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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Thrip, thrips, thripses – A thrips by any other name

As well as the more well-known EntoPub*, the Harper Adams entomologists also indulge in Entolunch**, when we gather in one of our larger offices to eat our packed lunches and keep up to date with what we are doing, covering research, teaching and day-to-day life. This is not because we are anti-social or are averse to mixing with other disciplines, but because our offices are almost 500 m away from the Staff Common Room and nearest food outlet.  Last week our conversation turned to the Thysanoptera, more commonly known as thrips or thunder bugs.

Thrips1

Some fine examples of thrips, including the common thunder bug.

According to Lewis (1997) they were first described by DeGeer in 1744 under the name Physapus, but in 1758, Linneaus, ignoring this, placed the then four known species in a genus Thrips, later elevated to Order by Haliday in 1836.  Why Linneaus decided to call them thrips is a bit of a mystery, as according to the Oxford English Dictionary, thrips is derived from the Latin via Greek, meaning woodworm!

Thrips are tiny little insects, the giants among them, (mainly tropical) can reach lengths of up to 15 mm but most are round about 1-2 mm long (Kirk, 1996; Moritz, 1997).  Although they are not bugs, their feeding process can be described as “piercing-sucking or punch and suck” (Kirk, 1997).

Thrips2

 

There are about 8000 species of thrips worldwide (Lewis, 1997), although probably less than 200 in the UK (Kirk, 1996). Although many are important plant pests (Lewis, 1997), they can also be pollinators and fungivores (Kirk, 1996) or even very effective biological control agents (Gilstrap, 1995).    Some are gall-formers, and these, like some galling aphids, also have fights to the death with their rivals (Crespi, 1988).  All in all, almost as wonderful as aphids :-)

But I digress, our conversation that lunchtime was not about the biology of thrips, but about the singularity (or plurality) of their name. Thrips are (in)famous for being like sheep, they are thrips whether you are speaking of one or of many, which has, and does, cause some debate among entomologists and others.

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http://mxplx.com/memelist/keyword=end

We quite liked thripses although it does conjure visions of Gollum and his precious.

Thrips4

Who knew that Gollum was an entomologist?

Intrigued by the linguistic puzzle of thrips I wondered what it was in other languages. Using Google Translate, and possibly risking a Tolkienesque mistranslation, I found that in most cases, even French, it was boringly enough, thrips.

There were some languages where thrips was not thrips, but not many:

German               thripse

Swedish               trips

Italian                  tripidi

Catalan                 els trips

Estonian               ripslased

Polish                    wciornastki

Czech                    třásněnka

 

Perhaps my favourite was the Afrikaans, blaaspootjies. On breaking it down into parts it turns out that blaas means bladder and pootjies, legs, which doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

Bengali, Chinese and Japanese, were quite picturesque.

 

Bengali              থ্রিপস্ (thripas)

Chinese             牧草虫 (mùcǎo chóng)

Japanese          アザミウマ (azamiuma)

 

But the most ornate was Tamil

Thrips5

(llaippēṉ)

Which is quite a long word for such small insects, but very pretty all the same.  If anyone has any more suggestions for the naming of thrips, do feel free to comment.

 

References

Crespi, B.J. (1988) Risks and benefits of lethal male fighting in the colonial, polygynous thrips Hoplothrips karnyi (Insecta: Thysanoptera).  Behavorial Ecology & Sociobiology, 22, 293-301.

Gilstrap, F.E. (1995) Six-spotted thrips: a gift from nature that controls spider mites. [In] Thrips Biology and Management, pp 305-316, (ed. B.L. Parker, M. Skinner & T. Lewis),  Plenum Press, New York.

Kirk, W.D.J. (1996)  Thrips,  Naturalist’s Handbooks, Richmond Publishing Co. Ltd., Slough UK. [A very nice and simple introduction to the wonderful world of thrips]

Kirk, W.D.J. (1997) Feeding, [In] Thrips as Crop Pests, pp 119-174 (ed T Lewis), CAB International, Wallingford Oxford

Lewis, T. (1997) Pest thrips in perspective, [In] Thrips as Crop Pests, pp 1-13 (ed T Lewis), CAB International, Wallingford Oxford

Moritz, G. (1997) Structure, growth and development.  [In] Thrips as Crop Pests, pp 15-63 (ed T Lewis), CAB International, Wallingford Oxford

 

Post script

Slapped wrist for me – Elina Mäntylä has pointed out that in Finnish, thrips is ripsiäinen, probably to do with the wing structure.  I should have known that having lived and worked in Finland at the Pest Investigation Department.  interestingly, Google Translate thinks it is Thrips in Finnish – but if you do Finnish to English it does indeed translate ripsiäinen to thrips.

 

Glossary

*EntoPub            Drinks and a meal in a local hostelry organised by one of the Harper Adams Entomologists but not confined solely to entomologists.  We do like to mix with non-entomologists occasionally :-)  Held at approximately 10 day intervals.

**EntoLunch     A communal occasion when the Harper Adams entomologists get together in office AY02 and eat their packed lunches whilst chatting, usually with some entomological connection.  Again this is not entirely confined to entomologists, we are usually joined by a couple of soil and water scientists who share our exile on the edge of the campus :-)  A daily event during the working week.

