There is a general perception that entomologists* are bearded, eccentric elderly men, with deplorable dress sense, something I must confess I probably do little to dispel. Beard and entomologically-themed clothing – living the stereotype🙂 Whilst it is certainly true that many Victorian entomologists fitted this description, it was and is not, a universal requisite for […]
There is a general perception that entomologists* are bearded, eccentric elderly men, with deplorable dress sense, something I must confess I probably do little to dispel.
Beard and entomologically-themed clothing – living the stereotype 🙂
Whilst it is certainly true that many Victorian entomologists fitted this description, it was and is not, a universal requisite for entomologists, although the images below may suggest otherwise.
Two views of the same beard
Two famous (and bearded coleopterists) Charles Darwin and David Sharp – two great examples of an elderly entomological beard.
Alfred Russel Wallace – often overlooked so have not paired him with Darwin 🙂
Two examples of the weird (to me at any rate) under the chin beard.
Elegant (?) entomologists; note not all are bearded 🙂 From the Aurelian’s Fireside Companion
To return to the proposition that male entomologists are facially hirsute, we need to answer the question, were, and are male entomologists different from the general population? Up until the 1850s beards were fairly uncommon and usually associated with radical political views (Oldstone-Moore, 2005). Entomologists were no exception, those from the 18th and early 19th centuries, being in the main, clean-shaven, well-dressed gentlemen, or so their portraitists would have us believe.
Entomologists also remained relatively clean-shaven up to the 185os, as these pictures of two entomologists who became famously bearded in later life show.
Charles Darwin, fairly clean-shaven, but sporting fashionable side boards, 1854, pre-Crimean War, and a youthful, clean-shaven Alfred Russel Wallace.
After the 1850s, beards and bushy side boards began to be seen as a sign of masculinity (Oldstone-Moore, 2005). This was further reinforced as a result of the conditions during the Crimean War where due to the freezing conditions and lack of shaving soap, beards became commonplace among the soldiers. Beards were then seen as a sign of the hero, hence the adoption by many civilian males of the time (Oldstone-Moore, 2005). This sporting of facial hair was not just confined to entomologists, as the pictures of my great-great-grandfather and his cousin show.
Two Victorian civil engineers – my great-great grandfather John Wignall Leather and his cousin, John Towlerton Leather.
Entomologists were however, still very much bearded at the end of the century.
A group of entomologists from the north-west of England in the 1890s. Some impressive beards and moustaches; from the Aurelian’s Fireside Companion
So during the latter half of the 19th century, it would seem that male entomologists were no different from any other male of the time.
The full beard, except for those associated with the Royal Navy, started to disappear soon after the beginning of the 20th Century; the Boer Wars and the First World War hastening its departure. Moustaches were still common however, and many entomologists remained resolutely bearded until the 1920s, although perhaps not as luxuriantly so as some of their 19th century predecessors.
A group of entomologists from 1920 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percy_Ireland_Lathy#/media/File:BulletinHillMuseum1923.jpg
It is surprisingly difficult to find group photographs of entomologists on the internet, so I have been unable to do a robust analysis of the proportions of bearded entomologists through the ages. Two of the most influential entomologists of the first half of the last century were however, most definitely clean-shaven.
Sir Vincent Wigglesworth (1899-1994) and A D Imms (1880-1949), the authors of my generation’s two entomological ‘bibles’. Definitely clean shaven.
The 1960s and 1970s were renowned for the hairiness of males in general (at least those in the West) and this especially spread into the world of students, many of whom were entomologists. My memories of those times of attending meetings of the Royal Entomological Society and the British Ecological Society are of a dominance of beards among the male delegates and not just those in their twenties, but then memory is a funny thing. I was, for example, lucky enough to attend the Third European Congress of Entomology held in Amsterdam in 1986. My memory is of many bearded entomologists, but looking at the photograph of the delegates only 30% of the male delegates are bearded.
The third European Congress of Entomology, Amsterdam 1986 – I am there, suitably bearded 🙂 The eagle-eyed among you may be able to spot a young John (now Sir John) Lawton, also bearded.
More shocking is the fact that the photograph shows that less than 20% of the delegates were female. Times have changed since then, and as the two recent photos below show, we now have more female entomologists and fewer beards, the former a very positive trend, that I heartily endorse, the latter, something I am less happy about 🙂
Entomological Society of America 2016
Generally speaking, it seems that beards are in decline and female entomologists are on the rise, something that I have, in my position as the Verrall Supper Secretary of the oldest extant entomological society in the world been at pains to encourage.
As to the matter of entomological eccentricity, that is another thing entirely. As far as most non-entomologists are concerned anyone who loves insects and their allies is somewhat eccentric, and if that is indeed the case then I am happy to be considered eccentric.
Me, happy with my head in a net
Eccentricity is not just confined to those of us in our dotage.
A modern day eccentric? Josh Jenkins-Shaw ex-MSc Entomology Harper Adams University, now pursuing a PhD at the Natural History Museum of Denmark at the University of Copenhagen resolving the biogeography of Lord Howe Island using beetle phylogenetics, mostly the rove beetle subtribe Amblyopinina.
A selection of entomologist from our Department at Harper Adams University – not all bearded but we are all wearing antennae!
Perhaps Santa Claus is an entomologist!
Merry Christmas to all my readers 🙂
Oldstone-Moore, C. (2005) The beard movement in Victorian Britain. Victorian Studies, 48, 7-34.
Salmon, M.J. & Edwards, P.J. (2005) The Aurelian’s Fireside Companion. Paphia Publishing Ltd. Lymington UK.
*That is of course if they know the meaning of the word. I am constantly being surprised by the number of people who ask what an entomologist is and as for the ways in which entomology is spelt by the media, words fail me 🙂
I have been musing about extinctions and shifting baselines for a while now; BREXIT and an article by Simon Barnes in the Sunday Times magazine (3rd September 2016) finally prompted me to actually put fingers to keyboard. I fear that BREXIT will result in even more environmental damage than our successive governments have caused already. They have done a pretty good job of ignoring environmental issues and scientific advice (badgers) even when ‘hindered’ by what they have considered restrictive European legislation and now that we head into BREXIT with a government not renowned for its care for the environment I become increasing fearful for the environment. Remember who it was who restructured English Nature into the now fairly toothless Natural England, because they didn’t like the advice they were being given and whose government was it who, rather than keep beaches up to Blue Flag standard decided to reclassify long-established resort beaches as not officially designated swimming beaches? And, just to add this list of atrocities against the environment, we now see our precious ‘green belt’ being attacked.
My generation is liable to wax lyrical about the clouds of butterflies that surrounded us as we played very non PC cowboys and Indians outside with our friends in the glorious sunshine. We can also fondly reminisce about the hordes of moths that used to commit suicide in the lamp fittings or beat fruitlessly against the sitting room windows at night. The emptying of the lamp bowl was a weekly ceremony in our house. We also remember, less fondly, having to earn our pocket-money by cleaning our father’s cars, laboriously scraping the smeared bodies of small flies from windscreens, headlamps and radiator grilles on a Saturday morning. A few years later as students, those of us lucky enough to own a car, remember the hard to wash away red smears left by the eyes of countless Bibionid (St Mark’s) flies, as they crashed into our windscreens.
Typical Bibionid – note the red eyes; designed specially to make a mess on your windscreen 🙂 https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/GBgoGHhRbj-eUUF9SxZ4s9MTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=embedwebsite
Are these memories real or are we looking back at the past through those rose-tinted glasses that only show the sunny days when we lounged on grassy banks listening to In the Summertime and blank out the days we were confined to the sitting room table playing board games?
We have reliable and robust long-term data sets showing the declines of butterflies and moths over the last half-century or so (Thomas, 2005; Fox, 2013) and stories about this worrying trend attract a lot of media attention. On a less scientific note, I certainly do not find myself sweeping up piles of dead moths from around bedside lamps or extricating them from the many spider webs that decorate our house. Other charismatic groups, such as the dragonflies and damselflies are also in decline (Clausnitzer et al., 2009) as are the ubiquitous, and equally charismatic ground beetles (carabids) (Brooks et al., 2012). But what about other insects, are they too on the way out? A remarkable 42-year data set looking at the invertebrates found in cereal fields in southern England (Ewald et al., 2015) found that of the 26 invertebrate taxa studied less than half showed a decrease in abundance; e.g. spiders, Braconid parasitic wasps, carabid beetles, Tachyporus beetles, Enicmus (scavenger beetles), Cryptophagid fungus beetles, leaf mining flies (Agromyzids), Drosophila, Lonchopteridae (pointed wing flies), and surprisingly, or perhaps not, aphids. The others showed no consistent patterns although bugs, excluding aphids, increased over the study period. Cereal fields are of course not a natural habitat and are intensely managed, with various pesticides being applied, so are perhaps not likely to be the most biodiverse or representative habitats to be found in the UK.
