. (1925) The dispersal of insects to Spitsbergen. Transactions of the Entomological Society of London, 73, 289-299.

Gislen, T. (1948) Aerial plankton and its conditions of life. Biological Reviews, 23, 109-126.

Haine, E. (1955) Aphid take-off in controlled wind speeds. Nature, 175, 474-475

Johnson, C.G. (1951) The study of wind-borne insect populations in relation to terrestrial ecology, flight periodicity and the estimation of aerial populations. Science Progress, 39, 41-62.

Johnson, C.G. (1954) Aphid migration in relation to weather. Biological Reviews, 29, 87-118

Kennedy, J. S., Booth, C. O. & Kershaw, W. J. S. (1961). Host finding by aphids in the field III Visual attraction. Annals of Applied Biology, 49, 1-21.

Kring, J.B. (1972) Flight behavior of aphids. Annual Review of Entomology, 17, 461-492.

Lewis, T. (1964) The effects of shelter on the distribution of insect pests. Scientific Horticulture, 17, 74-84

Loxdale, H. D., Hardie, J., Halbert, S., Foottit, R., Kidd, N. A. C. &Carter, C. I. (1993).The relative importance of short-range and long-range movement of flying aphids. Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 68, 291-312.

Nottingham, S.F., Hardie, J. & Tatchell, G.M. (1991) Flight behaviour of the bird cherry aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi. Physiological Entomology, 16, 223-229.

Reynolds, A.M. & Reynolds, D.R. (2009)  Aphid aerial desnsity profiles are consistent with turbulent advection amplifying flight behaviours: abandoning the epithet ‘passive’. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 276, 137-143.

Staab, M., Blüthgen, N., & Klein, A.M. (2015) Tree diversity alters the structure of a tri-trophic network in a biodiversity experiment Oikos, 124, 827-834.

Ward, S.A., Leather, S.R., Pickup, J., & Harrington, R. (1998) Mortality during dispersal and the cost of host-specificity in parasites: how many aphids find hosts? Journal of Animal Ecology, 67, 763-773.

 

Post script

Political and geographic borders are not factors that deter aphid migrants, Wiktelius (1984) points out that aphids regularly make the journey across the Baltic in both directions to and from Sweden.

Wiktelius, S. (1984) Long range migration of aphids into Sweden. International Journal of Biometeorology, 28, 185-200.

 

*Elton refers to it as North-East Land

** Johnson (1951) objects to this terminology in no uncertain terms. That said, as there are records of non-winged aphids being caught by aircraft (Kring, 1972), it does suggest that there may be some accidental migration going on.

*** The UK Met Office defines the boundary layer as “that part of the atmosphere that directly feels the effect of the earth’s surface” and goes on to say that depending on local conditions it can range in depth from a few metres to several kilometres.

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Baxter Saves the Day – Beetle Boy – a tour de force by M G Leonard

Beetle Boy front

Beetle Boy, Chicken House Books, Paperback  ISBN: 9781910002704  £6.99

 “The sad fact is, that the number of insect is in decline. As we destroy their habitats, so we destroy their species, but we desperately need them. If all the mammals on the planet were to die out, the planet would flourish – but if all the insects disappeared, everything would very soon be dead.”

Not that I am biased, but any book that has the above in it gets my vote. Joking aside, this is a real gem of a book.  Although aimed at a younger audience than me, I found this a fascinating book.  I read it in one sitting, on the coach returning from a visit to the entomologists at the Natural History Museum, in company with the MSc Entomology students from Harper Adams University; a very appropriate setting.

Darkus, whose father, Dr Bartholomew Cuttle, a closet entomologist and the Director of Science at the Natural History Museum in London, has disappeared in mysterious circumstances, is one of a pair of unlikely heroes who help make this story the tour de force it is. The authorities believe that Dr Cuttle suffered some sort of breakdown and has walked away from his responsibilities.  Newspaper headlines ensue and the distraught Darkus, who remains convinced that his father has been spirited away or worse, now regarded as an orphan by social services, as his mother died four years earlier, is sent to an orphanage where he receives an unfortunate hair-cut.  Fortuitously, three weeks later, his eccentric Uncle Max, a somewhat unconventional archaeologist, returns from Egypt and Darkus is allowed to move in with his Uncle, who houses him in his attic, where he unknowingly meets his best friend to be, Baxter, and the adventure begins.  You will have to excuse this breathless introduction, but all this happens in the first sixteen pages!  What a roller-coaster of a read.

Next he is sent to a new school, (the worst nightmare for those of us of a nerdish persuasion) where he is befriended by two odd-balls, the lanky Virginia and the small, pale, bespectacled Bertholt.  We have school bullies, beetles with more than a dash of humanity mixed in, an evil businesswoman with a dark past and even darker secrets, a beautiful heiress thrown in for good measure, very odd neighbours, a secret den, evil henchmen, poison gas, death, destruction, entomology, successes, setbacks, laughter and sadness but a happy ending.  This is a story with something for everyone.  This is what my father, if he were still alive, would have called a rattling good yarn and I would agree with him wholeheartedly.

This is a hard book to describe without introducing spoilers so I am not going to give away any more of the plot than I already have. Imagine a mix of Swallows & Amazons, Stalky & Co*, the Famous Five, Five Find-Outers and Dog**, Artemis Fowl and any other of your favourite young detectives/adventurers that you can think of, and you will get somewhere close to imagining what a gripping read Maya Leonard has produced.   Beetle Boy owes nothing to any of these books, I only use them to illustrate, that in my opinion, this book is destined to join the classics.

It is of course the beetles that really make this book stand out from the crowd, and in more than one way, the fore edge of the book is decorated with beetles; beetles inside and out, what more can an entomologist ask for?