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Leathers are not Lauders – the problems of genealogical scams

It’s been a while since I did a family history post so I thought it was about time I did one, so here you are.

Back in the 1980s a company called Halberts started up a business to exploit the then newly growing hobby of genealogy. They purported to be able to supply customers with accurate information about their family tree and to provide them with a coat of arms. In fact what they actually did was to supply customers with a book entitled the Book of XXX which was essentially a list of names and addresses of XXX culled from telephone directories around the world with a frontispiece claiming to give the history and origins of the name in question, together with a coat of arms.  More often than not, these were incorrect.  Their claim to respectability was that they had bought the right to use the name of Burke’s Peerage. What they actually did was cause a lot of confusion to fledgling family historians and to make it difficult for genuine family historians, in particular One-Name Studies to gain the trust of those who had fallen victim to the Halbert’s scam. Several articles have been written over the years about this scam and the company has been shut down several times but apparently has miraculous powers of regeneration and continues to pop back into existence. For an interesting read about this duplicitous company see for example: http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2004/08/my_least_favori.html

 

Scams aside, our surname Leather, appears to cause the editors of surname dictionaries particular difficulties. For example, in the several dictionaries of English or British Surnames, the name is usually described as being derived from workers or sellers of leather such as this shown below from The Internet Surname Index http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Leather#ixzz2gSAekBD2

This is an English surname. Recorded as Leather, Lether, Leither, and probably other others, it has two distinct origins. Firstly it may derive from the pre 7th Century male given name “hleothar”, meaning a sound or melody. Though not recorded independently, this personal name forms the first element in such placenames as Leatherhead in Surrey; Letheringham in Suffolk and Letheringsett, Norfolk. These are recorded respectively as Leodridan in the Saxon Chartulary, dated 880, as Letheringaham in the Domesday Book of 1086, and as Letheringsete in the Pipe Rolls of Norfolkin 1254. In his famous book “Patronymica Britannica”, Lower states that “One Lethar was a bishop in the days of Ethelbert” (860 – 865). The surname may also have originated as a metonymic occupational name for a leatherworker or seller of leather goods, from the Middle English and Olde English “lether”, leather. Although the surname itself does not appear until the early 16th Century (see below), the word was used in such occupational names as “Lether-dyer” in London in 1373, and one John Lethercarver was noted in a descriptive catalogue of Ancient Deeds for Northamptonshire, and dated 1404. The modern surname is now found chiefly in Lancashire and Yorkshire. The first recorded spelling of the family name may be that of Robert Lether. This was dated 1524 in the “Subsidy Tax Rolls of Suffolk”, during the reign of King Henry V111, known as “Bluff King Hal”, 1509 – 1547.

If the writers of articles like this actually did their homework, they would realise that their hypothesis of it being a metonymic occupational name was nonsense. If it was an occupational name it would be spread throughout the country instead of being, as even the authors of the above state, that the name in now “found chiefly in the Lancashire and Yorkshire” regions of England. A quick look at the map below derived from the 1881 census data shows this very clearly.

Leather 1881

Leather – 1881 per 100,000 people

 

A few years ago I decided, given the restricted distribution of our name, evidence seemed to suggest an origin near Winwick a town close to Warrington, that it would be very interesting to start a DNA surname study. Imagine my surprise to find that the name Leather was already registered, but as a derivative of the name Lauder!   [due entirely to the misinformation given by Halberts] I was incensed and decided that this needed to be corrected immediately. Using the same sources http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Lauder#ixzz2gSATbi7f I was able to easily demonstrate that Lauder is a Scottish name recorded in the spellings of Lauder and Lauderdale, this is a famous Scottish locational surname. As Lauder it originates from the village of Lauder in the county of Berwickshire, and as Lauderdale from a name for the western district of the same county of Berwickshire. The translation of the place name and hence the later surname is believed to be from the French-Breton pre 7th century word “laour”, meaning a trench or ditch. The surname is one of the first recorded in Scotland, and early examples taken from authentic rolls and registers of the medieval period include: William de Lawedre, the sheriff of Perthshire in the reign of King Alexander IIIrd of Scotland (1249 – 1286), Alan de Lawadyr, who witnessed a charter by Stephen Fleming, master of the hospital of Soltre in 1426, and Johannes Lathirdale, a notary public, in the city of Glasgow in 1472. Other recordings include Sir David Luthirdale, archdeacon of Dunkeld in 1477, whilst William Lauder, given as being a literary forger, died in 1771. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Sir Robert de Lauedre. This was dated 1250, in the register of the Abbey of Dryburgh and from the map 1881 census data (see below)

Lauder 1881

Lauder – 1881 per 100,000 people

 

it is pretty clear that the surnames Leather and Lauder are distinct and non-overlapping.

