Tag Archives: harper Adams University

Bridging the gap – ENTO’16 at Harper Adams University

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.

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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.

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“How virulence proteins modulate plant processes to promote insect colonisation”

Saskia Hogenhout – John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqPH_h3xHoQ

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“The scent of the fly”

Peter Witzgall – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1PUxQGoAzE

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“Citizen Science and invasive species”

Helen Roy – Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford, UK

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_Kyw2WeVC4

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

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Preparing for the influx – student helpers in action

advantage in that most of their members were slightly older than average.

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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.

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Main venue glinting in the morning sun

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Andy Salisbury enjoying the early morning view at Harper Adams University

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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.

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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.

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A fine example of synchronised beard pulling

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Happy Helpers

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All the way from Canada

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Only at an entomological conference

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Entomologically themed fashion

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Bang-up to date topics

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Ambitious themes

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one of our former-MSc students making an impact

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Impeccable dress sense from Session Chairs!

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Prize winning talks

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and posters

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Punny titles

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Enthusiastic speakers

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 🙂

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Engaging authors

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Proud to be Collembolaologists

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Smiling faces (free drinks)

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Good food and drink (and company)

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Cavorting ceilidh dancers

 

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Phone cases to be jealous of

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Joining Darwin (and Sir Paul Nurse) in the book!

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and for me a fantastic personal end to the conference!

And finally

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Post script

As it turned out, 2016 was a fantastically entomologically-filled year for Harper Adams.

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we hoste the RES Postgraduate Forum in February which I reported on earlier this year, and of course we also

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hosted the fantastically successful EntoSci16.

 

Credits

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

Music 

The Odd Socks Ceilidh Band

Wine Receptions

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.

Publicity

Adreen Hart-Rule and the Marketing and Communications Department at HAU

AV Support

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 😦

 

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EntoSci16 – a conference for future and budding entomologists

Fig 1a

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

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

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

Fig 1

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Early morning preparation, coffee was very much needed

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And we’re off to a great start

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and it just kept getting better

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and better

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

 

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

And who knows, perhaps we will do it all again next year 🙂

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The Verrall Supper 2016 – even better than last year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Charlie Rose, the youngest Verraller (possibly ever).

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

 

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

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

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Max Barclay, the Verrall Lecturer.

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High Loxdale savouring his pint.

 

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

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

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

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The venue – ready and waiting and full house

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Gordon Port and former MSc student, Anna Platoni

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

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One view of the top table.

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Charles Godfray being lectured to by Tilly Collins 🙂

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Not all grey beards and bald pates

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

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

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Richard Comont and Sally-Ann Spence

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

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

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

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

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Mike Shaw, a Hymenopterist deep in thought?

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

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

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

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

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

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Alan Dewar and Beulah Garner

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

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John Whittaker and Claire Ozanne

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

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

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Ana Platoni and Adriana De Palma (both former students)

 

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

 

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Harper Adams students, past and present

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

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

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Richard Harrington with his suction trap tie, retirement does funny things to people 🙂

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Hayley Jones and her butterfly necklace.

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

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

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

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

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the wrong sort of taxonomy.

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

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

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

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

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

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Always give credit where it is due.

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

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Amoret Whitaker spoke about her career in forensic entomology

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

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

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

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

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The winning team and their entomological prizes

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

 

Post script

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who knew that Gollum was an entomologist?

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

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

German               thripse

Swedish               trips

Italian                  tripidi

Catalan                 els trips

Estonian               ripslased

Polish                    wciornastki

Czech                    třásněnka

 

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

Bengali, Chinese and Japanese, were quite picturesque.

 

Bengali              থ্রিপস্ (thripas)

Chinese             牧草虫 (mùcǎo chóng)

Japanese          アザミウマ (azamiuma)

 

But the most ornate was Tamil

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(llaippēṉ)

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

 

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Post script

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

 

Glossary

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

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

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By the side of the River Liffey – ENTO’15 Dublin

This year, the Royal Entomological Society’s biennial symposium was held at Trinity College, Dublin (September 2nd-4th). This was the first time that the Society has held its symposium meeting outside the UK. The symposium theme this year was Insect Ecosystem Services, whilst the Annual Meeting which ran alongside the symposium meeting this year, was divided into nine themes, Biocontrol, Conservation, Decomposition, Insect Diversity and Services, Multiple Ecosystem Services, Outreach, Plant-Insect Interactions, Pollination and just in case anyone was feeling left out, Open.