Beetle boy fore edge

Maya Leonard is a superb ambassador for beetles; they form an integral part of the story working in partnership with the human protagonists. She also subtly introduces the wonderful diversity of the beetle world to the non-initiated.  How many books can mention tiger beetles, powder post beetles, blister beetles, bombardier beetles, rhinoceros beetles, titans, stags, harlequins,  Goliath beetles and dung beetles and keep the plot moving along at a breath-taking pace.  Outside an entomology text book I don’t think I have ever come across so many beetle references.   Not only has Maya Leonard mentioned the beetles by name, she has managed to endow them with believable personalities but in a very unsentimental way, although that said, there is a very tragic scene near the end of the book.   I have been a professional entomologist for almost forty years and, yes some of what happens in this book might not be entomologically feasible, but the story carried me along on waves of excitement and totally enthralled and enchanted me and that is what matters.  I liked this book very much.  In fact, I was so excited about this book that I couldn’t wait for an appropriate grandson’s birthday so sent it to their mother, my daughter in Australia, for her birthday, and suggested that she could make it a family readathon:-)

Maya Leonard, on the behalf of entomologists everywhere, I salute you. Roll on the sequel.

Dung beetles ZSL

The wonderful dung beetle sculpture at London Zoo.

Postscript and notes

Did I say that I really liked this book:-)

*Rudyard Kipling’s fictionalised account of his school days at the United Services College – coincidentally, the character based on Kipling, is nicknamed Beetle! Well worth a read and in my opinion, possibly the inspiration for Frank Richard’s Billy Bunter books.

**Less well-known than the Famous Five, but I actually liked them better:-) http://www.enidblytonsociety.co.uk/five-find-outers.php

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What use are bedbugs?

As an entomologist, I have, over the years, become used to being asked by non-entomologists “What use are wasps?” My wife and mother-in-law being frequent interrogators. What they actually mean is “What use are Vespids?”, in particular what the Americans call yellow jackets, and their ilk.

Wasp

Not a bed bug – The European wasp Vespula germanica https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yellow_jacket#/media/File:European_wasp_white_bg.jpg

I now have a well-polished response where I explain that wasps are beneficial insects keeping the caterpillars that eat their garden plants under control and that the occasional hole they make in my interlocutor’s soft fruit is just payment for the job they are doing. I am not saying that this answer always satisfies them, especially if their plums have been devastated, but at least they agree that there is some justification for their existence.

Unfortunately I now have a new question to answer. Last summer (2015) my wife and I took our usual holiday to France. We put our car on the Brittany Ferry, m/V Mont St Michel, and after a drink in the bar retired to our cabin, 9108 in case you want to avoid it, me in Bunk A my wife in Bunk B.

Bedbug2

Sailing in comfort?

The next morning my wife was not a happy lady and the question I now have to answer is “What use are bedbugs?”!

Bedbug3

The bed bug culprit, Cimex lectularius and victim

I have in the past made a convincing case (well I think so) for the usefulness of mosquitoes compared with pandas, but I suspected that making a case for the usefulness of bed bugs that would satisfy my wife, might be more difficult.

Even the Encyclopaedia of Life has nothing good to say about bed bugs. For evolutionary biologists, ecologists and entomologists, bed bugs are very useful in allowing us to relate horror stories about non-conventional sex. Male bed bugs favour a very robust approach to reproduction, as they indulge in what is somewhat coyly termed ‘traumatic insemination (Reinhardt & Siva-Jothy, 2007). Basically they don’t bother with the female genital opening, they mount the female and search for a pouch (Organ of Ribaga or ectospermalage) on the underside of the female (they have been known to mount other males) which they pierce with their intromittent organ (penis) and into which they release their sperm. The spermatozoa then migrate through the body of the female to the oviduct, taking from 2-10 hours to do so (Cragg, 1920). Apparently males never use the genital tract for insemination (Reinhardt & Siva-Jothy, (2007). This somewhat unconventional approach to mating has, as you might expect, harmful effects on the female, with life spans being reduced by about 30% or even causing death (Morrow & Anrnqvist, 2003), multiple matings can be particularly damaging (Mellanby, 1939).

For their human hosts, bed bugs can have a number of unpleasant effects (Reinhardt & Siva-Jothy, 2007), ranging from psychological distress, allergic reactions as in the case of my wife, secondary infections and economic costs, especially if you are an hotelier. All in all, not a very promising candidate for being useful to us humans :-) I was beginning to feel that bed bugs had no redeeming features and that if there was a coordinated campaign calling for the destruction of the entire species, I would be unable to defend them. Then a former student came to their rescue. In desperation, I had emailed Mike Siva-Jothy at Sheffield University who has worked on bed bugs since the late 1990s. He passed my email on to Sophie Evison (a former MSc student of mine) and she came to their rescue as follows

I’ve had a think about this, and I think there are two approaches: 1. dazzle them with the traumatic insemination story or 2. Forensics. I’ve not looked into it, but I’m pretty sure a situation could arise where the contents of a bedbug could drop someone in it, or even perhaps prove an alibi! Do you think your wife would accept that as reasonable?”

I was pretty certain that my wife would not be happy with option 1, but felt that option 2 was definitely worth following up. I very quickly found a paper (Szalanski et al, 2006) in which the possibility of testing the DNA of the blood found in bed bugs was suggested as having a possible forensic application. According to Wikipedia (well if it is good enough for my students) there has already been some success in real life using this very approach. I was now pretty confident that I had found an answer to the question posed by my wife. To be fair, I tested both of them out on her. As predicted, she did not buy the evolutionary biology aspect of the traumatic insemination story as being of any use, but as a great fan of the CSI and NCIS TV shows, she has grudgingly accepted that there is indeed a use for bed bugs! I just hope that all the bed bugs out there appreciate all the effort I have gone to on their behalf :-) If anyone else has further suggestions please let me know.