This story does have a happy ending. As a result of this analysis I was able to get Leather registered as a separate DNA-surname study, although sad to say the various surname dictionaries have not yet manged to change their entries, but I continue to live in hope :-)

 

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Planned and accidental landings – Search terms that found my site

Unbelievably yet another year has gone by which means that I have managed to complete three years of blogging at Don’t Forget the Roundabouts writing articles at about ten-day intervals. This post will be my 105th since I started blogging on January 1st 2013.  I have written over 15 000 words about aphids and another 31 000 words on other entomologically related subjects ; so at least one book if I can get around to linking the various posts into a coherent form :-)  My views on the usefulness of blogging at a personal level and in terms of science communication remain as positive as ever and I fully intend to continue blogging for the foreseeable future.  At this time last year last year I summarised my facts and figures in terms of views and international reach.  This year I have decided to ‘borrow’ an idea from three of the blogs I follow, Scientist Sees Squirrel, Small Pond Science and The Lab and Field and speculate about some of the search terms that direct people to my site.

So first the bare facts, I reached 150 countries (145 last year) and received 29 385   views

Countries 2015

Top nine countries for views during 2015

(24 616 last year) and as yet the figures seem to suggest that I will continue to gain more views during 2016, but it is only a simple regression and a pessimist might see a plateau appearing :-)

Blog stats

My top post, as last year, was Not All Aphids are Vegans closely followed by  A Winter’s Tale – Aphid Overwintering both with over a thousand views.  So how do people find me, which search terms do they use?  As you might expect the most frequently used search terms are those that ask do aphids bite people (humans)? In fact most of the search terms that plonk people down on my blog are aphid related.  Jiminy Cricket also turns up a lot; this is because of one of my very early posts in which I pointed out that Jiminy Cricket should really be Gregory Grasshopper.  On the other hand, some people do actually search for me and my site specifically.  There are, however, some weird and wonderful search terms that send people my way, a few of which are worth commenting on.

 

Do police dogs follow the scent of fear?  An easy one to start with, this directed the searcher to my post on aphid alarm pheromone, which will of course, not have answered her/his question.

Police dog cartoon

 

These two are obviously linked to the name of my blog.

Who are the roundabouts in Pinocchio? I didn’t know that roundabouts featured in Pinocchio but Jiminy Cricket certainly does :-)  On reflection this may have been a misspelling of roustabouts, in reference to the two villains who kidnapped Pinocchio.

Why were roundabouts so big back in the day?  An intriguing question to which I have no answer.

 

This one takes the prize for the most specific set of terms entered.

What is the name of the male group of entomologists that is the oldest group in the world and has recently invited Dr Helen Roy to become a member? – the answer is of course The Entomological Club.

 

I was extremely flattered that Google directed this inquirer to my blog  :-)

Where is the latest global discourse in entomology?

 

Obviously all my trips to Paris and France have upped my international profile,

article sur aphis nerii et ses parasitoides

 

but these are pretty obscure to say the least!

her wellies got sloppy pictures, but probably (s)he meant soppy? so here you are

soppy wellies

it’s raining get coat and umbrella study module to get a first in exam results

what is a milligram?  I have no idea how that ended up on my site and as for this one?

joni printed 50 pages, then he took a pair of scissors and carefully cut 300 tag and signed all of them

 

And finally a couple of X-rated ones:

 why girls bum sap changes having sex? I’m guessing that (s)he meant shape –  being directed to an article about aphids ingesting phloem sap must have been a bit deflating!

video sex girls avenae  this one must have really been disappointed but if (s)he comes this way again (s)he might like to watch this video produced by the Silwood Revue which is well worth a view https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sBzNsaSzdM

 

I could go on, but enough is enough, and the rest are mainly aphid related.

I continue to find blogging immensely satisfying but would really like to have more comments and interactions via the blog. Twitter is where most exchanges occur at the moment.  As far as I can make out other bloggers, even those with much larger readerships than me, also say that comments on their blogs have fallen over the last couple of years.  It would be nice if everyone who followed me on Twitter read my blog!  That said I must acknowledge my most frequent commenters and bestowers of likes.  These are Emily Scott http://adventuresinbeeland.com/, Jeff Ollerton http://jeffollerton.wordpress.com/, Amelia from A French Garden, Emma Tennant http://missapismellifera.com/, Manu Sanders http://ecologyisnotadirtyword.com/ and Philip Strange https://philipstrange.wordpress.com/.   I am also very grateful to the 175 people (40 more than last year) who subscribe to my blog.

Many thanks to you all for your interest and kind words and A Prosperous and Happy New Year to you all.

 

Post script

As a late Christmas present to you all, my favourite roundabout of the year!

Surgeres

On the edge of Surgeres (Charente Maritime) – not very ecological but certainly literary!

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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to all my readers and many thanks for your comments and likes over the past year.

Christmas cake 2015aChristmas cake 2015

Traditionally all the family get together to decorate our cake in the most ‘tasteful’ way possible – this year Santa in the downhill slalom at the Winter Santalympics, held at the South Pole :-)

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE

 

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Mee(a)ting Issues with the British Ecological Society – Why I boycotted the 2015 Annual Meeting

Normally at this time of year I would be recovering from the enjoyable after-effects of the British Ecological Society (BES) annual meeting, too much talking, too much eating, too much coffee, too much beer and wine and not enough sleep.

This year however, I denied myself the traditional end to the academic year as I decided to boycott the meeting. As someone who has, since 1977, missed only a handful of meetings, this was a big personal sacrifice, but I felt very strongly that I needed to make a protest , hence the one person boycott! So what prompted this action?