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The meeting convenors, Archie Murchie, Jane Stout, Olaf Schmidt, Stephen Jess, Brian Nelson, and Catherine Bertrand, came from both sides of the border so that the whole of Ireland was represented.

As a number of us were going from Harper Adams University we decided to use the Sail-rail option (any mainline station in the UK to Dublin for £78 return). We were thus able to feel smug on two levels, economically and ecologically 🙂 We set out on the morning of Tuesday 1st September from Stafford Railway Station, changing at Crewe for the longer journey to Holyhead.

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Andy Cherrill, Tom Pope, Joe Roberts, Charlotte Rowley and Fran Sconce look after the luggage.

Just over two hours later we arrived at Holyhead to join the queue for the ferry to Dublin.

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In the queue at Holyhead.

Two of my former students were supposed to join us on the ferry but due to a broken down train, only one of them made it in time, Mark Ramsden being the last passenger to board whilst Mike Garratt had to wait for the next ferry.

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Tom Pope and Mark Ramsden relaxing on board the ferry.

We arrived at Trinity College in the pouring rain, but still got a feel for some of the impressive architecture on campus.

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I never quite worked out what this piece of art was about, although the added extra made me smile.

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The bedrooms were very self-contained – the bed was rather neatly built into the storage although it did make me feel like I was sleeping on a shelf.

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After settling in we found a pleasant pub and sampled some of the local beverages.

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Despite the beverage intake, I was up bright and early on Wednesday morning, in fact so early, that I was not only first at the Registration Desk, but beat the Royal Entomological Society Staff there.

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After setting up our stand we were able to enjoy the programme of excellent plenary talks and those in the National Meeting themes. There was a great deal of live tweeting taking place so I thought I would give you a flavour of those rather than describing the talks in detail.  For the full conference experience use Twitter #ento15

Dave Goulson from Sussex University,  was the first of the plenary speakers and lead off with a thought-provoking talk about the global threats to insect pollination services.

12

I was a bit disappointed that John Pickett, who was chairing the session cut short a possibly lively debate between Lin Field and Dave Goulson about pesticide usage.

The next plenary speaker was Akexandra-Maria Klein from Freiburg speaking about biodiversity and pollination services.

13

The third plenary speaker was Lynn Dicks from Cambridge asking how much flower-rich habitat is enough for wild pollinators?

14

I was the fourth plenary speaker, talking about how entomology and entomologist have influenced the world. I deliberately avoided crop protection and pollination services.

15

I was very pleased that my talk was on the first day as this allowed me to enjoy the rest of the meeting, including the social events to the full.

The following day, Jan Bengtsson from SLU in Sweden spoke about biological ontrol in a landscape context and the pros and cons of valuing ecosystem services.

16

Jan was followed by Sarina Macfadyne from CSIRO, Australia, who spoke about temporal patterns in plant growth and pest populations across agricultural landscapes and astounded us with the list of pesticides that are still able to be used by farmers in Australia.

17

The next plenary speaker, Charles Midega – icipe spoke about the use of companion cropping for sustainable pest management in Africa and extolled the virtues of ‘push-pull’ agriculture.

18

The last plenary of Day Two was Jerry Cross of East Malling Research who enlightened us about the arthropod ecosystem services in apple orchards and their economic benefits. He also highlighted the problems faced by organic growers trying to produce ‘perfect’ fruit for the supermarkets.

19

The third day of the conference plenaries was kicked off by Michael Ulyshen from the USDA Forest Service – who reviewed the role of insects in wood decomposition and nutrient cycling. My take-home image form his talk was the picture of how a box of woodchips was converted to soil by a stage beetle larvae completing its life cycle.