References

Cragg, F.W. (1920) Further observations on the reproductive system of Cimex, with special reference to the behaviour of the spermatozoa. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 8, 32-79

Mellanby, K. (1939) Fertilization and egg production in the bed-bug Cimex lectularius L. Parasitology, 31, 193-199

Morrow, E.H. & Arnqvist, G. (2003) Costly traumatic insemination and female counter-adaptation in bed bugs. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B, 270, 2377-2381

Reinhardt, K. & Siva-Jothy, M. (2007) Biology of the bed bugs (Cimicidae). Annual Review of Entomology, 52, 351-374

Szalanski, A.L., J.W. Austin, J.A. McKern, C.D. Steelman, D.M. Miller, and R.E. Gold. 2006. Isolation and characterization of human DNA from bed bug, Cimex lectularius L., (Hemiptera: Cimicidae) blood meals. Journal of Agricultural and Urban Entomology, 23, 189-194.

 

 

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Ten papers that shook my world – Lewis (1969) – the importance of (h)edges for natural biological control

In 1969, Trevor Lewis, of what was then the Rothamsted Research Station (now Rothamsted Research), published two landmark papers (Lewis 1969ab). These papers, in which he described the importance of hedges as habitats for insects (Lewis, 1969a) and in acting as possible sources of natural enemies able to colonise nearby fields (Lewis, 1969b) were to have a profound effect on me and generations of applied entomologists and pest mangers to the present day.

In 1976 the UK experienced what is now recognised as the warmest year of the 20th Century.  It was also the year that I started my final year as an undergraduate.  Before entering our final year we had to do a research placement or project.   I opted to do my project at home, I was making very good money as a temporary postman and as I usually finished my round by 10 am, I had plenty of time during the rest of the day to get to grips with my project.  I had come across the Lewis papers in lectures and thought that it would be interesting to do a similar study; given the weather I was also keen to spend as much time outside as possible :-) My Uncle James owned a local farm and was happy for me to sample some of his hawthorn hedges, so sampling hawthorn hedges was what I did during July and August of the glorious summer.

Simon summer 1976

The intrepid student entomologist; trusty bike, clipboard and a copy of Chinery*. Note the wellington boots despite the heat:-)

The hedges

The hedges in question – three types of management

As I mentioned earlier, 1976 was the warmest year on record at the time, and I see from my report that during August I was recording temperatures in excess of 25oC, even in the hedge bottoms.

Hedges project

The report

What is interesting is that although 1976 was one of the famous ladybird outbreak years (in fact last week I was interviewed by the BBC about my memories of that very same event) I didn’t record more than a handful of ladybirds in my surveys.  Perhaps inland Yorkshire just wasn’t attractive enough:-)

Overall my results showed that over-clipping resulted in more crop pests being present and that hedges with less clipping supported a greater diversity of insect life than the more managed ones, very similar to results being reported today (e.g Amy et al., 2015).

Sadly, although Lewis’s two 1969 papers and to a certain extent his earlier paper in a much harder to access source (Lewis, 1964), led on to the concept of conservation headlands (Sotherton et al., 1989) and ‘crop islands’ (Thomas et al., 1991), which are an integral part of European Union subsidised farm payments, it was included in an influential review article (van Emden & Williams, 1974).  As pointed out recently by Terry McGlynn over at Small Pond Science, this often rings the death knell for a paper’s citation score.  As a result,  Lewis (1969b) has only been cited 91 times since 1969 and is barely remembered at all.   I remember being invited to be a facilitator at a Populations Under Pressure conference workshop on this very subject at the NERC Centre for Population Biology at Silwood Park about fifteen years ago and being surprised that none of the participants had even heard of Trevor Lewis let alone read his papers.

Simon PUP

At the Populations Under Pressure conference brandishing my undergraduate hedgerow report!

The subject of hedgerow and crop edge management is still a highly important research area today, and you will be pleased to know that in the latest paper just submitted from my research group, we cite both of Trevor’s 1969 papers. Hopefully this will do something to redress the balance and bring Trevor some of the recognition that he deserves, however belated.

 

References

Amy, S.R., Heard, M.S., Hartley, S.E., George, C.T., Pywell, R.F. & Staley, J.T. (2015) Hedgerow rejuvenation management affects invertebrate communities through changes to habitat structure. Basic & Applied Ecology, 16: 443-451

Chinery, M. (1973) A Field Guide to the Insects of Britain and Northern Europe.  Collins, London

Lewis, T. (1964). The effects of shelter on the distribution of insect pests. Scientific Horticulture, 17: 74–84

Lewis, T. (1969a). The distribution of flying insects near a low hedgerow. Journal of Applied Ecology 6: 443-452.

Lewis, T. (1969b). The diversity of the insect fauna in a hedgerow and neighbouring fields. Journal of Applied Ecology 6: 453-458.

Sotherton, N.W., Boatman, N.D. & Rands, M.R.W. (1989) The “Conservation Headland” experiment in cereal ecosystems. The Entomologist, 108: 135-143

Thomas, M.B., Wratten, S.D., & Sotherton, N.W. (1991) Creation of ‘island’ habitats in farmland to manipulate populations of beneficial arthropods: predator densities and emigration. Journal of Applied Ecology, 28: 906-917.

Van Emden, H.F. & Williams, G.F. (1974) Insect stability and diversity in agro-ecosystems. Annual Review of Entomology, 19: 455-475

*I still own that copy of Chinery which was a present for my 20th birthday – take note of the date if anyone wants to send me a present or card:-)

 

Chinery

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The Verrall Supper 2016 – even better than last year

The first Wednesday of March has for many years meant only one thing to many UK entomologists – the Verrall Supper. I have written about the Verrall Supper previously on more than one occasion, so this will be largely a photographic record.

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Van (Professor Helmut Van Emden) ready and set for the arriving Verrallers

This year’s Verrall Supper took place on Wednesday March 3rd at The Rembrandt Hotel, South Kensington. This year we had a further increase in numbers attending the meal at the Rembrandt Hotel, 190 compared with the 181 the previous year.  We are now facing a bit of a dilemma, we have reached the maximum number that the Rembrandt can accommodate and as the general consensus is that it is a great venue, I am reluctant to try and find an alternative venue, but equally I don’t want to restrict membership.  According to Van, the number of Verrallers making merry, once topped the 300 mark.