I was fully intending on attending the meeting in Edinburgh, having spent ten years living in Peebles and working at the Forest Research Station at Roslin, Edinburgh is full of pleasant memories for me. I logged on to the site to register for the meeting and was stunned and annoyed to come across this statement:

Food Policy In an effort to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the BES has decided to remove all farmed ruminant meat from its catering. Ruminants and their farming are key producers of methane. We run several large events a year, serving thousands of meals to participants and are keenly aware of the impact of human activity on natural systems. We will continue to cater for non-vegetarians, but will remove farmed ruminant meat from menus and will also only serve MSC certified fish. We take seriously our commitment to greening our events and hope you understand and support our decision. For more information on the background to this decision, read the paper by Ripple, W.J. et al: Ruminants, climate change and climate policy. – See more at: http://www.britishecologicalsociety.org/events/current_future_meetings/2016-annual-symposium/registration/#sthash.WioDx4lA.dpuf

Two things about this statement really got my goat (ruminant pun intended) – first, the non-democratic nature of this decision, the membership were never polled about this and second, the patronising and insulting statement, “We will continue to cater for non-vegetarians” This is tantamount to the comments by the vegan Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Kerry McArthy who suggested that meat eaters should be treated like smokers. As ecologists, and presumably all scientists with some biological background, the people running the BES know that we are omnivores by nature, look at our dentition and gut structure folks!

Meat Fig 1

 

I would also point out that the UK dairy herd is bigger (1.9 million) than the beef herd (1.5 million) and that you can’t have one without the other. The UK is the world’s tenth largest producer of milk (2.2%). So why not ban all dairy products and make delegates drink their tea and coffee black or with a vegetable based milk substitute? What about ruminant derived products? Whilst we are about it, how about penalizing delegates wearing wooly jumpers, leather shoes, leather belts and carrying their cash in leather wallets, purses and handbags?

I raised my concerns via Twitter and Facebook and did have a minor discussion with Andrew Beckerman, the chair of the Meetings Committee, but to no real satisfaction. I pointed out that why should people who enjoy beef and lamb be singled out, when those BES members who fly and drive everywhere were not targeted? I made the decision many years ago that I would not fly if at all possible, basically unless work dictated it, and as a result have flown (including return flights) only six times in the last twenty years. I recycle obsessively and my foreign travel is by train, ferry or Skype! So yes, tropical field work and international conferences on the other side of the world are a thing of the past, but I see no need for flying visits by western ecologists to indulge in brief exotic field work. Either go for the duration of the study or stay at home and discover the wonders of your own back yard, or rather than be an ecological imperialist, trust the local scientists to collect the data for you to number crunch. Or if you feel that your presence is indispensable, then go by ship and take the opportunity to write and read papers on the way :-)

Although Ripple et al (2014) make a convincing case for slowing down greenhouse gas emissions by reducing ruminant production they do so from the highly biased minority viewpoint of those with “ecological privilege” (Nevins, 2014). They thus singularly fail to address the equally effective and more attainable actions that can be made by targeting travel, especially by air and private motoring Girod et al., 2012). There are over 100,000 flights a day and air travel is set to double by the year 2050 despite the fact that fossil fuels (oil at any rate) will run out in about 40-50 years (the former estimate according to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, the latter by BP). One might ask then why do we have politicians wanting to build more airports and runways? As an ecologist this does not compute, but then looking at how many of my colleagues boast about their cheap flights compared with my more expensive rail trips, perhaps it does. As Nevins (2014) points out, a privileged few enjoy the ability to travel quickly and comfortably (although I would dispute the comfortably) around the world to conferences and field sites and this has a very significant effect on carbon emissions. Nevins calculated the carbon emissions generated by the Association of American Geographers to attend their 2011 meeting in Seattle as 5,352 metric tons, pointing out that the annual total per capita carbon emissions from energy consumption in Haiti is 210 kg and for Bangladesh 290 Kg, i.e. the air travel alone to and from the Seattle conference per delegate was more about three times the total annual emissions of an average Haitian or Bangladeshi which by any standard is unbalanced and profligate. Whilst other travel forms are amenable to very large future reductions in carbon emissions by improvements in technology, the evidence is that air travel will prove intractable and that the only feasible way forward is to drastically reduce flights made (Girod et al., 2012, 2013). Given that only 2-3% of the world’s population flies internationally (Peeters et al., 2006), this would seem a realistic aim and cause less harm to livelihoods and ways of life of people in less developed nations (note that 31 % of the global cattle herd are found in India, compared with 0.35% in the UK – Table 1). Unfortunately, although many of this wealthy airborne 2-3% are keen to embrace ‘light green habits’ such as home recycling and composting, they are the most likely to indulge in long distance flights and not want to be denied the ‘privilege’ of flying (Barr et al., 2010).

I don’t think that it is in the BES’s remit to impose life style choices on its membership by banning particular food groups. If the BES directorate want to make an environmental point using food as an example, then perhaps they should concentrate on food miles instead and serve locally sourced meat and seasonal vegetables. Delegates at the Edinburgh meeting could then have enjoyed the excellent Scottish beef that is available served with ‘tatties and neeps’ and perhaps also have experienced that particularly Scottish delicacy, the Scotch pie :-)

Meat Fig 2

I do hope that the BES will reconsider their food policy as I would hate to have to miss any of the many excellent meetings scheduled for 2016.