20

The last plenary of the morning was Craig Macadam from BugLife who explained to us that aquatic insects are much than just fish food and play cultural role as well as an ecological one.

21

The afternoon session of the last day was Sarah Beynon, the Queen of Dung Beetles who enthralled us with her stories of research and outreach . It was a testament to the interest people had in what Sarah had to say, that the audience was till well over a hundred, despite it being the last afternoon.

22

The final plenary lecture, and last lecture of the conference, was given by Tom Bolger from the other university in Dublin, UCD. Hi subject was soil organisms and their role in agricultural productivity.

23

I know that I have only given you a minimal survey of the plenary lectures, but you can access the written text of all the talks in the special issue of Ecological Entomology for free.

I did of course attend a number of the other talks, and had to miss many that I wanted to see but which clashed with the ones that I did see.

Eugenie Regan gave a great talk on her dream of setting up a Global Butterfly Index.

24

One of my PhD students, Joe Roberts, gave an excellent talk on his first year of research into developing an artificial diet for predatory mites.

25

Katie Murray, a fomer MREs student of mine, now doing a PhD at the University of Stirling, gave a lively talk on Harlequin ladybirds and the problems they may be having with STDs.

26

Rudi Verspoor, yet another former MRes student gave us an overview of a project that he and Laura Riggi, have developed on entomophagy in Benin.

27

Peter Smithers from Plymouth University gave an amusing and revelatory talk the ways in which Insects are perceived and portrayed. Some excellent material for my planned book on influential entomology 😉

28

Chris Jeffs, yet another former MRes student gave an excellent presentation about climate warming and host-parasitoid interactions.

29

My colleague (and former MSc student) Tom Pope bravely volunteered to step into a gap in the programme and gave an excellent talk about how understanding vine weevil behaviour can help improve biological control programmes.

30

Jasmine Parkinson from the University of Sussex, and incidentally a student of a former student of mine, gave an excellent and well-timed talk about mealybugs and their symbionts.

31

Charlotte Rowley from Harper Adams gave an excellent talk about saddle-gall midge pheromones.

32

Another former student, Mike Garratt, now at Reading University, gave an overview of his work on hedgerows and their dual roles as habitats for pollinators and natural enemies.

33

There were also excellent talks by Jessica Scrivens on niche partitioning in cryptic bumblebees, Relena Ribbons on ants and their roles as ecological indicators, Rosalind Shaw on biodiversity and multiple services in farmland from David George on how to convince farmers and growers that field margins are a worthwhile investment. My apologies to all those whose talks I missed, I wanted to see them but parallel sessions got in the way.

34

Richard Comont, whose talk I missed, very recognisable from the back 😉

 

I leave you with a selection of photographs from the social parts of the programme including our last morning in Dublin before catching the ferry home on Saturday morning.

 

35

The Conference Dinner – former and current students gathering.

36

Tom Pope signs the Obligations Book – his signature now joins those of Darwin and Wallace.

37

Archie Murchie with RES Librarian Val McAtear.

38

The youngest delegate and his father; I hope to see him at Harper Adams learning entomology in the near future.

39

Entomologists learning how to dance a ceilidh.

40

Moving much too fast for my camera to capture them.

41

Academic toilets – note the shelf on which books can be placed whilst hands are otherwise occupied.

42

On site history.

43

Impressive doorway in the Museum café.

44

The Natural History Museum was very vertebrate biased.

aphid

They certainly didn’t way know the best way to mount aphids.

46

I was, however, pleased to see a historical Pooter.

 Leaving

On our final day the sun actually made an appearance so our farewell to Ireland was stunning.

And finally, many thanks to the conference organizers and the Royal Entomological Society for giving us such a good experience.  A lot to live up to for ENTO’16 which will be at Harper Adams University.  We hope to see you there.

Postscript

As a result of being tourists on Saturday morning we were exposed to a lot of gift shops and in one I impulsively bought a souvenir 😉

49

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The UK needs more forest health specialists

Last week (April 22nd and 23rd 2015) I had the pleasure of attending the Institute of Chartered Foresters’  National Conference in Cardiff.  The theme of the conference was Tree health, resilience and sustainability.