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Marion Gratwick possibly the longest-serving Verraller, certainly the longest serving female member, although her claim to have attended 58 Verrall Suppers has been called into question as the first female was not admitted to the Supper until 1962; the arithmetic does not add up:-)

Unfortunately, despite my ambition to get a 50:50 sex ratio, we still only managed to attract 55 female guests, the same as last year, which as we had a slight increase in total numbers meant that female members only accounted for  29% of the Verrallers.  I must try even harder next year.  For those interested in such statistics, we had twenty vegetarians, four diners unable to cope with gluten and only two vegans.  The average age, has, I am sure gone down, as I felt that the of number of those sporting grey or white beards, bald pates and grey hair were definitely outnumbered by the younger generation.

It was, as usual, great to see so many of my ex-MSc Entomology students, from both incarnations of the course, Silwood Park and Harper Adams University, many now doing PhDs, and many post-PhD and in their turn teaching future generations.

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A new generation of bearded entomologists. Alex Greenslade and Andy Salisbury, both former  MSc students,  one now doing a PhD, the other Senior Entomologist at RHS Wisley and both modelling entomological ties.

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Charlie Rose, the youngest Verraller (possibly ever).

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Professor Helmut Van Emden and Chris Lyal both of the Entomological Club.

 

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The Verrall Supper organiser at the start of the evening, with Alex Austin, Sarah Arnold, Jennifer Wickens (I think, I have an excuse, she is one of identical twins, both entomologists) and Denise Gibbons.

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Linda Birkin (fomer MSc student, now PhD at Sussex) and Ailsa McLean, Oxford University.

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Max Barclay, the Verrall Lecturer.

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High Loxdale savouring his pint.

 

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Mark Ramsden (ADAS) former PhD student and Chris Jeffs (Oxford), former MRes student.

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Tracie Evans (former MSc student) and Van Emden Bursary winner and Victoria Burton

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Charlie Rose, with current and former Harper Adams University MSc students, Alice Mockford, Jenna Shaw, Scott Dwyer and Jordan Ryder.

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The venue – ready and waiting and full house

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Gordon Port and former MSc student, Anna Platoni

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James Broom (former MSc student) and Roy Bateman who taught on the course for many years

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One view of the top table.

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Charles Godfray being lectured to by Tilly Collins:-)

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Not all grey beards and bald pates

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Royal Entomological Society worthies, Archie Murchie, Jim Hardie and Debbie Wright

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Ruth Carter (MSc student at Harper Adams, who first contacted me when she was 13 to ask how to become an entomologist, Gia Aradottir (former PhD student, now at Rothamsted) and Amoret Whitaker, forensic entomologist on the right (I was her PhD examiner).

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Richard Comont and Sally-Ann Spence

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Former MSc students from Harper Adams University, Molly McTaggart, Josh Jenkins Shaw and Dave Stanford-Beale, all on the PhD route, UK, Denmark and USA respectively.

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More former Harper Adams University MSc students, Aidan Thomas and Kelleigh Greene.

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Sally-Ann Spence, Katy Dainton (former MSc student, now at Forest Research), Jo Nunez (former MSc student, now at the Bat Conservation Trust) and Mike Wilson.

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Current MSc students at Harper Adams University, Harry Simpson, Ben Clunie and Iain Place

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Mike Shaw, a Hymenopterist deep in thought?

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Tom and Soo-ok Miller all the way from the USA and if you are wondering about the bead necklaces that some of us are wearing, they came via Soo-ok.

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Mike Copland, Sue Stickels (both Wye Bugs) and Ashleigh Whiffin (former MSc student, now at Edinburgh Museum).

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Richard Lane (Entomological Club) and Luke Tilley, Royal Entomological Society Outreach Officer)

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Van (now with beads)  helping Kristi Thomas (former MSc student with her statistics)

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Ceri Watkins (former MSc student) and Hagrid (alias Richard Comont)

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Alan Dewar and Beulah Garner

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Tilly Collins (one of my former PhD students) writing my mid-dinner speech!

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John Whittaker and Claire Ozanne

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Claudia Watts, me (now with beads) and Roy Bateman

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Keith Walters (Harper Adams University) and Mike Singer (Plymouth)

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Ana Platoni and Adriana De Palma (both former students)

 

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Two curious gold weights – I can’t remember who showed them to me

 

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Harper Adams students, past and present

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Ruth Carter, Harry Simpson, Molly McTaggart, Scott Dwyer and Christina Faulder, all from Harper Adams.

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Two of my current PhD students at opposite ends of their degree, Fran Sconce and Aidan Thomas.

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Richard Harrington with his suction trap tie, retirement does funny things to people:-)

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Hayley Jones and her butterfly necklace.

All in all, a very pleasant occasion which I thoroughly enjoyed, despite the pre-function nerves.   I look forward to hosting the Verrall Supper 2017, and am determined to get a 50:50 sex ratio!

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The future of UK entomology is in safe hands – Royal Entomological Society Postgraduate Forum 2016

A couple of weeks ago (11-12 February), I had the privilege and honour to attend the latest in the excellent series of Royal Entomological Society Postgraduate Forums, this year held at Harper Adams University (HAU) and organised by Claire Blowers and Jordan Ryder, both of whom are PhD students at HAU. Although the Royal Entomological Society (RES) is sometimes still thought of as being a somewhat stuffy and traditional learned society, compared with, for example, the British Ecological Society, which had student membership rates long before the RES, it has in some student-related areas, led the way, the Postgraduate Forums being a great example. The RES ran the first PG Forum in, as far as I can tell, 2000, although their reports are only published from 2007 onwards. The PG Forums are run by postgraduate students and the idea is to give PhD and MSc students the opportunity to present their work to their own community. A few more established entomologists are usually invited as keynote speakers to address topics that are of particular interest to the organising committee, and hopefully, give delegates useful advice and/or examples of how an entomological career might develop. If I remember correctly I was one of the first ‘more established entomologists’ guest speakers.   I think I spoke about how to get published without being too traumatised by the experience. I was asked back a few years later (2008) and spoke about the future of entomology as a discipline, with a somewhat pessimistic title, despite which my conclusion was

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decidedly upbeat, although my optimism about NERC was not borne out as they managed to fund the

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the wrong sort of taxonomy.

