Tag Archives: G-Vac

Leaf blowers – disturbing the peace and fatal to insects?

There is a petition doing the rounds at the moment hosted by the 38 Degrees organisation calling for a ban on leaf blowers, citing their detrimental effect on insects as the raison d’etre.  I’ve signed it, mainly because of the noise and the air pollution effects, especially as “Leaf Blower Man” goes past my office frequently at this time of year😊

The Leaf Blower Man in action outside my office and the aftermath – I wonder what happens to the leaves next?

You may, (or perhaps not), be wondering what has brought about this most recent media outburst against leaf blowers.  Taking this as a great opportunity to procrastinate still further, I tracked down the first media mention about the dangers of leaf blowers to a newspaper article published in the German newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine on November 14th in which it reported a press release, dated the 16th October, from The German Ministry for the Environment and Nature Conservation, strongly advising people not to use leaf blowers because of the danger they  cause to the environment, not just from pollution but because of the harm they do to insects and other small animals.

Der Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz (BUND) fordert nun nicht nur Privatleute, sondern auch die Kommunen zum Verzicht auf den Einsatz auf: „Laubbläser sind nicht nur ohrenbetäubend laut und verschmutzen die Luft durch ihre Verbrennungsmotoren, sie schaden auch der Bodenbiologie gravierend“, sagt die Artenschutzexpertin des BUND, Silvia Bender. „Denn neben Blättern werden auch Insekten und Spinnen aufgesaugt und gehäckselt sowie Pflanzensamen zerstört.“ Ohnehin seien die Geräte überflüssig: „Wir empfehlen daher Grundstücksbesitzern und auch Kommunen dringend, auf Laubbläser und Laubsauger zu verzichten und stattdessen wieder zu Rechen und Harke zu greifen.“”

“The Federal Government for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND) now demands not only private individuals, but also the communities to abandon the use: “Leaf blowers are not only deafening loud and pollute the air through their internal combustion engines, they also harm the soil biology seriously,” says the species protection expert of the BUND, Silvia Bender. “In addition to leaves and insects and spiders are sucked up and chopped and plant seeds destroyed.” Anyway, the devices are superfluous: “We therefore recommend landowners and communities urgently to dispense with leaf blower and leaf vacuum and instead to rake and rake again.”

If you want to read the original source it is here; it also extols the virtues of the exercise you gain from raking up your leaves 😊

Although it had taken almost a month for the German press to latch on to the story, presumably they were waiting for autumn to properly kick-in; BBC World ran with the story on 15th November and the first British Newspapers by  18th November and a feature piece by Kate Bradbury in the Daily Telegraph appeared on November 26th which finally prompted me to put fingers to keyboard 😊

Kate mentioned in her article that there was no scientific evidence that leaf blowers directly harmed insects and after spending some time with Google Scholar and Web of Science, I can confirm this. Perhaps someone might like to do a project on it?  I’m sure it might appeal to a keen undergraduate or MSc student.  Kate correctly points out that leaves form leaf litter and as she aptly puts it “are natures’ winter blanket” providing shelter for countless animals. Including vertebrates. Those insects that overwinter on the ground, or in the upper layers of the soil, despite their fantastic anti-freeze chemistry (Leather et al., 1983) are also very grateful for a nice thick layer of leaves to help buffer the effects of a cold winter and keep them hidden from natural enemies (Thomas et al., 1992). Additionally, leaf litter also provides a valuable food source for the very important, and often overlooked ecological recyclers such as the soil dwelling flies (Frouz, 1999) and of course, the invaluable and underappreciated earthworms (Cothrel et al., 1997).  An example of how important leaf litter is for insect survival, is the way in which the horse chestnut leaf miner can be controlled in gardens and parks by the removal of the leaves from under infested trees as soon as leaf fall has ended (Kehrli & Bacher, 2003).  Leaf blowers may not be harming insects and other invertebrates physically, (although I imagine that being blasted by what must seem like a hurricane, can’t be a totally benign experience), but they certainly have the potential to reduce their populations, which given the current worries about Insectageddon (Leather, 2018), Is not something we should be happy to encourage.

So, if they are not physically damaging our invertebrate friends, and there is, as yet, no scientific evidence that they do so, how are leaf blowers harming insects and their allies.  Leaf litter is an invaluable resource, it not only provides nutrients for plants and helps sequester carbon (Berg & McLaugherty, 2008), and as I mentioned earlier, it provides livelihoods for fungi, bacteria, insects and other invertebrates, and the litter grazers in turn, provide tasty meals for other invertebrates further up the food chain* (Scheu, 2001; Miyashita et al., 2003).  By removing fallen leaves to satisfy health and safety directives and/or some folks preferences for tidy pavements and lawns, we are at the same time as we pollute our atmosphere with nasty hydrocarbons, depriving these useful organisms of much-needed resources ☹ Whilst I sympathise with local councils and their desire to keep their citizens safe from potentially slips and falls, I really don’t see the need for leaf-free lawns and parks.