But what about the car-smearing insects, the flies, aphids and other flying insects? Have they declined as dramatically? My first thought was that I certainly don’t ‘collect’ as many insects on my car as I used to, but is there any concrete evidence to support the idea of a decline in their abundance. After all, there has been a big change in the shape of cars since the 1970s.
Top row – cars from 1970, including the classic Morris 1000 Traveller that my Dad owned and I had to wash on Saturdays.
Bottom row the cars of today, sleek rounded and all looking the same.
Cars were much more angular then, than they are now, so perhaps the aerodynamics of today’s cars filter the insects away from the windscreen to safety? But how do you test that? Then I remembered that the RSPB had once run a survey to address this very point. Sure enough I found it on the internet, the Big Bug Count 2004, organised by the RSPB. I was very surprised to find that it happened more than a decade ago, I hadn’t thought it was that long ago, but that is what age does to you 🙂
The “Splatometer” as designed by the RSPB
The idea, which was quite cool, was to get standardised counts of insect impacts on car number plates. The results were thought to be very low as the quote below shows, but on what evidence was this based?
“Using a cardboard counting-grid dubbed the “splatometer”, they recorded 324,814 “splats”, an average of only one squashed insect every five miles. In the summers of 30-odd years ago, car bonnets and windscreens would quickly become encrusted with tiny bodies.” “Many people were astonished by how few insects they splatted,” the survey’s co-ordinator Richard Bashford, said.
Unfortunately despite the wide reporting in the press at the time, the RSPB did not repeat the exercise. A great shame, as their Big Garden Birdwatch is very successful and gathers useful data. So what scientific evidence do we have for a decline in these less charismatic insects? Almost a hundred years ago, Bibionid flies were regarded as a major pest (Morris, 1921) and forty years ago it was possible to catch almost 70 000 adults in a four week period from one field in southern England (Darcy-Burt & Blackshaw, 1987). Both these observations suggest that in the past Bibionids were very common. It is still possible to pluck adult Bibionids out of the air (they are very slow, clumsy fliers) in Spring, but if asked I would definitely say that they are not as common as they were when I was a student. But as Deming once said, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” In the UK we are fortunate that a long-term source of insect data exists, courtesy of Rothamsted Research, the longest running agricultural research station in the world. Data have been collected from a nationwide network of suction and light traps for more than 50 years (Storkey et al., 2016). Most of the publications arising from the survey have tended to focus on aphids (Bell et al., 2015) and moths (Conrad et al., 2004), although the traps, do of course, catch many other types of insect (Knowler et al., 2016). Fortuitously, since I was interested in the Bibionids I came across a paper that dealt with them, and other insects likely to make an impact on cars and splatometers (Shortall et al., 2009). The only downside of their paper was that they only looked at data from four of the Rothamsted Suction Traps, all from the southern part of the UK, which was a little disappointing.
Location and results of the suction traps analysed by Shortall et al. (2009).
Only three of the trap showed downward trends in insect biomass over the 30 years (1973-2002) analysed of which only the Hereford trap showed a significant decline. So we are really none the wiser; the two studies that focus on a wider range of insect groups (Shortall et al., 2009; Ewald et al., 2015) do not give us a clear indication of insect decline. On the other hand, both studies are limited in their geographic coverage; we do not know how representative the results are of the whole country.
What a shame the RSPB stopped collecting ‘splatometer’ data, we would now have a half-decent time series on which to back-up or contradict our memories of those buzzing summers of the past.
After posting this I came across this paper based on Canadian research which shows that many pollinators, possibly billions are killed by vehicles every year.
Bell, J.R., Alderson, L., Izera, D., Kruger, T., Parker, S., Pickup, J., Shortall, C.R., Taylor, M.S., Verrier, P. & Harrington, R. (2015) Long-term phenological trends, species accumulation rates, aphid traits and climate: five decades of change in migrating aphids. Journal of Animal Ecology, 84, 21-34.
Brooks, D.R., Bater, J.E., Clark, S.J., Montoth, D.J., Andrews, C., Corbett, S.J., Beaumont, D.A., & Chapman, J.W. (2012) Large carabid beetle declines in a United Kingdom monitoring network increases evidence for a widespread loss of insect biodiversity. Journal of Applied Ecology, 49, 1009-1019.
Clausnitzer, V., Kalkman, V.J., Ram, M., Collen, B., Baillie, J.E.M., Bedjanic, M., Darwall, W.R.T., Dijkstra, K.D.B., Dow, R., Hawking, J., Karube, H., Malikova, E., Paulson, D., Schutte, K., Suhling, F., Villaneuva, R.J., von Ellenrieder, N. & Wilson, K. (2009) Odonata enter the biodiversity crisis debate: the first global assessment of an insect group. Biological Conservation, 142, 1864-1869.
Conrad, K.F., Woiwod, I.P., Parsons, M., Fox, R. & Warren, M.S. (2004) Long-term population trends in widespread British moths. Journal of Insect Conservation, 8, 119-136.
Darcy-Burt, S. & Blackshaw, R.P. (1987) Effects of trap design on catches of grassland Bibionidae (Diptera: Nematocera). Bulletin of Entomological Research, 77, 309-315.
Ewald, J., Wheatley, C.J., Aebsicher, N.J., Moreby, S.J., Duffield, S.J., Crick, H.Q.P., & Morecroft, M.B. (2015) Influences of extreme weather, climate and pesticide use on invertebrates in cereal fields over 42 years. Global Change Biology, 21, 3931-3950.
Fox, R. (2013) The decline of moths in Great Britain: a review of possible causes. Insect Conservation & Diversity, 6, 5-19.
Knowler, J.T., Flint, P.W.H., & Flint, S. (2016) Trichoptera (Caddisflies) caught by the Rothamsted Light Trap at Rowardennan, Loch Lomondside throughout 2009. The Glasgow Naturalist, 26, 35-42.
Morris, H.M. (1921) The larval and pupal stages of the Bibionidae. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 12, 221-232.
Shortall, C.R., Moore, A., Smith, E., Hall, M.J. Woiwod, I.P. & Harrington, R. (2009) Long-term changes in the abundance of flying insects. Insect Conservation & Diversity, 2, 251-260.
Storkey, J., MacDonald, A.J., Bell, J.R., Clark, I.M., Gregory, A.S., Hawkins, N. J., Hirsch, P.R., Todman, L.C. & Whitmore, A.P. (2016) Chapter One – the unique contribution of Rothamsted to ecological research at large temporal scales Advances in Ecological Research, 55, 3-42.
Thomas, J.A. (2005) Monitoring change in the abundance and distribution of insects using butterflies and other indicator groups. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 360, 339-357
“When I was younger, so much younger than before” I never needed any help to come up with ideas for research topics or papers. When I was doing my PhD and later as a post-doc, I used to keep a note pad next to my bed so that when I woke up in the middle of night with an idea (which I often did) I could scribble it down and go back to sleep. (These days sadly, it is my bladder and not ideas that wake me up in the wee small hours 🙂*)
On waking up properly, these ideas, if they still seemed sensible, would move onto Stage 2, the literature search. In those days, this was much more difficult than it is now, no Google Scholar or Web of Science then, instead you had to wade though the many hard-copy Abstract series and then get hard copies of the papers of interest. Once in my hands, either via Inter-library loans or direct from the author, or even photocopied from the journal issue (we did have photocopiers in those days), the papers would be shoved into a handy see-through plastic folder (Stage 3). Depending on how enthusiastic I was about the idea, I would then either mock-up a paper title page or put the folder in the ‘to deal with later’ pile (Stage 4). Many of these eventually led on to Stage 5, experiments and published papers. Others have languished in their folders for twenty or thirty years.