This time I was asked to talk about applied entomology, so decided to base the talk on my own career as I felt this would give the audience a flavour of what they might expect and also of course the opportunity to laugh at the long-haired 1970s version of me and to

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recall my introduction to the concept of Integrated Pest Management (and of course aphids).

I also highlighted the huge changes that have happened in the technology surrounding paper writing since I wrote my first paper in 1979.

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Our figures were drawn using graph paper, tracing paper, Rotring pens, Indian ink and, if you did not have LetraSet© using a stencil.

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My overall message was that you shouldn’t feel constrained by the subject of your PhD, many opportunities are open to you and being a university academic is not the only way to have an enjoyable career in entomology, as Richard Greatrex (Syngenta Bioline), Simon Carpenter (Pirbright) and Sarah Beynon (Dr Beynon’s BugFarm) pointed out, and most importantly, never forget team work and collaboration make life so much easier and productive.

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Always give credit where it is due.

Sarah Beynon gave a hugely entertaining talk, I was so pleased that I had gone before her, as otherwise I would have felt very inadequate:-)

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Amoret Whitaker spoke about her career in forensic entomology

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and the conference concluded with a brief presentation by Luke Tilley the Outreach Officer for the Royal Entomological Society.

Most importantly of course were the next generation of entomologists, who gave excellent talks and produced some great posters. Unfortunately I had other appointments on the second day so missed some of the talks but I was able to see the winning talk by Dave Stanford-Beale about his experiences in Honduras collecting Saturnid moths for his MSc project.  Incidentally, Dave successfully completed the MSc in Entomology at Harper Adams University in September 2015.

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There were some excellent posters, all were very good, and it was great to see some of my former MSc students again.

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The social side of things is always important and we enjoyed a superb conference dinner with an accompanying entomological quiz; won by the younger generation rather than us ‘old timers’:-), which also gave the contestants the chance to use their imagination in devising team names.

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The winning team and their entomological prizes

On the evidence of the two days, the excellence of the oral presentations and the subject matter and high standard of presentation of the posters, I am confident that the future of UK entomology is in good hands. Well done all of you and especially to Jordan and Claire for volunteering to take on the responsibility for organising the event.  I also think that we should tank Scott Dwyer, currently on the MSc Entomology course, but heading off to Warwick University to do a PhD in October, who has volunteered to host next year’s event.

 

Post script

And many thanks to all those delegates who posted pictures on Twitter, which allowed me to record this event with more, and better photographs, than I managed to take.

 

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Conflicts of interest – are there ever any situations where there aren’t?

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Two seemingly unrelated factors stimulated me to write this post. One print-based, the other ‘ether’ based.

At the back-end of last year (2015) I was reading an article in The Times Higher Educational Supplement (29-10 – 4.11.2015 volume 2227 pp 6-7) about the fall in success rates of grant applications to UK research councils.  A sub-heading of the article, Reviewers are stretched, pointed out that the research councils, like journals are struggling to find enough reviewers.  A week later I came across this ‘conversation’ on Twitter.

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Coincidentally I had just accepted an invitation to review a grant application, having just submitted one the week before and as I was, in my Editorial capacity, inviting Reviewer number 9 to cast judgement on a submission to Annals of Applied Biology, I felt I ought to respond to the invitation. I had tried desperately hard to wriggle out of reviewing the grant application, pointing out that I had been a Co-Investigator with the Principal Investigator on a earlier grant, that I had been the PhD supervisor of one of the Co-Is and published three papers with them and that I had taught the other Co-I.  I think you could say that I knew them very well indeed.

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This image ‘borrowed’ from the University of Houston http://www.uh.edu/research/compliance/coi/

So full disclosure of the facts and surely, I thought, enough conflicts of interest there to rule me out! To my surprise the Research Council involved, replied saying that as long as I declared this on the review form, they were quite happy for me to referee the proposal.  I am used to the Research Councils being very flexible when it comes to the time allocated to do a review, they find it so difficult to get people to agree that they are very willing extend deadlines for several weeks if you promise that you will eventually deliver a report.  This response to what I saw as a major conflict of interest was, however, somewhat surprising. To say that I was gobsmacked* is a bit of an understatement, but as this had been my main reason for not accepting the task, I felt honour bound to do the review and make a recommendation.

So what exactly is a conflict of interest and how worried should we be about their potential to influence our responses in a scientific context? Here are a couple of definitions that I gleaned from the web.

A situation that has the potential to undermine the impartiality of a person because of the possibility of a clash between the person’s self-interest and professional interest or public interest.

http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/conflict-of-interest.html#ixzz3tjt5c5l7

The real or apparent conflict between one’s personal interest in a matter and one’s duty to another or to the public in general regarding the same matter.

Webster’s New World Law Dictionary © 2010 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey.
So pretty clear, if there is a connection, personal or business, with the person(s) that you are asked to comment on, or their work, then you have a potential conflict of interest.

I am, as some of you may know, Editor-in-Chief of Annals of Applied Biology and was, until last year, Editor-in-Chief of Insect Conservation & Diversity, so potential conflicts of interest have been part of my life for many years.  How do we handle this as Editors and Handling Editors? In the letter that our Handling Editors at Annals send out to potential reviewers we state:

If you agree to referee the paper please declare to the handling editor if you have:

published papers, submitted grant proposals, or supervised students with an author. It is essential that you declare this information before reviewing the manuscript.”