Shiny, leaf-free (almost), and safe for humans versus beautiful, leaf strewn and good for earthworms and their ilk and aesthetically pleasing (to me at any rate).

And if you must keep your pavements leaf-free then why not use a quieter and less polluting alternative such as a human with a stiff broom or if a mechanical alternative is the only option, then an electrically powered mechanical road-sweeper is an acceptable substitute.

I like this one as it is a Scarab 😊

Leaf blowers have been used to harm insects, albeit on a larger scale than that wielded by the local council worker or gardener, and in conjunction with a vacuum device.  Inspired by the use of tractor driven vacuum machines developed to control Lygus bugs in strawberry fields (Pickel et al., 1994), Phyllis Weintraub and colleagues (Weintraub et al., 1996) developed a tractor-propelled blower-vacuum combi to manage insect pests in celery and potato crops. The insects are first dislodged by a blower and then vacuumed up for later disposal ☹  More recently, a similar technique has been used to control Colorado Potato Beetles.

There may be no scientific evidence to show that leaf blowers used as intended are bad for insects but on the other hand there is no evidence that shows the opposite, and given the noise and atmospheric pollution they produce and the undoubted harm they cause by litter, my sympathies lie with those wanting to ban the things.

I think that most entomologists would say that the only good leaf blower is one that has been reverse engineered to be a G-Vac and used for insect sampling.  I suspect that insects would have a different opinion as most of those insects we catch usually end up dead, even if it is for the good of science 😊

My colleague Andy Cherrill demonstrating his patent G-vac or ‘Chortis’ as we call it 😊

 

References

Berg, B. & McClaugherty, C. (2008) Plant Litter – Decomposition, Humus Formation, Carbon Sequestration. Springer, Berlin 338 pp.

Cothrel, S.R., Vimmerstedt, J.P. & Kost, D.A. (1997) In situ recycling of urban deciduous litter. Soil Biology &Biochemistry, 29, 295-298.

Frouz, J. (1999) Use of soil dwelling Diptera (Insecta, Diptera) as bioindicators: a review of ecological requirements and response to disturbance. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 74, 167-186.

Kehrli, P. & Bacher, S. (2003) Date of leaf litter removal to prevent emergence of Cameraria ohridella in the following spring.  Entomologia experimentalis et applicata, 107, 159-162.

Leather, S.R. (2018) “Ecological Armageddon” – more evidence for the drastic decline in insect numbers. Annals of Applied Biology, 172, 1-3.

Leather, S.R., Bale, J.S. & Walters, K.F.A. (1993) The Ecology of Insect Overwintering. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Miyashita, T., Takada, M. & Shimazaki, A. (2003) Experimental evidence that above ground predators are sustained by underground detritivores. Oikos, 103, 31-36.

Pickel, C., Zalom, F.G., Walsh, D.B. & Welch, N.C. (1994) Efficacy of vacuum machines for Lygus Hesperus (Hemiptera: Miridae) control in coastal California strawberries. Journal of Economic Entomology, 87, 1636-1640.

Scheu, S. (2001) Plant and generalist predators as links between the below-ground and above-ground system. Basic & Applied Ecology, 2, 3-13.

Thomas, M.B., Sotherton, N.W., Coombes, D.S. & Wratten, S.D. (1992) Habitat factors influencing the distribution of polyphagous predatory insects between field boundariesAnnals of Applied Biology, 120, 197-202.

Weintraub, P.G., Arazi, Y. & Horowitz, A.R. (1996) Management of insect pests in celery and potato crops by pneumatic removal.  Crop Protection, 8, 763-769.

 

 

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Entomological classics – The D-Vac, Vortis and other motorised suction samplers

I think that all field entomologists of a certain age, certainly those of us over 60, are very familiar with the roar of a hot and smoky two-stroke engine in our ears, coupled with oily hands, aching shoulders and sometimes the smell of burning.  Some younger entomologists may also have had this joyful experience but I suspect they are in a minority among their peers.  The dreaded D-Vac, or to give it its more formal name, The Dietrick Vacuum Sampler was, for a long time, the entomological gold standard in the world of motorised insect sampling.