References

Barr, S., Shaw, G., Coles, T. & Prillwitz, J. (2010) “A holiday is a holiday”: Practicing sustainability, home and away. Journal of Transport Geography, 18, 474-481.

Girod, B., van Vuuren, D.P. & Detman, S. (2012) Global travel within the 2oC climate target. Energy Policy, 45, 152-166.

Girod, B., van Vuuren, D.P. & Hertwich, E.G. (2013) Global climate targets and future consumption level: an evaluation of the required GHG intensity. Environmental Research Letters, 8, 014016.

Nevins, J. (2014) Academic jet-setting in a time of climate destabilization: ecological privilege and professional geographic travel.   The Professional Geographer, 66, 298-310.

Peeters, P., Gössling, S. & Becken, S. (2006) Innovation towards tourism sustainability: Climate change and aviation. International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, 1, 184-200

Ripple, W.J., Smith, P., Haberl, H., Montzka, S.A., McAlpine, C. & Boucher, D.H. (2014) Ruminants, climate change and climate policy. Nature Climate Change, 4, 2-5.

 

Post script

Some meaty facts for the British Ecological Society to ruminate upon.

Meat Fig 3

The global cattle herd peaked in 1990 and has been declining, albeit gradually, ever since.

Meat Fig 4

There are approximately 1 billion sheep in the world, of which 187,000,000 (18%) are in China; in the UK there are 22,900,000. There are 674,000,000 goats in the world, most of which are in the tropics.

Post post script

Annual UK total GHG  emissions from meat eating are 17,052,000 metric tonnes per year, CO2 emissions alone from cars is 164,500,000, almost ten times more and aviation not far behind agriculture.

UK emissions

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Ten Papers that shook my World – Root (1973) – When more means less – crop diversity reduces pest incidence

I can’t remember when I first read this paper but judging by the record card and the state of the actual hard copy of the paper, it was probably when I was doing my PhD in the late 1970s. This paper and its companion, which was published a year earlier* (Tahvanainen & Root, 1972), have had a significant effect on the scientific understanding and development of inter-cropping as a method of crop protection worldwide. Although inter-cropping in some form or another has been around a long time, the idea that it could be used as part of an integrated pest management programme was not proven.  In this landmark study, Root compared pure stands (plots) of collards (spring greens in the UK) (Brassica olercaea) with adjacent rows of collards grown intermingled with other herbaceous plants.  His premise being that it was well documented that pest outbreaks tend to be associated with pure monocultures of crops (Pimentel, 1961; Janzen, 1970) and he wished to test the hypothesis that natural enemies were more abundant and effective in vegetationally diverse areas  than in pure monocultures, the so-called ‘enemies hypothesis’.  This idea had been around a surprisingly long time e.g. Ullyett (1947) who remarked  “where weeds occur around headlands and in hedges, they should be left for the purpose of supporting parasites and predators important in the natural control of the diamond-back moth (Plutclla maculipennis Curt)”.  A decade later, Elton (1958,) refers to this statement, explaining that “these hedge rows form a reservoir for enemies and parasites of insects and mite pests of crops”.  I am not sure what it indicates but note that many groups around the world, including mine, are still working on this both at the local (field-scale) level (e.g. Ramsden et al., 2014) and landscape level (e.g. Rusch et al., 2013; Raymond et al., 2015).

Root explained the premise of the ‘enemies hypothesis’ as follows.  Predators and parasites are more effective at controlling herbivore populations in diverse habitats or plant communities because, diverse plant communities support a diversity of herbivores with a variety of phenologies, providing a steady supply of prey for the predators.  In addition, complex environments provide prey refugia, thus allowing the prey not to be completely eradicated.  Diverse plant communities also provide a broad range of additional resources for adult natural enemies e.g. pollen and nectar.

Root ran his experiment for three years and did indeed find a significant difference in herbivore load between the pure plots and the weedy rows, the former having a greater abundance of pests (mainly aphids and flea beetles) than the latter.

Fig 1

From Root (1973)

To his disappointment (I assume), he did not find any difference in the numbers of natural enemies between the two treatments. He thus had to come up with another idea to explain his results. His ingenious explanation is encapsulated in what he termed the Resource concentration hypothesis which states that herbivores are more likely to find and stay on hosts growing in dense or nearly pure stands and that the most specialised species often reach higher relative densities in simple environments.

Fig 2

Typical modern monocultures, beans, cabbages and wheat

He hypothesised that specialist herbivores were ‘trapped’ on the crop and accumulated whilst more generalist herbivores were able to and likely to move away from the crops to other host plants.  Root added that the ‘trapping effect’ of host patches depends on several factors such as stand size and purity.