So very clear what we mean by a conflict of interest here. But given the shortage of people willing to review papers and note that it is common practice to initially invite four to get the minimum two that we aspire to for a fair and balanced decision, how fussy can we afford to be? On one memorable occasion, I once had to approach thirteen potential reviewers before I found two willing victims!  In the UK, if you are in a specialist field such as applied entomology, you are almost certain to know just about everyone who works in that area, either personally or by reputation.  Given the virtual insistence these days by the national grant funders on collaborative projects, you also have a fairly high probability of having been in joint grant application with many of them as well.  Most journals now ask for suggestions of preferred and non-preferred reviewers when you submit a paper.  These are highly likely to be people you know personally, and your preferred reviewers are also unlikely to be people you think will regard your work unfavourably.  Is this a conflict of interest?  As an Editor you can take notice of these names, often ignoring them because you suspect that the preferred reviewers have been chosen because of the possibility of them delivering a favourable review.  You then have a decision to make as to which reviewers to select; do you read through the references and see who has been cited most and pick them, do you resort Web of Science and look for publications in a similar area involving the same systems or use the keywords in your particular Editorial manager system?  Whichever way you go you have a high chance of picking people who know the author(s) and/or have worked with them at some stage, but if you want an expert opinion you are pretty much stuck with those choices.  It is further complicated by the fact that some people are more likely to respond in the affirmative than others, so your choice is narrowed still further.

As a potential reviewer receiving an invitation from a journal that doesn’t ask you for as much information as the Annals of Applied Biology does (looking back at last year’s 50+ requests to review that I receive, it seems that we at the Annals are much more up-front in this respect than other journals) what constitutes a conflict of interest?  Even if you don’t know the author personally, which if they are from the USA** or other country where entomologists are still fairly numerous is quite likely, does the fact that they have cited you a lot constitute a conflict of interest?  A favourable review may ensure publication and add to your citation index.  On the other hand, if the paper doesn’t cite you when you feel it should, is that also a conflict of interest and what about when it cites you unfavourably, are you sure  that you will write your review impartially? Should we also ask if you have received a favourable or non-favourable disclosed review from the author(s) for one of your own papers?  I can’t help but think that having had a favourable review from someone, you are, despite how impartial you consider yourself to be, likely to look more kindly on a paper from that person than one from someone who has said that your paper should be rejected.  I know there are a number of people who feel that open review is the way forward but I am not the only one that thinks it just adds to the conflicts of interest dilemma.

Leaving those issues aside. What about if you have answered yes to the questions posed by the Annals in that you have published papers, submitted grant proposals, or supervised students with an author?  Interestingly I have just noticed that we don’t ask whether the potential reviewer has supervised or taught one of the authors.  As someone whom to date, has supervised 50 PhD students, more than 130 MSc project students and about 150 undergraduate project students, not to mention the 1000+ students whose names I learnt when teaching them, this is yet another area of potential conflict of interest. The last time I co-authored a paper with my PhD supervisor was 1989, is that still a conflict of interest in 2016? I freely admit that I have reviewed more than one of his papers and even recommended rejection once or twice (I don’t think he reads my blog :-)).

I am not saying that our current review system is fatally flawed, in fact I think it works quite well and feel that the open reviewing system advocated by some has just as many, if not more, opportunities for potential conflicts of interest to arise. See this post by Dynamic Ecology which puts the case for pre-publication review very clearly.

When does it stop being a conflict of interest to review a paper by one of your former PhD students? Five years, ten years or longer?  I will put my hand up now and admit that I have reviewed papers written by former students, but only after what I consider a decent five-year interval since the last co-authorship.  What about co-authors who were not students or RAs? Often you end up on multi-author papers arising from working groups, do you apply the same rules in those cases when asked to review a paper or a grant proposal?  I don’t but should I?

When it comes to PhD examinations the situation is even more acute, at least in my case. I have examined about 50 PhD students and had 48 of my own examined in return.  As far as I can recall, of those that I have examined only three of them have been students of people who I didn’t know personally.   Of the students of mine examined, I think three of them were by people I didn’t know personally (these were bird projects), but the co-supervisor knew them.  This of course is totally understandable within the UK system, where the usual PhD viva panel consists of an internal examiner, an external examiner and, increasingly more common, an independent chair.  You are hardly likely to choose examiners you don’t know to give your students a grilling.  You choose someone who is fair and has a good reputation, which generally speaking means someone you know personally.   Given the paltry fee paid by UK universities for a PhD examination***, friends are much more likely to agree to do the job than total strangers:-)

Should we have a system where only examiners who have no personal contact with the supervisors are allowed? This would almost certainly mean that in the UK, all examiners would have to come from overseas; I suspect that the Universities would baulk at the increased costs associated with such a system.  They are already very stingy when it comes to travel and accommodation costs for UK examiners so the added cost of getting someone from across the water is unlikely to appeal.

Where does this leave us? Not much further forward I suspect. I think, that as scientists, we all regard ourselves as being able to decide if, and when a real conflict of interest is likely to arise and would, I hope, inform the person(s) requesting the review of the pertinent facts.

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Footnotes

*for non-native English speakers or English speakers from other parts of the world, a literal translation would be “like being hit unexpectedly in the mouth”:-)

**although I have just noticed that a paper I have accepted an invitation to review from an American journal, has, hidden away in the middle of the author list, someone who did their PhD in the same research group as me at the same time, and with whom I have spent many a night drinking pints of Courage beer in The Mitre pub, on the Earlham Road in Norwich:-)

***approximately £200 if you are lucky – say the viva takes 3 hours minimum, plus you have to read the thesis, say 150 pages, so even if you read very quickly you are looking at another 5 hours minimum, more likely closer to ten hours as you have to take notes as you go along, then add on an hour for the report and four hours travel time, that makes a total of 17 hours or so giving you an hourly rate of about £12, and that is before tax:-)

 

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Butterflies Galore – visual treats from two very different books

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I have written a lot of book reviews over the last thirty years or so; initially for mainstream scientific journals; those were the days when journal editors had never heard of impact factors and space was specifically set aside for such articles. And latterly, for the in-house member’s bulletins of learned societies such as Antenna; the excellent and very glossy publication of the Royal Entomological Society.  Book reviews are generally a bit of a chore, especially if the book in question is an edited volume, but busy academics can sometimes be persuaded to take a review on if they think that the book (the only payment you receive is a free copy) will justify the effort.  Occasionally one gets the chance, or feels the urge, to use a book review as a means of getting a particular message across to a wider audience.  I once managed to have one of my ‘on the importance of entomology’ rants published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution (Leather, 2008) using this route.  Up until now however, unless you count my somewhat tongue-in-cheek review of Anna Aphid, I have not used my blog in this way.   This is, however, about to change.