Part of the UEA cereal aphid research group demonstrating unsafe use of the D-Vac 😊

The D-Vac was the brain wave of an American entomologist Everett Dietrick, who at the time was working on the biological control of the alfalfa aphid, Therioaphis maculata (Dietrick et al., 1959). Their research was hampered by the time they were having to spend estimating the numbers of all the arthropods found in alfalfa fields; they needed a standard sampling method that would allow them to get good estimates of everything rather than using different, and thus time-consuming, methods for each arthropod group.  Essentially, think of a D-Vac as motorised sweep net.  The idea of replacing sweep netting with, in theory at any rate, a non-human biased method* was not new.  Hills (1933) in describing a motorised vacuum pipette for sampling leaf hoppers in beet points out that it is an adaptation of a device put together by a lab assistant in 1926.

The first motorised suction sampler? From Hills (1933) – The modified pipette collector

The first and even clumsier model of the D-Vac (Dietrick et al., 1959), but I suspect more pleasant to use than the back-pack version 🙂

The new improved back-pack version (Dietrick, 1961).  In my experience not very comfortable and on one occasion burst into flames while I was wearing it!

This could, with the aid of a handy pole be used to sample from the top of tall bushes. Not something I have tried so I can’t comment.

While searching for the earliest reference to a motorised suction device that was not a Pooter, I came across one invented a few years earlier than the D-Vac and used by the late, great Southwood of Ecological Methods fame among others, during his PhD (Southwood, 1955; Johnson et al., 1955), which I guess means that it was in operation well before 1955, although the actual full description was not published in a journal until a couple of years later (Johnson et al., 1957).

An earlier suction device used by the late great Southwood during his PhD (1955) (From Johnson et al., 1957).

Ensuring constancy of sample area (From Johnson et al., 1957)

It really does look like the vacuum cleaner we had when I was a kid 🙂

Amusingly, one of the early attempts to replace the D-Vac was actually based on this very vacuum cleaner (Arnold et al., 1973)

I was interested to see that the Johnson apparatus used a barrel to delineate the sample area, something advocated by my colleague Andy Cherrill (Zentane et al., 2016) when using his patent G-Vac, or “Chortis” as we jokingly call it 🙂

A couple of years after I started at Silwood Park and became involved in running the final year field course, a new and revolutionary insect suction sampler appeared on the market – The Vortis™ (Arnold, 1994).  This was lighter than the D-Vac, did not need a bag or net, easier to start, had an ‘idle’ function and mercifully did not have to be carried on your back 🙂

The Vortis™, overall a much pleasanter way to sample insects and generally much easier to start.  Invented in 1993 (Arnold, 1994).

 

Although not cheap, it was less expensive than the D-Vac. This became my suction sampler of choice although we kept our D-vac in good running order so that the students could compare the two samplers.  Surprisingly, few, if any, of the many users of The Vortis™ have done similarly, most just referring to the original description by Arnold (1994), e.g. Mortimer et al., (2002).  This is in marked contrast to the many studies that have compared the D-Vac with sweep-netting, pitfall trapping and swish net sampling (e.g. Johnson et al., 1957; Henderson & Whittaker, 1977; Hand, 1986; Schotzko & O’Keeffe, 1989; Standen, 2000; Brook et al., 2008). There is also a hand-held version of the D-Vac if anyone wants to compare that with the back-pack version.

Jan Dietrick poses with a D-Vac insect Vacuum in Ventura, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 16, 2006. (Photo by Bryce Yukio Adolphson/Brooks Institute of Photography ©2006) http://bryceyukioadolphson.photoshelter.com/image/I0000pmiujJcoGBI

This one looks easier to use than the backpack version but I have never seen it in operation. I am guessing that this was produced in response to the invention of the Vortis™.

Entomologists tend to have limited budgets when it comes to equipment, or anything for that matter, so it is not surprising that they soon came up with the idea of adapting garden leaf blowers into lightweight, inexpensive insect suction samplers (e.g. De Barro, 1991; Stewart & Wright, 1995). These are collectively known as G-Vacs (Zentane et al., 2016) presumably as a reference to their garden origin.

Andy Cherrill test driving his “Chortis” 🙂

 

My colleague Andy Cherrill has compared the catch composition of his own particular G-Vac with that of the Vortis™ and satisfied himself that it is as good as, if not better than the Vortis™ (Cherrill et al., 2017).  Importantly the cost of a G-Vac means that you can get, at least in the UK, six for the same price as a single Vortis™.

I leave you with two fun facts; the two largest motorised insect suction samplers that I have come across are both from the USA (where else?).  The first, mounted on the front of a truck, was used to collect parasites for the biological control of alfalfa aphids.

(1957) http://www.dietrick.org/articles/deke_truckvac.html  Used to collect parasites for mass release against alfalfa aphids.