As part of my phased run up to retirement (2021), I have started farming out my long-term publishable (hopefully) data-sets to younger, more statistically astute colleagues and ‘publishing’ less robust, but possibly useful data on my blog site. I have also, somewhat halfheartedly since the task is monumental, started to go through my old field and lab books that
A monumental collection of data. The top right picture is my 20-year sycamore data set. I estimate that there are about 7 million data points in it; of which to date only 1.6 million, give or take a million, are computerised. I also have a ten-year bird cherry aphid data set from Scotland, waiting to go on the computer, any volunteers?
are not yet computerised. Whilst doing this I came across some Stage 3 folders, which as you can see from the colour of the paper have languished for some time.
The Forgotten Nine
There were nine forgotten/dismissed proto-papers, the oldest of which, judging by the browning of the paper and my corresponding address, dates from the early 1980s, and is simply titled “What are the costs of reproduction?”. This appears to have been inspired by a talk given by Graham Bell at a British Ecological Society, Mathematical Ecology Group meeting in 1983. In case you are wondering, this was one of those meetings supposed to bring theorists and empiricists together. It didn’t work, neither group felt able to talk to each other 🙂 The idea, inevitably based on aphid data, didn’t bear any fruit, although I do have this graph as a souvenir. If anyone wants
In those days we used graph paper 🙂
the data, do let me know.
Slightly later, we find the grandly titled, “Size and phylogeny – factors affecting covariation in the life history traits of aphids”. This had apparently been worked up from an earlier version of a paper, less grandly, but no less ponderously, titled, “Size and weight: factors affecting the level of reproductive investment in aphids”. This is based on some basic dissection data from eight aphid species and presents the relationships, or lack of, between adult weight (or surrogate measure), ovariole number, potential fecundity and the number of pigmented embryos. As far as I can remember these are data that Paul Wellings** and I collected as a follow-up to work we had published from a side project when we were doing our PhDs at the University of East Anglia (Wellings et al., 1980). The second title was inspired by a paper by Stephen Stearns (Stearns, 1984), who was something of a hero of mine at the time, and was, I guess, an attempt to publish pretty simple data somewhere classier than it deserved 🙂 So this one seems to be a Stage 4, almost Stage 5 idea, and may, if I have time or someone volunteers, actually get published, although I suspect it may only make it to a very minor journal under its original title.
Then we have a real oddity, “Aphids, elephants and oaks: life history strategies re-examined”. This one as far as I remember, is based on an idea that I had about r- and k-selection being looked at from a human point of view and not the organism’s point of view. My thesis was that an oak tree was actually r-selected as over its life-time it was more fecund than an aphid 🙂 I suspect this was going to be aimed at the Forum section of Oikos.
The next one, dates from the late-1980s, “Protandry versus protogyny: patterns of occurrence within the Lepidoptera”, and reflects the fact that females of the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea, on which I was then working, emerge before the males (Leather & Barbour, 1983; Leather, 1984), something not often reported in Lepidoptera. I wondered what advantage (if any) this gave P. flammea. I planned this one as a review or forum type paper but never got beyond the title and collecting two references (Robertson, 1987; Zonneveld & Metz, 1991). I still think this is an interesting idea, but do feel free to have a go yourselves, as again, I suspect that I won’t actually get round to it.
Finishing off my time in Scotland, is a paper simply entitled, “Egg hatch in the bird cherry aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi.” I have ten years of egg hatch data from eight trees waiting to be analysed. This is almost certainly not worth more than a short note unless I (or a willing volunteer) tie it in with the ten years data on spring and autumn populations on the same trees 🙂 Aphid egg data although not very abundant, is probably not in great demand. My first published paper (Leather, 1980) was about egg mortality in the bird cherry aphid and 36 years later has only managed to accrue 32 citations, so I guess not an area where one is likely to become famous 🙂
I then have four papers dating from my time as an Associate Member of the NERC Centre for Population Biology at Silwood Park. The first is titled, “The suitability of British Prunus species as insect host plants” and was definitely inspired by my foray into counting host plant dots as exemplified by the late great Richard Southwood (Leather, 1985, 1986). I think I was going to look at palatability measures of some sort.
The next is called ‘Realising their full potential: is it important and how many insects achieve it?” I’m guessing that this was a sort of follow-up to my second most-cited paper ever (Leather, 1988), the story of which you can read here, if at all interested. Most insects, even those that are pests, die before achieving anywhere near their full reproductive potential, but then so do we humans, and our population continues to grow. So in answer to the question, I guess not and no it doesn’t matter 🙂
Also linked to insect reproduction is the next paper, which I have followed up with the help of a PhD student, and do hope to submit in the near future, “Queue positions, do they matter”. As this one may actually see the light of day, I won’t say anything further about it.
And finally, another one about aphid eggs, “Bud burst and egg hatch synchrony in aphids”. This one was going to be based on my then ten-year sycamore aphid data but is now based on my twenty-year data set and is now in the very capable hands of a PhD student and hopefully will see the light of day next year.
There are also a number of other folders with no titles that are just full of collections of reprints. I can only guess at what these ideas were so won’t burden you with them.
I mentioned at the beginning of this piece that I don’t wake up in the middle of the night with ideas any more. As we get older I think there is a tendency to worry that we might run out of ideas, especially when, as we do in the UK, suffer from ludicrously underfunded research councils with very high rejection rates that don’t allow you to resubmit failed grant applications. It was thus reassuring to see this recent paper that suggests that all is not lost after you hit the grand old age of 30. That said, I do believe that as you move away from the bench or field, the opportunity to be struck by what you see, does inevitably reduce. As a PhD student and post-doc you are busy doing whatever it is you do, in my case as an ecological entomologist, counting things, and inevitably you see other things going on within and around your study system, that spark off other ideas. It was the fear of losing these opportunities as I moved up the academic ladder, which inevitably means, less field and bench time and more time writing grant applications and sitting on committees, that I specifically set aside Monday mornings (very early mornings) to my bird cherry plots and even earlier Thursday mornings to survey my sycamore trees. Without those sacrosanct mornings I am pretty certain I would have totally lost sight of what is humanly possible to do as a PhD student or post-doc. This, thankfully for my research group, means that I had, and have, realistic expectations of what their output should be, thus reducing stress levels all round. As a side benefit I got to go out in the fresh air at least twice a week and do some exercise and at the same time see the wonderful things that were going on around and about my study areas and as a bonus had the chance to get some new ideas.
Leather, S.R. (1984) Factors affecting pupal survival and eclosion in the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea (D&S). Oecologia, 63, 75-79.
Leather, S.R. (1985) Does the bird cherry have its ‘fair share’ of insect pests ? An appraisal of the species-area relationships of the phytophagous insects associated with British Prunus species. Ecological Entomology, 10, 43-56.
Leather, S.R. (1986) Insect species richness of the British Rosaceae: the importance of host range, plant architecture, age of establishment, taxonomic isolation and species-area relationships. Journal of Animal Ecology, 55, 841-860.
Leather, S.R. (1988) Size, reproductive potential and fecundity in insects: Things aren’t as simple as they seem. Oikos, 51, 386-389.
Leather, S.R. & Barbour, D.A. (1983) The effect of temperature on the emergence of pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea Schiff. Zeitschrift fur Angewandte Entomologie, 96, 445-448.
Robertson, H.G. (1987) Oviposition and site selection in Cactoblastis cactorum (Lepidoptera): constraints and compromises. Oecologia, 73, 601-608.
Stearns, S.C. (1984) The effects of size and phylogeny on patterns of covariation inthe life history traits of lizards and snakes. American Naturalist, 123, 56-72.
Wellings, P.W., Leather , S.R., & Dixon, A.F.G. (1980) Seasonal variation in reproductive potential: a programmed feature of aphid life cycles. Journal of Animal Ecology, 49, 975-985.
Zonneveld, C. & Metz, J.A.J. (1991) Models on butterfly protandry – virgin females are at risk to die. Theoretical Population Biology, 40, 308-321.
*I hasten to add that I do still have new ideas, they just don’t seem to wake me up any more 🙂
I got very annoyed the other day; the Zoological Society of London (Institute of Zoology) released what they termed a ”landmark report”. I guess you can all immediately see why I was annoyed. The headline of the press release very clearly states that global wildlife populations are on course to decline by 67% by 2020. What their report actually says is that global vertebrate populations are on course to decline.
Plants and invertebrates are a much bigger and more important part of global wildlife than the tiny fraction of the world’s species contributed by those animals with backbones. I instantly posted a Tweet pointing out that for a scientific institution this was a highly inaccurate statement to be promulgating.