At the end of November last year (2015), I received an email from Caroline Young of Firefly Books who wondered if I would like to review a new entry to their catalogue, Butterflies, by Ronald Orenstein and Thomas Marent.   It was such a flattering email that I succumbed to her blandishments, hence this first official book review on my site.  To retain some scientific integrity however, I decided that I would do a comparative review.  Fortuitously, it just so happened, that I had to hand another book about butterflies; one that I had semi-promised to review for the Royal Entomological Society (Howse, 2014), but until now, had never got around to doing.  In one fell swoop I was thus able to salve my conscience and do two favours:-)

When reviewing a book I have a little mental list of questions that I answer as I read it.

  1. Would I buy it?
  2. Would I recommend a colleague to buy it?
  3. Would I recommend it to students as worth buying?
  4. Would I ask the library to buy it?
  5. Would I recommend it to anyone to buy it?

All these have the same subsidiary questions attached to them; If not why not, if yes, why?

First, Butterflies, billed by the publisher’s blurb as a “visual feast that showcases the beauty and mystery of butterfly and moth species from around the globe”.  A good place to start with a book review is with a summary of the contents and the aim(s) of the author(s).  There are eleven named chapters in total, with a thirty page introductory chapter, aptly titled Introducing butterflies.  This chapter, which like all the others, is beautifully illustrated with stunning photographs, briefly covers the main features of butterfly biology and ecology, from evolution, taxonomy, flight, mimicry, courtship, oviposition, development, feeding, predation, migration and concludes with climate change and conservation.  There is no overall ‘mission statement’ per se, but towards the end of the introduction the authors write “We need to know more and to do better. In many parts of the world, butterflies are disappearing at a rapid rate.  We need to understand what is happening to them, and why, if we are to stop or reverse their decline.  We need to create space for butterflies.”

From this I take it that the purpose of the book is to inspire adult non-entomologists to take an interest in butterflies in general and to create habitats for them in their gardens. I also think that there other aim is to inspire the younger generation to become involved with butterfly conservation either professionally or as an extra-mural interest.  The twelve chapters that follow the introductory piece are first, taxonomically based, e.g. Swallowtails, Skippers, Whites and then to do with their biology and ecology, covering topics such as wings, life history, diet, mimicry etc.  The last chapter is about those too-often overlooked Lepidoptera, the moths.  Each chapter is dominated by the beautiful photographs, each of which is accompanied by a succinct pen sketch giving a brief description of the species shown and some useful nuggets of information about the distribution, taxonomic position of the species and something about their biology.  Some of these nuggets were new to me, perhaps not surprisingly, as I am not primarily a lepidopterist:-)

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I was, for example, interested and intrigued by the suggestion that eggs of The Map, Araschnia levana are mimics of the flowers  of its larval host plant, nettle (Urtica spp.).

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http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/2011/homolka_kail/reproduction.htm   ttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Urtica_dioica.JPG

In fact I was so intrigued that I felt the need to test it out by searching for photographs of nettle flowers. These shown are the closest I could find that come close to matching the eggs and so to a certain extent I remain unconvinced.  I will however, leave that up to you to decide for yourselves.

In summary, this book is as advertised, “a visual feast that showcases the beauty and mystery of butterfly and moth species from around the globe.”  It is not a text-book, nor is it an exhaustive pictorial catalogue, you could not use it as an identification guide. It does however, give a good and accessible overview of some basic butterfly biology and ecology and also great factoids to store away for use at an opportune moment.  So the bottom line:

  1. Would I buy it?   – No, in my opinion, it does not contain enough entomological detail for me as a professional to justify the $45 price tag.
  2. Would I recommend a colleague to buy it? Probably not for the same reason as above.
  3. Would I recommend it to students as worth buying? Again, probably not, but I might suggest that they put it on their Christmas or birthday lists.
  4. Would I ask the library to buy it? Yes, I think that it contains enough useful information to make it attractive to a non-specialist student reader interested in an easy to understand book with enough useful essay material in it.

and finally, would I recommend it to anyone else to buy it,? Yes it is a nice book, albeit of the coffee table variety, but in my opinion at the upper end of that market and anything that might spark an interest in entomology amongst the as yet unconverted, can only be a good thing.

And now, Philip Howse’s book, Seeing Butterflies, which is subtitled, New Perspectives on Colour, Patterns and Mimicry.  The publisher’s blurb in this instance states “See living butterflies and moths through new eyes through Philip Howse’s fascinating text and superb imagery….This new way of looking at these beautiful and iconic images will inform and inspire nature-lovers, photographers artists and scientists.”  Some major claims are being made here, implying that this is a serious book aimed at specialists, yet with the potential to appeal to a much wider readership.  Does it live up to these claims?