ICF conference

 The PowerPoint versions of the presentations are available here.

It was very well attended with over 150 delegates and divided into six sessions; Setting the Scene, Overseas Experience, Perspectives on Risk, Searching for Resilience and Sustainability, Practical Responses in the Field and finally Messages for Government and the Profession.  The speakers came from a range of backgrounds; universities, research institutes, the forest industry and others.  Dr John Gibbs, a former colleague of mine from Forest Research opened the formal talks with a masterly review of how forest health problems were tackled in the last century, using Dutch Elm Disease as his focal organism. He was followed by Professor James Brown from the John Innes Institute discussing how lessons from agriculture could be used to develop strategies to combat tree diseases.  Both these speakers pointed out that there was a grave shortage of forest pathologists and entomologists in the UK, particularly in the university sector.   James Brown commented that he had been shocked to discover he had only been able to count seven people in the sector working on tree diseases and added that this did not make them forest pathologists.  We had talks from overseas speakers such as Professor Mike Wingfield from South Africa on global forest health threats, Jim Zwack from the USA speaking on the Emerald Ash Borer as an urban pest problem and Catherine St-Marie highlighting the fact that climate change was aiding and abetting the spread of the Mountain Pine Beetle in Canada.

There was a surprisingly interesting talk on the problems of insuring forests against pests and disease form Phil Cottle of Pardus Underwriting Limited and an enlightening presentation from Professor David Ball from Middlesex University talking about uncertainty and decision-making.  Again both these speakers highlighted the need for further information about pests and diseases.

Day 2 had us searching for resilience and sustainability within the UK forestry sector with a very entertaining talk from Jo O’Hara, Head of Forestry Commission Scotland.  Her talk really drove home to me how much UK forestry has changed over the last 30 years; when I joined the Forestry Commission in 1982 they had only just appointed their first woman District Officer, and now a woman runs FC Scotland – a very welcome sign of change.  Tariq Butt from Swansea University spoke about the use of entomopahogenic fungi as biological control agents in forestry, something increasingly moving higher on the agenda as we face the loss of even more conventional pesticides in the next few years and Martin Ward, the Director-General of EPPO asked us to consider how global plant health arrangements could be improved to protect trees more effectively.  Again the message was that we need more forest health specialist, and not just in the UK.   After the morning coffee break, Joan Webber, the Principal Pathologist for Forest Research UK, spoke about detection and precautionary measures to combat biosecurity threats and yet again highlighted the need for further research and eyes on the ground; in other words more specialist staff are required.  Neil Strong from Network Rail drew our attention to the problems caused by trees to our railway system and then Bill Mason extolled the virtues of increasing species and structural diversity when planting new forests and managing older ones, to improve resilience.

The afternoon session kicked off with Clive Potter from Imperial College talking about understanding what the public’s concerns about tree health are and how certain events can amplify risk perception among the public.  The public outcry about Chalara and Ash Dieback being a particularly good example of the phenomenon.  I followed with a talk about the needs for professional education which gave me the opportunity to point out what subject areas should be covered in an aspiring forester’s education.

Essential skills

I was also able to remind my audience that the number of UK universities providing specific forestry training at undergraduate level had dwindled to less than a handful and that despite offering modules purporting to cover forest health problems, only two employ specialist staff in those areas.  At postgraduate level there is only one course that deals specifically with forest health issues in the UK, the MSc in Conservation & Forest Protection that I run at Harper Adams University.

My take-home messages to a very receptive audience was that students need more emphasis on identification skills and much more practical experience, that current forestry professionals need to keep their eyes open and practice looking for pests and diseases as well as taking any opportunity to refresh their training and that UK universities offering forestry related courses need to employ more forest entomologists and forest pathologists.  Even more importantly, the UK government need to make sure that there are financial incentives to encourage universities to employ more forest entomologists and forest pathologists by increasing targeted research funding in those areas and once increased, maintain those levels of funding.  There also needs to be a clear signposting of career opportunities for the next generation of forest health scientists and if we as a country are serious about safeguarding our native woodlands and forest estate, then more jobs need to be created.