My comment (still ignored by them) at the ZSL press release
The ZSL despite being copied into the Tweet, have so far (three weeks later), not deigned to reply. I have taken the ZSL to task before with equally little success. To give them credit where it is due however, just over four years ago they did release Spineless, a report about the global status of invertebrates, although the press release associated with this was a much more low-key affair then the recent one that I took exception to 🙂
Dr. Ben Collen*, head of the Indicators and Assessments unit at ZSL says: “Invertebrates constitute almost 80 per cent of the world’s species, and a staggering one in five species could be at risk of extinction. While the cost of saving them will be expensive, the cost of ignorance to their plight appears to be even greater”.
ZSL’s Director of Conservation, Professor Jonathan Baillie added: “We knew that roughly one fifth of vertebrates and plants were threatened with extinction, but it was not clear if this was representative of the small spineless creatures that make up the majority of life on the planet. The initial findings in this report indicate that 20% of all species may be threatened. This is particularly concerning as we are dependent on these spineless creatures for our very survival.
Unlike Ryan Clark who was also stimulated to write a protest blog in response to the same article, I do have something against vertebrates; they suck away valuable research funding and resources away from the rest of the animal kingdom (Leather, 2009; Loxdale, 2016) and distract attention and people away from invertebrate conservation efforts (Leather, 2008; Cardoso et al., 2011). I have highlighted two sentences in the above quotes from the Spineless press release for very obvious reasons and wish that ZSL had taken these words to heart. If, however, you go to their research page it would seem that these were only empty promises as less than 10% of their projects deal with invertebrates. It is at times like this that I take comfort in the knowledge that I am not alone in despairing of the unfair treatment that invertebrates and the people that work with them suffer.
Sums it up nicely, despite the focus on marine invertebrates 🙂
I had a few minutes of relief after posting my Tweet about the ZSL and their lack of scientific integrity, but I still felt frustrated and annoyed. The need to do something further preyed on my mind, and then I had an idea. What about highlighting the charismatic mega-fauna that the ZSL and other similar bodies persist in ignoring. I went on a quick photographic safari and in a few minutes was able to produce a little visual dig at the fans of the so-called charismatic mega-fauna.
Going on safari as an entomologist
I thought this might raise a few appreciative likes from fellow entomologists and got back to work. I logged into Twitter a couple of hours later and was gratified, if somewhat surprised, to find that my Tweet seemed to have generated a bit of interest and not just from my followers.
Appreciative tweets and comments from fellow invertebrate lovers – click on the image to enlarge it
I had also been translated into Spanish!
Reaching the non-English speaking world 🙂
Then the Twitter account for the journal Insect Conservation & Diversity asked if anyone had other examples and generated a bit of a mini-Twitter storm with some great additions to the list.
I particularly liked the Buffalo tree hopper.
And then something I didn’t know existed happened –
I got a Gold Star!
This number of likes far exceeded my previous best-ever tweet, by a very long way. Seriously though, it made me think about what makes some
My previous best Tweet.
Tweets so much more retweetable than others. My invertebrate safari tweet didn’t go viral, my understanding is that viral tweets are those that are retweeted thousands of times, but it certainly had an impact on people’s lives, however fleetingly.
Having an impact, albeit not viral.
For those of you not up on Twitter analytics, what this means is that as of November 9th 2016, more than 33,000 people had seen my Tweet, of which almost 2000 had taken the trouble to click on it to make it bigger. Of those 33,000 who saw it almost 400 went to the trouble to click the Like button and 260 re-tweeted it. On the other hand, my serious taking the
Not so great an impact, but at least it was read by a few people 🙂
ZSL to task tweet, attracted much less attention, although one could argue that it was dealing with a much more serious issue. That aside, responses like this and the other many positive outcomes I have had since I joined Twitter make me even more convinced that Tweeting and blogging are incredibly useful ways of interacting with both the scientific community and general public and getting more people to truly appreciate the little things that run the world. Hopefully the ZSL, government funding agencies and conservation bodies will take notice of the plea by Axel Hochkirch (2016) to invest in entomologists and hence protect global biodiversity.
A timely reminder (Hochkirch, 2016)
And finally, to end on a lighter note, please nominate and highlight your own favourite ‘charismatic mega-fauna invertebrates’. There are many more out there.
Another view of the Buffalo tree hopper http://www.birddigiscoper.com/blogaugbug133a.jpg photograph by Mike McDowell
Cardoso, P., Erwin, T.L., Borges, P.A.V., & New, T.R. (2011) The seven impediments in invertebrate conservation and how to overcome them. Biological Conservation, 144, 2647-2655.
Hochkirch, A. (2016) The insect crisis we can’t ignore. Nature, 539, 141.
Leather, S.R. (2008) Conservation entomology in crisis? Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 23, 184-185.
Leather, S.R. (2009) Taxonomic chauvinism threatens the future of entomology. Biologist, 56, 10-13.
Loxdale, H.D. (2016) Insect science – a vulnerable discipline? Entomologia experimentalis et applicata, 159, 121-134.
*The lead author of the report, Ben Collen was a former undergraduate student of mine, but hard as I tried, I was unable to convert him to the joys of entomology 🙂
“The falling leaves
Drift by my window
The falling leaves
Of red and gold”
Red, green and gold, all on one tree
When Frank Sinatra sang Autumn Leaves he was almost certainly not thinking of aphids and I am pretty certain that the English lyricist, Johnny Mercer, who translated the words from the original French by Jacques Prévert wasn’t either 🙂
The colours we see in autumn are mainly due to two classes of pigment, the carotenoids (yellow-orange; think carrot) and the anthocyanins (red-purple). Carotenoids are present in the leaves all year round but are masked by the green chlorophyll. Chlorophyll breaks down in autumn, leaving the yellow carotenes visible. The anthocyanins on the other hand are not formed until autumn (Sanger, 1971; Lee & Gould, 2002) and this mixture of pigments give us the colours that have inspired so many artists.
Autumn Leaves Georgia O’Keeffe (1924) Tate Modern
To many, autumn starts with the appearance of the first turning leaves, to me it is the arrival of gynoparae* of the bird cherry-oat aphid (Rhopalosiphum padi) on my bird cherry (Prunus padus) trees.
Bird cherry, Prunus padus, leaves on the turn.
Little did I know when I started my PhD in 1977 that almost thirty years later I would be part of a raging debate about the function of autumn colouration in woody plants. At the time I was interested in the colonisation patterns (or as I pretentiously termed it in my thesis ‘remigration’) of bird cherry aphids from their secondary grass and cereal host plants to their primary host bird cherry. My study system was 30 bird cherry saplings divided between two cold frames in the Biology Compound at the University of East Anglia (Norwich). Every day from the middle of August until leaf fall I checked every leaf of each tree, for gynoparae, males and oviparae, carefully noting the position of each leaf, its phenological stage and giving it a unique number. I repeated this in the autumns of 1978 and 1979. The phenological stage was based on the leaf colour: green, mature; yellow, mature to senescent; red, senescent. What I reported was that more gynoparae landed on green and yellow leaves than on red and that the gynoparae on green and yellow leaves survived for longer and produced more offspring (oviparae), than those on red leaves (Leather, 1981). The gynoparae of the bird cherry aphid are quite special in that although as adults they do not feed (Leather, 1982), they do not land on bird cherry trees at random (Leather & Lehti, 1982), but choose trees that not only do their offspring (the oviparae) do better on, but that also favour those aphids hatching from eggs in the spring (Leather, 1986). It should not have come as a surprise then, that when I analysed some of the data I had collected all those years ago, their preference for green and yellow leaves over red ones, is linked to how long those
Figure 1. Length of time leaves remained on tree after first colonisation by gynoparae of Rhopalosiphum padi (F = 30.1 df 2/77, P <0.001)
leaves have left to live (Figure 1). The timing of events at this time of year, has, of necessity, got to be very precise. The egg-laying females (oviparae) are unable to develop on mature bird cherry leaves (Leather & Dixon, 1981), but it seems that the bird cherry aphid has this under control, making its decisions about the timing of the production of autumn forms (morphs) sometime in August (Ward et al., 1984). All very sensible as far as I was concerned and that was as far as I took things. Subsequent work by Furuta (1986) supported this in that he showed that maple aphids settled on and reproduced on green-yellow and yellow-orange leaves but avoided red leaves which had shorter life spans.