As with Butterflies, we are presented with twelve beautifully illustrated chapters.  Here though, with a chapter entitled, Seeing: Illusion, deceit and survival, we know from the start that this book is about vision, about visibility and invisibility and about optical illusions.  Chapter two continues this theme, being about defence and illusion while Chapter three examines the evolution of butterflies and mimicry.  The remaining chapters, as with Butterflies, are taxonomically based and examine the very varied visual defence mechanisms exhibited across the various butterfly families.  The photographs may not be as professional, as many or as stunning as those in Butterflies, but the science is much stronger, yet still very accessible to the lay reader.  There is also much more natural history, although again, this is not a book that would be useful for identification purposes.  On the other hand there are some marvellous nuggets and factoids, with which to regale friends, students and anyone else that you can catch.   One that sticks in my mind particularly, is that apparently the small tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae was once known as the ‘devil butterfly’ in Scotland. Philip speculates that this might be because it “comes out of the darkness of winter and hibernation, marked in red and black”.  As with Butterflies there were numerous factoids that intrigued and interested me.  In particular Philip’s claims for the eyed hawkmoth, Smerinthus ocellata, that he feels can impersonate a bracket fungus, a pile of dead leaves and a fox-like animal!

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The first two I am quite happy about, but the third suggestion seems to need quite a stretch of the imagination:-)

There is more of the author apparent in Seeing Butterflies than in Butterflies; Philip recalls childhood memories, and other personal experiences to illustrate the points that he makes and this gives the book a very user-friendly feel that is, to a certain extent, lacking in Butterflies. I also think that on the whole, the book manages to live up the somewhat over-hyped blurb.

And so the bottom line:

  1. Would I buy it? – Yes I would, very nicely priced, well-written and enough science to keep me happy and interested.
  2. Would I recommend a colleague to buy it? Yes, even a non-entomological colleague would be likely to find it worth the money.
  3. Would I recommend it to students as worth buying? Yes, I would certainly suggest it to my PhD students and MSc Entomology students, but probably not to undergraduates although I would definitely suggest that they put it on their Christmas and/or birthday lists.
  4. Would I ask the library to buy it? Yes, both as a recommended book for the entomologists and it contains enough useful information to make it attractive to a non-specialist student reader interested in an easy to understand book with useful essay material in it.

 and finally, would I recommend it to anyone else to buy it,? Yes it is a nice book and should appeal to anyone who has a genuine interest in the natural world.

 So there you have it, my first official ‘blog’ book review. There may be more to come, not necessarily commissioned ones, but just books that take my fancy, but if there are any publishers, or authors out there who think that I might like to review one of their books, feel free to contact me to discuss it.

 

References

Howse, P. (2014) Seeing Butterflies, Papdakis Publisher, Winterbourne, UK.  Paperback, 176 pp, £16.99 ISBN-13: 978-1-906506-46-9

Leather, S.R. (2008). Conservation entomology in crisis. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 123, 184-185

Orenstein, R. & Marent, T. (2015) Butterflies, Firefly Books, Buffalo, USA. Hardback, 288 pp, $45 ISBN-13: 978-1-77085-580-0; ISBN-10: 1-77085-580-7

 

Postscript

For anyone seriously interested in writing academic book reviews I can recommend this site by Dr Perpetua Turner https://peptalkecology.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/writing-an-academic-book-review/

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The Scottish Forestry Trust – despite the name, not just for the Scots

One of the penalties/benefits of being around a long time in one particular field, is that unless you are a hermit or don’t publish anything, people do get to know of your existence.  Couple that with the fact that in the UK university sector, faculty that work in forest entomology are almost as rare as hen’s teeth and it is perhaps understandable that you find yourself on committees that you would never have imagined yourself being asked to join.

SFT1

Some of us just hadn’t realised that the 1970s had been and gone.

Certainly when I was a long-haired forest entomologist working for the Forestry Commission near Edinburgh, I would have laughed out

SFT2

loud if someone had told me that 25 years later, with shorter hair but a longer beard, I would be a member of the grandly titled UK Tree Health & Plant Biosecurity Expert Taskforce.  These things do happen however, and continue to happen.  Last year for example, I became a Trustee of the Scottish Forestry Trust. At the time of the invitation (late 2014), I had been involved with forest research in the UK and elsewhere, since 1982, yet to my knowledge, I had never heard of the Scottish Forestry Trust and I am sure that I was not the only one out there.  I have now been a Trustee for over a year, and at our last meeting in December 2015, we felt that it was about time we raised our profile, after all, our role is to “provide funds by way of grants, to support research, education and training” in forestry.    At the risk of bringing down an avalanche of applicants I volunteered to write a blog post about our activities and to tweet about our funding opportunities.

The first thing to make clear, and I have highlighted this at the top of the page, is that we do NOT just fund Scots and Scottish projects. Despite the name, we support forestry projects the length and breadth of the UK.   The projects we fund are extremely diverse; literature reviews, major research projects, public lectures, training events and MSc project field work.   We also part-fund PhD studentships, either directly or from our new Forest Health bursary scheme run in conjunction with the Forestry Commission to specifically fund forest health projects.  Perhaps our most bizaare/adventurous grant was to the Asylon Theatre group to support the production of a play, Fraxi – Queen of the Forest to inspire primary school children to care for and learn more about trees.  In terms of actual funding the grants range from a couple of thousand to £60 000, so perhaps not as much as you could get from other sources but applicants can apply for monies to cover up to 30% of the anticipated cost of their project which is better than nothing, although in exceptional circumstances we may fund 50% of the costs.

As a general guide we are looking for projects that are relevant to UK forestry in the broadest sense, to wider UK forestry research priorities and have clear objectives / research questions and methods, some expected research outcomes, within a clearly defined time frame and have additional funding from other sources.   We specifically do not fund projects that have already started, so there is no point in contacting us to bail you out of a short-fall in funding, nor do we fund capital costs.  We are aware of the difficulty in obtaining funds to do forest research in the UK so are keen to help wherever possible, but please do make sure that your applications are relevant, of a high quality and fall within our remit.  If in doubt about the eligibility of your proposed project feel free to contact us using this link to discuss it before putting in a formal application.

I hope I have inspired all you eligible applicants to download an application form and attempt to make our next deadline, February 19th, but failing that you can aim for our two other application deadlines in May and October.  Good luck and I look forward to seeing your applications in due course.

SFT3

Hopefully not as many as these:-)

 

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