 

The second, mounted on the front of a tractor was used to control Lygus bugs in strawberry fields in California (Pickel et al., 1994).  The driver/operator in the second example seems to be taking Health & Safety issues a bit more seriously than the team in the first 🙂

Lygus bug control in strawberries, California http://calag.ucanr.edu/Archive/?article=ca.v049n02p19

 

References

Arnold, A.J. (1994) Insect suction sampling without nets, bags or filters. Crop Protection, 13, 73-76.

Arnold, A.J., Needham, P.H. & Stevenson, J.H. (1973) A self-powered portable insect suction sampler and its use to assess the effects of azinphos methyl and endosulfan on blossom beetle populations on oil seed rape. Annals of Applied Biology, 75, 229-233.

Brook, A.J., Woodcock, B.A., Sinka, M. & Vanbergen, A.J. (2008) Experimental verification of suction sampler capture efficiency in grasslands of differing vegetation height and structure. Journal of Applied Ecology, 45, 1357-1363.

Cherrill, A.J., Burkhmar, R., Quenu, H. & Zentane, E. (2017) Suction samplers for grassland invertebrates: the species diversity and composition of spider and Auchenorrhyncha assemblages collected with Vortis (TM) and G-vac devices. Bulletin of Insectology, 70, 283-290.

De Barro, P.J. (1991) A cheap lightweight efficient vacuum sampler.  Journal of the Australian Entomological Society, 30, 207-20.

Dietrick, E.J. (1961) An improved backpack motor fan for suction sampling of insect populations.  Journal of Economic Entomology, 54, 394-395.

Dietrick, E.J., Schlinger, E.I. & van den Bosch, R. (1959) A new method for sampling arthropods using a suction collecting machine and modified Berlese funnel separator.  Journal of Economic Entomology, 52, 1085-1091.

Dietrick. E. J., Schlinger. E. I. & Garber, M. J. (1960). Vacuum cleaner principle applied in sampling insect populations in alfalfa fields by new machine method. California Agriculture January 1960, pp. 9-1 1

Doxon, E.D., Davis, C.A. & Fuhlendorf, S.D. (2011) Comparison of two methods for sampling invertebrates: vacuum and sweep-net sampling. Journal of Field Ornithology, 82, 60-67.

Hand, S.C. (1986) The capture efficiency of the Dietrick vacuum insect net for aphids on grasses and cereals. Annals of Applied Biology, 108, 233-241.

Henderson, 1. F. & Whitaker, T. M. (1977). The efficiency of an insect suction sampler in grassland. Ecological Entomology 2, 57-60.

Hills, O.A. (1933) A new method for collecting samples of insect populationsJournal of Economic Entomology, 26, 906-910.

Johnson, C.G., Southwood, T.R.E. & Entwistle, H.M. (1955) A method for sampling arthropods and molluscs from herbage by suction.  Nature, 176, 559.

Johnson, C.G., Southwood, T.R.E. & Entwistle, H.M. (1957) A new method of extracting arthropods and molluscs from grassland and herbage with a suction apparatus.  Bulletin of Entomological Research, 48, 211-218.

Mortimer, S.R., Booth, R.G., Harris, S.J. & Brown, V.K. (2002) Effects of initial site management on the Coleoptera assemblages colonising newly established chalk grassland on ex-arable land. Biological Conservation, 104, 301-313.

Pickel, C., Zalom, F.G.,  Walsh, D.B. & Welch, N.C. (1994) Efficacy of vacuum machines for Lygus Hesperus (Hemiptera: Miridae) control in coastal California strawberries. Journal of Economic Entomology, 87, 1636-1640.

Schotzko, D.J. & O’Keeffe, L.E. (1989) Comparison of sweep net., D-Vac., and absolute sampling., and diel variation of sweep net sampling estimates in lentils for pea aphid (Homoptera: Aphididae)., Nabids (Hemiptera: Nabidae)., lady beetles (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae)., and lacewings (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae). Journal of Economic Entomology, 82, 491-506.

Southwood, T.R.E. (1955). Some Studies on the Systematics and Ecology of Heteroptera.—Ph.D. thesis, University of London.

Standen, V. (2000) The adequacy of collecting techniques for estimating species richness of grassland invertebrates. Journal of Applied Ecology, 37, 884-893.

Stewart, A.J.A. & Wright, A.F. (1995) A new inexpensive suction apparatus for sampling arthropods in grassland.  Ecological Entomology, 20, 98-102.

Zentane, E., Quenu, H., Graham, R.I. & Cherrill, A.J. (2016) Suction samplers for grassland invertebrates: comparison of numbers caught using Vortis and G-vac devices.  Insect Conservation & Diversity, 9, 470-474.

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