In 1968, presumably as a result of what Root was discovering, Jorma Tahvanainen (one of the many great Finnish entomologists who appeared on the scene in the 1970s -, he retired in 2004) came to Cornell to do his PhD with Richard Root. Working on the same system and in the same meadow, Tahbanainen developed two new hypotheses to explain why more diverse cropping systems have fewer pest problems than monocultures. His experiments as he too found little evidence of natural enemies having an effect. He developed two new hypotheses, one he termed Associational resistance which I reproduce below exactly as published:

A natural community, such as a meadow, can be treated as a compound system composed of smaller, component communities (Root, 1973). The arthropods associated with different plant species represent important components in terrestrial systems. The available information indicates that the biotic, structural and microclimatic complexity of natural vegetation greatly ameliorates the herbivore pressure on these individual components, and consequently, on the system as a whole. Thus, it can be said that in a compound community there exists an “associational resistance” to herbivores in addition to the resistance of individual plant species. If the complex pattern of natural vegetation is broken down by growing plants in monocultures, most of this associational resistance is lost. As a result, specialized herbivores which are adapted to overcome the resistance of a particular plant species, and against which the associational resistance is most effective, can easily exploit the simplified system. Population outbreaks of such herbivores are thus more likely to occur in monocultures where their essential resources are highly concentrated

The other, is the Chemical Interference Hypothesis, in which he postulated that reduced herbivory in diverse communities due to chemical stimuli produced by non-host plants interfering with host finding or feeding behaviour of specialist herbivores.  His experimental set-up was very simple, but very effective.

Fig 3

How to send mixed signals to specialist herbivores – reproduced from Tahvanainen & Root (1972)

In simple terms, a monoculture sends out a very strong signal, it could be olfactory, e.g. a strong bouquet of crucifer volatiles, or for other herbivores it could be visual, or a combination of the two.

Fig 4

Conventional intensive agricultural landscape sending out strong ‘signals’ to specialist herbivores

Inter-cropping increases crop diversity and changes the crop ‘signal’ to one that now ‘confuses’ specialists. Note that I am not necessarily advocating a combined crop of wheat, beans and cabbages, as harvesting would be a nightmare ;-)

Fig 5

 

The intercrop melange effect

These two papers have had a huge influence on the theory and practice of inter-cropping and agricultural diversification, although Root (1973) has had many more citations (1393 according to Web of Science on 11th December 2015) than Tahvanainen & Root (1972) which has only had a meagre 429 citation to date.  The message coming out from the many studies that have now investigated the effect of intercropping crop diversification on pest abundance, is, that in general, polyculture is beneficial in terms of promoting biological control and that incorporating legumes into the system gives the best yield outcomes (Iverson et al,  2014).

Another take on intercropping that overcomes the potential problems of harvesting different crops from the same field, is the concept of planting different genotypes of the same species. Resistant plants tend to have fewer generalists present, although their individual yield may be reduced.  By planting a mixture of susceptible and resistant genotypes it is however, possible to have your cake and eat it, especially if it is not essential to have a single genotype crop.  This approach has been used to good effect in the production of short rotation willow coppice, where planting diverse genotypes of the same species reduces both pest and disease levels (Peacock et al., 2000, 2001).

Who would have that two simple field experiments conducted in an abandoned hay meadow outside Ithaca, New York almost fifty years ago would have such a far-reaching influence?

 

References

Elton, C. S. (1958) The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants. London: Methuen & Co., Ltd. 159 pp.

Iverson, A. L., Makin, L. E., Ennis, K. K., Gonthier, D. J., Connor-Barrie, B. T., Remfret, J. L., Cardinale, B. J. &Perfecto, I. (2014). Do polycultures promote win-win or trade-offs in agricultural ecosystem services? A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Ecology. 51, 1593-1602.

Peacock, L. & Herrick, S. (2000) Responses of the willow beetle Phratora vulgatissima to genetically and spatially diverse Salix spp. plantations. Journal of Applied Ecology, 37, 821-831.

Peacock, L., Hunter, T., Turner, H., & Brain, P. (2001) Does host genotype diversity affect the distribution of insect and disease in willow cropping systems? Journal of Applied Ecology, 38, 1070-1081

Janzen, D.H. (1970) The unexploited tropics.  Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 51, 4-7

Pimentel, D. (1961). Species diversity and insect population outbreaks. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 54, 76-86.

Ramsden, M. W., Menéndez, R., Leather, S. R. & Wackers, F. (2014). Optimizing field margins for biocontrol services: the relative roles of aphid abundance, annual floral resource, and overwinter habitat in enhancing aphid natural enemies. Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment, 199, 94-104.

Raymond, L., Ortiz-Martinez, S. A. &Lavandero, B. (2015). Temporal variability of aphid biological control in contrasting landscape contexts. Biological Control , 90, 148-156.

Root, R. B. (1973). Organization of a plant-arthropod association in simple and diverse habitats: the fauna of collards. Ecological Monographs, 43, 95-124.  1393 citations

Rusch, A., Bommarco, R., Jonsson, M., Smith, H. G. &Ekbom, B. (2013). Flow and stability of natural pest control services depend on complexity and crop rotation at the landscape scale. Journal of Applied Ecology, 50, 345-354.

Tahvanainen, J. & Root, R. B. (1972). The influence of vegetational diversity on the population ecology of a specialized herbivore Phyllotreta cruciferae (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae). Oecologia, 10, 321-346. 429 citations

Ullyett, G. C. (1947) Mortality factors in populations of Plutella maculipennis Curtis (Tineidae: Lep.) and their relation to the problem of control. Union of South Africa, Department of Agriculture and Forestry, Entomology Memoirs, 2, 77-202.