Jump forward fifteen years or so, and in a paper, that at the time, had somehow passed me by, the late great Bill Hamilton and Sam Brown (Hamilton & Brown, 2001) hypothesised that trees with an intense autumn display, similarly to those brightly coloured animals that signal their distastefulness with yellows, blacks and reds, were signalling their unsuitability as a host plant to aphids. Like the costs imposed on insects that sequester plant toxins to protect themselves against predators, the production of anthocyanins responsible for the red autumn colouration is expensive, especially when you consider that the leaves have only a short time left to live (Hoch et al., 2001). In autumn, trees and woody shrubs are normally mobilising resources in the leaves and moving them back into themselves ready to be used again the following spring (Dixon, 1963). Ecologists and evolutionary biologists were thus keen to explain the phenomenon in terms of trade-offs, for example, fruit flags that advertise the position of fruits for those trees that rely on seed dispersal by vertebrates (Stiles, 1982) or as ultra-violet screens to prevent tissue damage (Merzlyak & Gittelson, 1995). Hamilton & Brown felt that these hypotheses were either, in the case of the fruit flag, only applicable to trees with fruit present and, in the latter, untenable. Instead they advocated the ‘signalling hypothesis’ which was based on the premise that trees that suffer from a lot of aphids (attacked by more than one species rather than by large numbers of a single species), invest in greater levels of defence and in autumn advertise this using bright warning colours. The premise being, that although it is metabolically expensive for the plants to produce these colours, it is worth the investment if they result in a reduction in aphid attack.
This hypothesis was not without its detractors. Others suggested, that far from avoiding red colours, aphids were attracted to yellow or green as an indicator of host nutrition (Wilkinson et al., (2002). Holopainen & Peltonen (2002) also suggested that birch aphids use the onset of autumn colours to pick out those trees where nutrient retranslocation was happening, and thus with higher levels of soluble nitrogen in the leaves. This was of course, what I was trying to confirm back when I was doing my PhD. Conversely, supporters of the signalling hypothesis, argued that trees (birch again) that could ‘afford’ to produce bright autumn colours were fitter, so more resistant in general and that they were warning potential herbivores of this by a bright autumn display (Hagen et al 2004).
Round about this time (2002), I was approached by a young Swiss researcher, Marco Archetti, who knew that I had a plot of sixty bird cherry trees that I had planted up when I arrived at Silwood in 1992, originally designed to follow-up some work that I had begun whilst at the Forestry Commission looking at the effects of early season defoliation on subsequent tree growth (Leather, 1993, 1995). Marco convinced me that I had the ideal set-up to test the ‘signalling hypothesis’ and what was to be a very fruitful collaboration began.
We counted arriving gynoparae and their offspring (oviparae) throughout October (Marco making trips over from Oxford where he was then based**) noting leaf colour before and after each count. As with my PhD work we found that the greener trees were preferentially colonised by the gynoparae and that more oviparae were produced on those trees and that given what I had found earlier that bird cherry aphid gynoparae chose trees that are good hosts in spring (Leather, 1986), Marco felt that we were able to support the honest signalling hypothesis (Archetti & Leather, 2005). I was slightly less comfortable about this, as there are only two species of aphid that attack bird cherry and one of those is very rare and the original signalling hypothesis was based on the premise that it was trees that were attacked by a lot of aphid species that used the red colouration as a keep clear signal. Anyway, it was published 🙂
That said, others agreed with us, for example, Schaefer & Rolshausen (2006) who called it the defence indication hypothesis, arguing that bright colours advertise high levels of plant defence and that the herbivores would do well to stay away from those plants displaying them. On the other hand, Sinkkonen (2006) suggested that reproductively active plants produce autumn colours early to deter insects from feeding on them and thus reduce their seed set.
Chittka & Döring (2007) on the other hand, suggested that there is no need to look further than yellow carotenoids acting as integral components of photosynthesis and protection against light damage and red anthocyanins preventing photo-inhibition (Hoch et al., 2001) as to why trees turn colourful in autumn. In other words, nothing to do with the insects at all. A couple of years later however, Thomas Döring and Marco got together with another former colleague of mine from Silwood Park, Jim Hardie, and changed their minds slightly. This time, whilst conceding that red leaves are not attractive to aphids but noting that yellow leaves are even more attractive than green ones, suggested that the red colour could be being used to mask yellow (Döring et al., 2009).
Others have their own pet theories. In recent years, veteran Australian entomologist Tom White has become interested in the concept of insect species that specifically feed on senescent plant tissue (White, 2002, 2015) and added to the debate by suggesting that aphids in general are senescence feeders and thus choose green and yellow as they have longest time to live and that the red leaves are also nitrogen depleted (White, 2009) which is supported by my PhD data (Figure 1). This resulted in a spirited response by Lev-Yadun & Holopainen (2011) who claimed that he had misunderstood the scenario in thinking that leaves go sequentially from green to yellow to red, which they suggest is rare (I question this) and that actually in trees that go from green to red, the leaves still contain significant amounts of nitrogen, so a deterrent signal is still required.
Maple, green to yellow in this case
Spindle, Euonymus europaeus, green to red
What about those trees and other plants that have red or purple leaves in the spring or all year round and not just in autumn?
Some trees have red foliage all year
Trees like some of the ornamental cherries or copper beech? I haven’t been able to find any papers that suggest that red or purple-leaved varieties of beech and cherries are less susceptible to aphid attack. My own observations, probably imperfectly recalled, are that copper beech is regularly infested by the beech woolly aphid, Phyllaphis fagi , and just as heavily, if not more so than the normal green-leaved beech trees. That of course may just be a reflection that the white waxy wool covering the aphid stands out more against the red leaves. Perhaps someone out here might like to check this out? Some work that my friend and former colleague, Allan Watt, (sadly unpublished) did many years ago in Scotland looking at the effect of beech species and cultivar on infestation levels by the beech leaf mining weevil, Rhynchaenus fagi, did not indicate any differences between copper and green cultivars. It does seem however, that in cabbages, leaf colour can tell the specialist cabbage aphid, Brevicoryne brassciae, if plants are well defended or not, the bluer the cabbage, the nastier it is (Green et al, 2015).
- Red leaves are produced by the trees in autumn to reduce ultraviolet damage and protect metabolic processes in the leaf.
- Red leaves are deliberately produced by the tree to warn aphids that their leaves are well defended – honest signalling.
- Red leaves are produced by the tree to ‘fool’ the herbivores that the leaves are likely to drop soon and warn them to keep away so as to safeguard their fruit – dishonest signalling.
- The tree is blissfully unaware of the aphids and the aphids are exploiting the intensity of the autumn colours produced by the trees to select which are the best trees to colonise in terms of nutrition and length of time left on the tree.
As I write, the debate still goes on and we seem no nearer to arriving at a definitive answer to the riddle of why trees produce bright leaves in autumn. If nothing else however, the debate has generated a lot of interest and enabled people to sneak some amusing titles into the scientific literature. Do make the effort to read the titles of some of the references below.
Archetti, M. (2009) Phylogenetic analysis reveals a scattered distribution of autumn colours. Annals of Botany, 103, 703-713.
Archetti, M. & Leather, S.R. (2005) A test of the coevolution theory of autumn colours: colour preference of Rhopalosiphum padi on Prunus padus. Oikos, 110, 339-343.
Chittka, L. & Döring, T.F. (2007) Are autumn foliage colors red signals to aphids? PLoS Biology , 5(8): e187. Doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050187.
Dixon, A.F.G. (1963) Reproductive activity of the sycamore aphid, Drepanosiphum platanoides (Schr) (Hemiptera, Aphididae). Journal of Animal Ecology, 32, 33-48.
Döring, T.F., Archetti, M. & Hardie, J. (2009) Autumn leaves seen through herbivore eyes. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B., 276, 121-127.
Furuta, K. (1986) Host preferences and population dynamics in an autumnal population of the maple aphid, Periphyllus californiensis Shinji (Homoptera: Aphididae). Zeitschrift fur Angewandte Entomologie, 102, 93-100.
Green, J.P., Foster, R., Wilkins, L., Osorio, D. & Hartley, S.E. (2015) Leaf colour as a signal of chemical defence to insect herbivores in wild cabbage (Brassica oleracea). PLoS ONE, 10(9): e0136884.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0136884.
Hagen, S.B. (2004) Autumn coloration as a signal of tree condition. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 271, S184-S185.