Post script

*I suspect, judging by how the two papers cite each other, that the Root (1973) paper was actually submitted first but that the vagaries of the publication system ,  meant that follow-up paper, Tahvanainen & Root (1972) appeared first.

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Not all books about aphids are for grown-ups!

A couple of weeks ago I was preparing a new lecture on the endocrine control of alary polymorphism in aphids. As is my wont when I want to get myself in the right frame of mind for aphid lecture writing, I went across to my book shelf to get down my copy of Tony Dixon’s excellent little book The Biology of Aphids (it might be old but it has some of the simplest and clearest explanations of complex aphid biology that I know of).

Anna aphid1

To my horror (and shock) it wasn’t here.  I had obviously lent it to a student and not instilled the fear of death into them :-)  Once I got over my shock I turned to the internet (Amazon to be exact), and searched for an acceptable copy, which I successfully found*.  Whilst browsing the virtual shelves however, my eye was caught by a book with the intriguing title Anna Aphid.    I was stunned and amused, and as it cost less than a fiver including postage, I added it to my virtual basket.

A few days later it arrive and I was the proud owner of Anna Aphid  by Christine Goppel.

Anna aphid2

Anna Aphid http://www.christinegoppel.de/flashseite.html

I instantly sat down and read it cover to cover (it isn’t very long). I don’t usually post book reviews, but having read it and pedantically groaned at the aphidological errors, I thought I might as well as share my thoughts with you all.  Anna Aphid was published by North-South Books in September  2005, and if they had any in stock you could buy it new for £9.99, (or $8.45 in the USA); don’t worry, there are plenty of used copies available, and mine was in very good condition.

The blurb for states “A tiny aphid named Anna lives on a big green leaf with her family. But Anna is different from the other aphids. She is curious to discover what lies beyond their green world. So Anna sets off to explore. In an entertaining visual guessing game, we see things from Anna’s point of view”

This is a fairly accurate statement of the content, although it gives things away a bit by saying that she lives on a leaf, as in the book Anna thinks she is living on a planet (remove the letter e and you get the pun).  The book which is very well-written, details the adventures of Anna from her beginnings as an apterous (non-winged) aphid, living with her family, including her father, (yes, a big aphidological blooper).  She expresses a wish to see the rest of the universe, and despite everything I had just read about endocrine control of alary polymorphism :-) suddenly sprouts wings, although given that her living conditions as shown in the illustrations seem quite crowded, this would be acceptable if she had just moulted to adulthood.  As an aphid pedant, I couldn’t help noticing that she only had one pair of wings instead of the normal two that I would expect.  The cephalo-thorax-abdomen body structure was also hard to ignore, as was the fact that poor Anna seemed to have mislaid a pair of legs somewhere.

Anna aphid3

Anna takes flight (she looks more like a frog with wings than an aphid)

Having taken flight and set off into the unknown vastness of space (from an aphid’s point of view), Anna has a series of adventures and near escapes from death.  She flies too near to the sun, narrowly escaping being burnt to a cinder, then lands on the moon where she attempts

Anna aphid4

Anna landing on the moon and giving us an interesting view of aphid feet!

to eat the strange vegetation she finds there , in the course of which she reveals that instead of having piercing and sucking mouthparts, she appears to be equipped with chewing ones.

Anna aphid5

Anna exhibiting non-standard mouth parts as she eats moon fodder.

Anna then hitches a lift on a comet, and lands on a shaggy red planet, which turns out to be yet another dangerous place as she is almost sucked into a black hole. Luckily, an exploding planet hurls Anna into a bubbling sea where she only just escapes drowning by climbing onto a small island.

Anna aphid6

The bubbling sea

 Safe from drowning, a gentle warm breeze helps her recover her strength enabling her to fly back to her home planet, and an excited

Anna aphid7

A warm breeze sending Anna safely on her way home

welcome from her whole family. She reports back to her father “I didn’t meet any other forms of intelligent life, but the universe is so big! Who knows what is out there”  Taken as an analogy for the huge number of insects that remain to be discovered, classified and researched, I can only agree with her sentiments.

Anna aphid8

The universe revealed! Can you guess which objects were which planetary features?

Actually, pedantic aphidological quibbles aside, I quite enjoyed the book.  It was a very pleasant surprise to find aphids featuring in such a positive and amusing way in fiction.  It would have been nice if the biology, especially the mouth parts, eyes, and other anatomical features were a bit more true to life, but it is just possible that I am slightly jealous that it had never occurred to me to write a story about an aphid :-)  If you have children, grand-children, nieces or nephews of a suitable age I would certainly recommend it as a very suitable present and hopefully having read it, or had it read to them, they will learn to love aphids as much as I do.

 

References

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

 

Post script

*I actually bought two copies of The Biology of Aphids, one which was in less good condition.  The sale details included the phrase “having owner’s name on inside front cover”, so I had to buy it just to check that it wasn’t my original copy that had been sold on by whichever student had ‘borrowed’ it.  As I should have expected it wasn’t mine :-) but still, it is always handy to have a spare copy in case one goes walkabout like my original did.