Hamilton, W.D. & Brown, S.P. (2001) Autumn tree colours as handicap signal. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B, 268, 1489-1493.
Hoch , W.A., Zeldin, E.L. & McCown, B.H. (2001) Physiological significance of anthocyanins during autumnal leaf senescence. Tree Physiology, 21, 1-8.
Holopainen, J.K. & Peltonen, P. (2002) Bright colours of deciduous trees attract aphids: nutrient retranslocation hypothesis. Oikos, 99, 184-188.
Leather, S.R. (1981) Reproduction and survival: a field study of the gynoparae of the bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi (L.). Annales Entomologici Fennici, 47, 131-135.
Leather, S.R. (1982) Do gynoparae and males need to feed? An attempt to allocate resources in the bird cherry-oat aphid Rhopalosiphum padi. Entomologia experimentalis et applicata, 31, 386-390.
Leather, S.R. (1986) Host monitoring by aphid migrants: do gynoparae maximise offspring fitness? Oecologia, 68, 367-369.
Leather, S.R. (1993) Early season defoliation of bird cherry influences autumn colonization by the bird cherry aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi. Oikos, 66, 43-47.
Leather, S.R. (1995) Medium term effects of early season defoliation on the colonisation of bird cherry (Prunus padus L.). European Journal of Entomology, 92, 623-631.
Leather, S.R. & Dixon, A.F.G. (1981) Growth, survival and reproduction of the bird-cherry aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi, on its primary host. Annals of Applied Biology, 99, 115-118.
Leather, S.R. & Lehti, J.P. (1982) Field studies on the factors affecting the population dynamics of the bird cherry-oat aphid, Rhopalosiphum padi (L.) in Finland. Annales Agriculturae Fenniae, 21, 20-31.
Lee, D.W. & Gould, K.S. (2002) Anthocyanins in leaves and other vegetative organs: An introduction. Advances in Botanical Research, 37, 1-16.
Lev-Yadun, S. & Holopainen, J.K. (2011) How red is the red autumn leaf herring and did it lose its red color? Plant Signalling & Behavior, 6, 1879-1880.
Merzlyak, W.N. & Gittelson, A. (1995) Why and what for the leaves are yellow in autumn? On the interpretation of optical spectra of senescing leaves (Acer platanoides L.). Journal of Plant Physiology, 145, 315-320.
Sanger, J.E. (1971) Quantitative investigations of leaf pigments from their Inception in buds through autumn coloration to decomposition in falling leaves. Ecology, 52, 1075-1089.
Schaefer, H.M. & Rolshausen, G. (2006) Plants on red alert – do insects pay attention? BioEssays, 28, 65-71.
Sinkkonen, A. (2006) Do autumn leaf colours serve as reproductive insurance against sucking herbivores? Oikos, 113, 557-562.
Stiles, E.W. (1982) Fruit flags: two hypotheses. American Naturalist, 120, 500-509.
Ward, S.A., Leather, S.R., & Dixon, A.F.G. (1984) Temperature prediction and the timing of sex in aphids. Oecologia, 62, 230-233.
White, T.C.R. (2003) Nutrient translocation hypothesis: a subsect of the flush-feeding/senescence-feeding hypothesis. Oikos, 103, 217.
White, T.C.R. (2009) Catching a red herring: autumn colours and aphids. Oikos, 118, 1610-1612.
White, T.C.R. (2015) Senescence-feesders: a new trophic subguild of insect herbivore. Journal of Applied Entomology, 139, 11-22.
Wilkinson, D.M., Sherratt, T.N., Phillip, D.M., Wratten, S.D., Dixon, A.F.G. & Young, A.J. (2002) The adaptive significance of autumn colours. Oikos, 99, 402-407.
*for a detailed account of the wonderful terminology associated with aphid life cycles read here
**coincidentally he is now a Lecturer at the University of East Anglia in the same Department where I did my PhD
Earlier this year I wrote about the debate that rages about the correct way to talk about thrips during which I got distracted and ended up writing about their names in different languages. It turns out that I am not alone in being curious about international insect naming. I have just finished reading Matthew Gandy’s excellent book Moth, where he waxes lyrical about the different names used to describe butterflies and moths around the world. This, of course, made me wonder what aphid would turn up, so armed with dictionaries and Google Translate, I traveled the world to see what I could discover.
The bronze-brown dandelion aphid, Uroleucon taraxaci – Photo by Jasper Hubert
There are a lot of languages so I am only going to highlight a few versions of aphid that I found interesting or surprising. According to The Oxford English Dictionary, Linneaus coined the word Aphides, which may (or not) have been inspired by the Ancient Greek ἀφειδής (apheidḗs) meaning unsparing, perhaps in relation to their rapid reproduction and feeding habits. The modern spelling of aphid seems to have come into being after the Second World War, although you could still find aphides being used in the late 1940s (e.g. Broadbent et al., 1948; Kassanis, 1949), and it can still be found in more recent scientific literature where the journal is hosted in a non-English speaking country.
Many aphid names are very obviously based on the modern Latin word coined by Linneaus, although in some countries more than one name can be used, as in the UK where aphid is the technical term but blackfly and green-fly are also commonly used.
Aphide derived names
Hindu एफिड ephid
More common are those names that relate to the vague resemblance that aphids have to lice and to their plant feeding habit. The term plant lice to describe aphids was commonly used in the scientific literature up and into the early 1930s (e.g. Mordvilko, 1928; Marcovitch, 1935).
Names linked to the putative resemblance to lice and their plant feeding habit
Bosnian lisna uš uš is louse, lisna derived from leaf
Bulgarian listna vŭshka vŭshka louse, listna plant leaf
Danish bladlaus blad is leaf, laus louse
Dutch bladluis blad is leaf, luis is louse
Estonian lehetäi leht is leaf, tai is louse
German Blattlaus blatt is leaf, laus is louse
Greek pseíra ton fytón louse on plant
Hungarian levéltetű leve is leaf, tetű is louse
Icelandic lús or blaðlús lús is louse, blað is plant
Latvian laputs lapa is, uts is louse
Norwegian bladlus blad is plant, lus is louse
Swedish bladlus as for Norwegian
If you draw siphunculi on to a louse and add a cauda to the rear end you can just about see the resemblance.
Louse with added siphunculi and cauda
Names based on the premise that aphids resemble fleas
French puceron puce is flea
Spanish pulgón pulga is flea
Flea with cauda and siphunclus, but still only a poor imitation of the real thing. Even with added aphid features I don’t see the resemblance 🙂
In Turkish, aphid is yaprak biti which roughly translates to leaf biter. There are then a few languages where there appears to be no connection with their appearance or feeding habit.
Other names for aphid
Chinese 蚜 Yá
Tamil அசுவினி Acuviṉi
In Lithuanian, where aphid is Mszyca, which looks like it might be derived from Myzus, an important aphid genus, aphid also translates to amaras which means blight. In the case of a heavy aphid infestation, this is probably an apt description. I was also amused to find that whilst the Welsh have a name for aphid, Scottish Gaelic does not.
My all-time favourite, and one for which I can find no explanation at all, is dolphin. According to Curtis (1845), aphids on cereals in some counties of England were known as wheat dolphins. I was also able to trace the use of this name back to the previous century (Marsham, 1798), but again with no explanation why this name should have arisen.
The wheat dolphin 🙂
Broadbent, L., Doncaster, J.P., Hull, R. & Watson, M.A. (1948) Equipment used for trapping and identifying alate aphides. Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society of London (A), 23, 57-58.
Curtis, J. (1845) Observations on the natural history and economy of various insects etc., affecting the corn-crops, including the parasitic enemies of the wheat midge, the thrips, wheat louse, wheat bug and also the little worm called Vibrio. Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society, 6, 493-518.
Gandy, M. (2016) Moth, Reaktion Books, London
Kassanis, B. (1949) The transmission of sugar-beet yellows virus by mechanical inoculation. Annals of Applied Biology, 36, 270-272.
Marcovitch, S. (1935) Experimental evidence on the value of strip farming as a method for the natural control of injurious insects with special reference to plant lice. Journal of Economic Entomology, 28, 62-70.
Marsham, T. (1798) XIX. Further observations on the wheat insect, in a letter to the Rev. Samuel Goodenough, L.L.D. F.R.S. Tr.L.S. Transactions of the Linnaean Society of London, 4, 224-229.
Mordvilko, A. (1928) LXX.—The evolution of cycles and the origin of Heteroecy (migrations) in plant-lice , Annals and Magazine of Natural History: Series 10, 2, 570-582.
“This is Simon Leather, he’s an ecologist, albeit an applied one” Thus was I introduced to a group of visiting ecologists by my then head of department at the Silwood Park campus of Imperial College. As you can imagine I was somewhat taken aback at this public display of the bias that ‘pure’ scientists have against those that they regard as ‘applied’. I was (and still am), used to this attitude, as even as an undergraduate doing Agricultural Zoology when we shared modules with the ‘pure’ zoologists, we were regarded as a slightly lower life form J Working in Finland as a post-doc in the early 1980s it was also obvious that there was a certain degree of friction between the pure and applied entomologists, so it was not a phenomenon confined entirely to the UK. To this day, convincing ecology undergraduates that integrated pest management is a suitable career for them is almost impossible.
I was an ecologically minded entomologist from early childhood, pinning and collecting did not interest me anywhere near as much as insect behaviour and ecology, but I knew that I wanted to do something “useful” when I grew up. Having seen my father in action as a plant pathologist and crop protection officer, it seemed to me that combining entomology with agriculture would be an ideal way to achieve this ambition. A degree in Agricultural Zoology at Leeds and a PhD in cereal aphid ecology at the University of East Anglia (Norwich) was the ideal foundation for my chosen career as an applied ecologist/entomologist.
I started my professional life as agricultural entomologist working both in the laboratory and in the field (cereal fields to be exact), which were easily accessible, generally flat, weed free and easy to manipulate and sample. In the UK even the largest fields tend to be visible from end to end and side to side when you stand in the middle or edge (even more so now than when I started as wheat varieties are now so much shorter, less than half the height they were in 1977).
Having fun as a PhD student – aphid ‘sampling’ in Norfolk 1978
I haven’t grown since I did my PhD so wheat must have shrunk 🙂
See the post script to see what wheat used to look like.
Laboratory experiments, even when working on mature plants were totally do-able in walk-in growth rooms, and at a push you could even fit whole earing wheat plants into a growth cabinet.
I then spent ten years working as a forest entomologist, where field sites were the exact opposite, and extreme measures were sometimes required to reach my study animals, including going on an official Forestry Commission tree climbing course.
Pole pruners – (of only limited use) and tree climbing (great fun but laborious)
Scaffold towers for really high work, but expensive (and scary on sloping hillsides).
And as for lab work, not a chance of using mature plants or even plants more than two to three years old. Excised branches and/or foliage (rightly or wrongly) were the norm*.
Doing field work was, despite the sometimes very physically challenging aspects, a lot of fun, and in my case, some very scenic locations. My two main field sites were The Spey Valley and
Sutherland and Caithness, both of which provided magnificent views and of course, a plethora of whisky distilleries
where I discovered what is now my favourite single malt 🙂
The real fun came when it was time to submit papers. Journal choice was (and is) very important. As Stephen Heard points out, journals have a ‘culture’ and it is very important to pick a journal that has the right editorial board and ethos. The laboratory work never seemed to be a huge problem, referees (perhaps wrongly) very rarely criticised the use of young plants or excised foliage. I was able to publish the output from what was a very applied project, in a range of journals from the very specialised to the more ecological. This selection for example, from 1985-1987 (Leather, 1985, 1986; Leather & Burnand, 1987; Leather et al., 1985), appeared in Ecological Entomology, Oecologia, Functional Ecology and Bulletin of Entomological Research respectively.
Papers reporting field-based work were a little bit harder to place in journals outside the mainstream forestry ones, particularly when it came to experimental work. One of the problems was that ecological referees unused to working in forests tended not to have a grasp of what was involved in setting up and servicing an experiment in a forest plantation or stand. A farmer has no great objection to an entomologist removing 100 wheat tillers a week from his 2 ha field (at 90 stems per metre2, even a 16 week field season would only remove a tiny fraction of his crop). A forest manager on the other hand with a stocking density of 3000 stems per hectare would look askance at a proposal to remove even 100 trees a month from a hectare plot, especially if this was repeated for seven years. Sample size was thus a problem, even when using partial sampling of trees, e.g. by removing say only one branch. When it came to field scale replication, to compare for example, three treatments and a control on two different soil types, where each treatment plot is a hectare, things get a bit difficult. The most that we could service, even with help (since we did not have huge financial resources), was three replicates of each treatment. In agricultural terms this seems incredibly low, where 10m2 plots or even smaller, are very often used (e.g. Staley et al., 2009; Garratt et al., 2011).
We thus ended up with our experimental papers in the really specialised forestry journals (e.g. Leather, 1993; Hicks et al., 2007). On the other hand, those papers based on observational, long-term data were easier to place in more general ecological journals (e.g. Watt et al., 1989), although that was not always enough to guarantee success (e.g. Walsh et al., 1993; Watt et al., 1991). Another bias that I came across (perhaps unconscious) was that referees appeared, and still do, think that work from production forests is not as valid as that coming from ‘natural’ forests, especially if they are tropical. We came across this when submitting a paper about the effects of prescribed burning on carabid populations in two sites in Portugal (Nunes et al., 2006). We originally sent this to a well-known ecological journal who rejected it on the grounds of low replication, although we had also replicated it temporarily as well as geographically. I was not impressed to see a paper published in this journal shortly after they had rejected our manuscript in which the authors had reported changes in insect communities after a one-off fire event in a tropical forest, without even the benefits of pre-fire baseline data. We had in the meantime, given up on general ecology journals and submitted our paper to a local forestry journal. Such is life.
I originally started this essay with the idea of bemoaning the fact that publishing studies based in production forests in more general journals was more difficult than publishing agriculturally based papers, but got diverted into writing about the way applied ecologists feel discriminated against by journals and pure ecologists. I may or may not have convinced you about that. To return to my original idea of it being more difficult for forestry–based ecologists to break out of the forestry journal ghetto than it is for agro-ecologists to reach a broader audience, I present the following data based on my own publication record, which very convincingly demonstrates that my original feeling is based on fact, albeit based on an n of one 🙂
Numbers of agricultural and forestry based papers published by me in different journal categories.
I might also add that being an entomologist also limits where you can publish, so being an applied entomologist is something of a double whammy, and when it comes to getting research council funding, don’t get me started!
Garratt, M.P.D., Wright, D.J., & Leather, S.R. (2010) The effects of organic and conventional fertilizers on cereal aphids and their natural enemies. Agricultural and Forest Entomology, 12, 307-318.
Hicks, B.J., Aegerter, J.N., Leather, S.R., & Watt, A.D. (2007) Differential rates of parasitism of the pine beauty moth (Panolis flammea) depends on host tree species. Scottish Forestry, 61, 5-10.
Leather, S.R. (1985) Oviposition preferences in relation to larval growth rates and survival in the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea. Ecological Entomology, 10, 213-217.
Leather, S.R. (1986) The effect of neonatal starvation on the growth, development and survival of larvae of the pine beauty moth Panolis flammea. Oecologia, 71, 90-93.
Leather, S.R. (1993) Influence of site factor modification on the population development of the pine beauty moth (Panolis flammea) in a Scottish lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) plantation. Forest Ecology & Management, 59, 207-223.
Leather, S.R. & Burnand, A.C. (1987) Factors affecting life-history parameters of the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea (D&S): the hidden costs of reproduction. Functional Ecology, 1, 331-338.
Leather, S.R., Watt , A.D., & Barbour, D.A. (1985) The effect of host plant and delayed mating on the fecundity and lifespanof the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea (Denis & Schiffermuller) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae): their influence on population dynamics and relevance to pest management. Bulletin of entomological Research, 75, 641-651.
Nunes, L.F., Silva, I., Pité, M., Rego, F.C., Leather, S.R., & Serrano, A. (2006) Carabid (Coleoptera) community change following prescribed burning and the potential use of carabids as indicator species to evaluate the effects of fire management in Mediterranean regions. Silva Lusitania, 14, 85-100.
Staley, J.T., Stewart-Jones, A., Pope, T.W., Wright, D.J., Leather, S.R., Hadley, P., Rossiter, J.T., Van Emden, H.F., & Poppy, G.M. (2010) Varying responses of insect herbivores to altered plant chemistry under organic and conventional treatments. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 277, 779-786.