 

Post post script

In one of my emails to my daughter who lives in Australia, I mentioned that I had bought Anna Aphid and to my surprise received the following reply “I bought that book! The boys know about aphids, especially Toby; “ladybugs eat them” “so I was behind the curve yet again!

 

 

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Serious Fun with Google Trends

No doubt I am behind the curve, but I have only recently discovered Google Trends; a result of attending a Departmental seminar given by a colleague talking about Biochar!

To quote WikipediaGoogle Trends is a public web facility of Google Inc., based on Google Search, that shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world, and in various languages. The horizontal axis of the main graph represents time (starting from 2004), and the vertical is how often a term is searched for relative to the total number of searches, globally.”  I was greatly taken by my colleague’s slide showing the birth and development of a new concept

Trends1

and wondered if this would be a useful tool to look at some entomological topics.  Immediately after the seminar I rushed back to my office, and as you may have guessed, entered the word “aphid” into the search bar and was, after a bit of computer chuntering, rewarded with my first Google Trend output  :-)

Trends2

Trends3

I was immediately struck by how closely this resembled real aphid population

Trends4

data, albeit a more regular and smoother than these examples of real  data.  I found that if you ran the cursor along the data lines the month was displayed, and as I expected, the peak in aphid interest was generally June and May, reflecting their peak abundance in the field.   I next entered

Trends5

“Ladybird” to see if it coincided with aphid peaks and interestingly found that it had two peaks within each year, May, when they start to become active and October when they start to look for hibernation sites, so as with aphids, the frequency of the search term usage reflects biological activity.  “Butterfly” and “Ant” as search terms revealed that interest in ants and butterflies has remained

Trends6

fairly constant over the last decade or so, although somewhat to my surprise, ants have had proportionately more searches than butterflies.  Given my worries about the declining interest in plant sciences and the funding problems facing

Trends7

entomology, I thought it might be educational to compare botany and entomology.

Not an encouraging picture, although at least the decline has plateaued out.  Then, just in case, as in many universities, Botany departments have been replaced with Plant Science departments, and is now taught under that title,

Trends8

I substituted “Plant Science” for “Botany” and was surprised to see that “Entomology” was searched for about twice as many times as “Plant Science”.

Comparing “Botany” with “Plant Science” reveals that “Botany” was searched for considerably far more than “Plant Science”, despite most universities no longer having Botany Departments. Perhaps they should reconsider their decision to do away with the title?

Trends9

Keeping with the subject theme and having written in the past about how molecular biology has gained funding and kudos at the expense of whole organism biology (Leather & Quicke, 2010) I compared “Entomology” with

Trends10

“Botany” and “Molecular Biology” to find, that although overall “Molecular Biology” beats both subjects, interest in the subject has also declined over the last decade. One of my bugbears is the amount of interest and funding that the so called “charismatic mega-fauna” gain at the expense of, in my opinion, the much more deserving invertebrates.

Trends11

I therefore compared “Giant Panda”, with “Insect” and “Entomology” and was pleasantly surprised to see that “Insect” wasn’t quite overshadowed by “Giant Panda” although somewhat saddened to see that the whole discipline of “Entomology” was not overly popular.

I confess that felt a little frisson of delight when I found that in recent years “Asian giant hornet” has been giving the “Giant panda” a bit of competition :-)

 

Trends12

Recently there has been huge debate over the use of neonicotinoids and their possible/probably part they may have in the decline of bees of all sorts (Jeff Ollerton’s blog is a good place to follow the latest news about the debate), so I used “Bee” “Bumblebee” and “Neonicitinoid” as search terms and was

Trends13

surprised to find that “Neonicitinoid” in this context has not really had an impact, although if you search for “Neonicitinoid” by itself you

Trends14

 

can see that there is an increasing interest in the topic.  A corollary to the banning of pesticides or a call for a reduction in their usage as outlined by the EU Sustainable Use Directive, should be an increased interest in the use of alternative pest control methods, such as

Trends15

This does not, however, appear to be the case, with interest in biological control and IPM being at their highest in 2004-2006 and despite the ‘neonictinoid debate’ no signs of interest increasing, which is something to puzzle about.

It appears that there is definitely something to be learnt from using Google Trends, although it would be more useful if some indication of the actual number of searches could be made available.  A word of caution, make sure that your search term is well defined, for

Trends16

example a general search using “butterfly” will give you results for the swimming stroke as well as for the insects.

Although you can compare different geographical regions, and also see the figures for related searches,  what does seem to be lacking,

Trends17

or perhaps I have been unable to find it, is a way to compare different locations at the same time on the same graph.

I would be very interested to hear from any of you who have used this already and also from any of you who are inspired to use this by my post.  Please do feel free to comment.  Have fun!

References

Estay, S.A., Lima, M., Labra, F.A., & Harrington, R. (2012) Increased outbreak frequency associated with changes in the dynamic behavour of populations of two aphid species. Oikos, 121, 614-622.

Leather, S. R. & Quicke, D. L. J. (2010). Do shifting baselines in natural history knowledge threaten the environment? Environmentalist 30, 1-2.

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