Walsh, P.J., Day, K.R., Leather, S.R., & Smith, A.J. (1993) The influence of soil type and pine species on the carabid community of a plantation forest with a history of pine beauty moth infestation. Forestry, 66, 135-146.
Watt, A.D., Leather, S.R., & Stoakley, J.T. (1989) Site susceptibility, population development and dispersal of the pine beauty moth in a lodgepole pine forest in northern Scotland. Journal of Applied Ecology, 26, 147-157.
Watt, A.D., Leather, S.R., & Evans, H.F. (1991) Outbreaks of the pine beauty moth on pine in Scotland: the influence of host plant species and site factors. Forest Ecology and Management, 39, 211-221.
The height of mature wheat and other cereals has decreased hugely over the last two hundred years. Cereals were originally a multi-purpose crop, not just providing grain for humans, but bedding straw for stock and humans, winter fodder for animals, straw for thatching and if really desperate, you could make winter fuel out of discarded straw**.
John Linnell – Wheat 1860 You wouldn’t have been able to see Poldark’s (Aidan Turner) manly chest whilst he was scything in this field!
Pieter Breugel the Elder – Die Kornernter – The Harvesters (1565) – Head-high wheat crops and not just because the average height was lower in those days.
*As I was writing this article I came across this paper (Friberg & Wiklund, 2016) which suggests that using excised plants may be justifiable. Friberg, M. & Wiklund, C. (2016) Butterflies and plants: preference/performance studies in relation to plant size and the use of intact plants vs. cuttings. Entomologia experimentalis et applicata, 160, 201-208
**My source for this is Laura Ingalls Wilder – Little House on the Prairie, to be exact 🙂
In the space of a week I came across three items that made me despair even more than I normally do for the healthy future of our planet. Coincidentally I was reading Neal Stephenson’s novel Seveneves, which is also about the environmental destruction of the Earth as we know it, albeit by an external disaster and not by our own efforts. In his novel, the World’s leaders come together to save some of humanity and the planet’s genetic resources, and not destroy it as we seem hellbent on doing.
Browsing in a local supermarket I came across what was to me, a new phenomenon, so-called Smartwater!
This is an example of how the fetish/obsession for bottled water has gone way over the top
Step 1 – find a natural spring
Step 2 – extract the water
Step 3 – distil the water to remove the natural ‘impurities’ (sodium, calcium carbonates etc. which are electrolytes) by steam distillation (requires energy, probably from non-renewable sources)
Step 4 – put back the minerals (electrolytes) that were removed by the distillation process
Step 5 – bottle in plastic (not glass) bottles
Step 6 – sell at inflated prices to mugs
What is wrong with tap water folks? 😦 If as some feel, that the tap water has a strong taste of chlorine, leave it overnight before using it.
The belief by some commentators and members of the UK electorate, that the European Union has environmental policies designed to thwart business rather than protecting the environment.
The long-running debate about where to site another runway in the UK to expand runway capacity by 2030. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/09/heathrow-airport-expansion-plan-may-be-put-to-free-cabinet-vote
Not a beautiful morning, rather a sign writ large upon the sky, of how much environmental harm we are doing to the planet.
Rather than expanding runways and airports to encourage growth in air-traffic and the use of fossil fuels, we should be thinking of ways to cut it and reduce our carbon footprint. Cat Stevens was thinking about this very issue in 1971 in his fantastic song “Where do the Children Play?”
“Well you roll on roads over fresh green grass.
For your lorry loads pumping petrol gas.
And you make them long, and you make them tough.
But they just go on and on, and it seems that you can’t get off.
Oh, I know we’ve come a long way,
We’re changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?”
On the plus side some nations seem to be taking a more responsible approach to the exploitation of finite resources. I am happy to say France, the location of our future retirement home, is leading the way in reducing the use of plastics. They are also way ahead of us in encouraging the use of solar energy by homeowners.
It was also cheering to see that others share my views about the evils of air travel, as shown by the following two letters from the Guardian newspaper. Perhaps all is not lost.
A couple of years ago, while attending a Royal Entomological Society Council meeting, I rashly volunteered to host ENTO’16, the annual meeting of the Society, at Harper Adams University*. I confess, I did have a bit of an ulterior motive. We entomologists had only been based at Harper Adams University since 2012 and I thought it would help with publicizing our new research centre and postgraduate courses in entomology and integrated pest management. Once this was approved by Council I let my colleagues know that I had ‘volunteered’ them and also approached entomologists at our two nearest universities, Keele and Staffordshire and invited them to join our organising committee. As this is about the event and not the administrivia, I will not bore you with the description of how it all came about, apart from mentioning that we chose as our theme, the Society journals to celebrate the 180th anniversary of RES publishing.
As a result of a poll of society members, we decided that the last day of the conference would be all about Outreach. The morning session was devoted to talks for the delegates and the afternoon was open to the public and members of the university. The Open session began with a talk by M.G. (Maya) Leonard, best-selling author of Beetle Boy, followed by exhibits and activities in the exhibition hall**. In the spirit of outreach, we also persuaded our three plenary speakers to agree to be videoed and livestreamed to YouTube. Their excellent talks can be seen by following the links below.
“How virulence proteins modulate plant processes to promote insect colonisation”
Saskia Hogenhout – John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK
“The scent of the fly”
Peter Witzgall – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden
“Citizen Science and invasive species”
Helen Roy – Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford, UK
To make decision-making simple, we only ran two concurrent sessions, and hopefully this meant that most people did not have to miss any talks that they particularly wanted to hear. The conference proper began on the Tuesday, but about half the delegates arrived the evening before and enjoyed an entomologically-based Pub Quiz. The winning team perhaps had a slight
Preparing for the influx – student helpers in action
advantage in that most of their members were slightly older than average.
The winning Pub Quiz team sitting in the centre of the picture.
We felt that the conference went very well, with all the journals well represented, although getting systematic entomologists to speak proved slightly more difficult than we had anticipated. The student speakers were terrific and the talks covered the gamut of entomology. The venue, although I may be slightly biased, was agreed by all to be excellent and provided some superb photo opportunities.
Main venue glinting in the morning sun
Andy Salisbury enjoying the early morning view at Harper Adams University
The RES President, a very relaxed Mike Hassell, opens the proceedings.
Other highlights were the two wine receptions, the poster session and the conference dinner at which Nobel Prize winner Sir Paul Nurse, who apparently has an inordinate fondness for beetles, received an Honorary Fellowship.
Sir Paul Nurse on hearing that he is to receive an Honorary Fellowship.
The old cliché goes that a “picture paints a thousand words” and who I am to argue, so I will let them tell the rest of the story with the odd bit of help from me.
A fine example of synchronised beard pulling
All the way from Canada
Only at an entomological conference
Entomologically themed fashion
Bang-up to date topics
one of our former-MSc students making an impact
Impeccable dress sense from Session Chairs!
Prize winning talks
I was reminded by Jess that I scolded her for not knowing enough entomology when I conducted her exit viva in my role as external examiner for the zoology degree at UCL 🙂
Proud to be Collembolaologists
Smiling faces (free drinks)
Good food and drink (and company)
Cavorting ceilidh dancers
Phone cases to be jealous of
Joining Darwin (and Sir Paul Nurse) in the book!
and for me a fantastic personal end to the conference!
As it turned out, 2016 was a fantastically entomologically-filled year for Harper Adams.
we hoste the RES Postgraduate Forum in February which I reported on earlier this year, and of course we also
hosted the fantastically successful EntoSci16.
The Organizing Committee
Andy Cherrill, John Dover (Staffordshire University), Rob Graham, Paul Eggleston (Keele University), Simon Leather, Tom Pope, Nicola Randall, Fran Sconce and Dave Skingsley (Staffordshire University).
The Happy Helpers
Ben Clunie, Liam Crowley, Scott Dwyer, Ana Natalio, Alice Mockford and Aidan Thomas
Harper Adams University and the Royal Entomological Society
Financial and Administrative Support
The Royal Entomological Society, Luke Tilley, Lisa Plant, Caroline Thacker and Megan Tucker.
Adreen Hart-Rule and the Marketing and Communications Department at HAU
Duncan Gunn-Russell and the HAU AV Team
*I am sure that this had nothing to do with the excellent wine that the RES always provides at lunch time 🙂
**We were somewhat disappointed by the low turn-out for the afternoon session. We had publicised it widely but obviously not widely enough 😦