As I have written elsewhere, we cannot afford to sit back and hope that things will get better on their own.  Versions of this slide appeared on the screen several times during the course of the conference.  We are under attack and we need more suitably qualified people to help repel and contain the invaders.

Forest pests

 

Additional reading

Leather, S.R. (2014) Current and future threats to UK forestry. Outlooks on Pest Management, 25, 22-24.

Leather, S.R. (2014) How prepared is the UK to combat future and current threats to forests? Commonwealth Forestry Association Newsletter, 64, 10-11.

 

Post script

I am very grateful indeed to the Institute of Chartered Foresters for giving me the opportunity to speak at the conference and for providing generous hospitality.  It was one of the most engaging and interesting conferences that I have been to for a very long time.  Well done ICF.

 

Post post script

It was also good to see Twitter being used very successfully with the #Treehealth hashtag.  We even had participants from the Canadian Forestry Service!

ICF tweets

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Amateur, professional and academic interactions: A day with the British Entomological and Natural History Society

Towards the end of last year I was asked by Claudia Watts, the President of the British Entomological and Natural History Society http://www.benhs.org.uk/site/?q=node/1 if I would like to be nominated to become a member of their Council. I thought about it for a while and then said yes – my resolution to learn to say NO has sadly not been very successful 😉

There was one snag though, I was not a member of the BENHS; that was, however, easily remedied by completing an application form and being duly approved by the membership secretary and then paying my annual subscription of £19. This process made me think, why wasn’t I already a member of the BENHS? The aims of the Society “are the promotion and advancement of research in entomology with an increasing emphasis now being placed on the conservation of the fauna and flora of the United Kingdom and the protection of wildlife throughout the world”, which is something I have been interested and involved with for almost forty years.

Until I graduated from Leeds the only societies I had belonged to were university ones. On starting my PhD I joined the Association of Applied Biologists, the British Ecological Society, the then Institute of Biology (my father was a founder member) and the Royal Entomological Society. All these had one thing in common, they were, for want of a better description, professional graduate societies, although the Royal Entomological Society did, and does have non-academic and non-professional Members and Fellows. So I guess there was a bit of snobbery involved – the British Entomological and Natural History Society despite its distinguished past, founded 1872, and publishing a quarterly journal and a variety of important identification guides, was in my world view at the time, akin to the Amateur Entomological Society, founded in 1935. A reading of the aims of the AES would however, have told me otherwise, “Our objective is to promote the study of entomology, especially amongst amateurs and the younger generation.”

The objectives of the BENHS, originally the South London Entomological and Natural History Society are remarkably similar to those of the Royal Entomological Society (originally of London), the main differences now, being their financial resources and scale of activities. So having entered an academic career and eventually ending up in one of the UK’s top research intensive universities I had no incentive or inclination to join a society or organisation that did not instantly suggest a professional affiliation, and in the case of the Institute of Biology (now Society of Biology) and the Royal Entomological Society giving me additional letters after my name!

That said, a significant proportion of the UK academic entomological community have published and continue to  publish in the less ‘high impact’ end of the journal spectrum (e.g. Southwood & Johnson, 1957; Dixon, 1958) and indeed me too (Leather & Brotherton, 1987; Leather, 1989). This has been more fully documented elsewhere (Hopkins & Freckleton, 2002). The need for such journals is perhaps not fully appreciated. One of my former students, a Hemipterist of some note, who has published extensively in this journal stratum used to leave these off his job applications until he was asked at a post-doc interview if he had published in these journals as they considered it an important requisite of the job in question as it involved a lot of field work and insect identification. Without journals such as these published here and elsewhere, much of the basic knowledge needed for academic entomologists, ecologists, zoologists etc. to conduct their research would be greatly hampered.

So how does it work in practice? I duly turned up for my first BENHS AGM on Saturday 21st March at the very apposite venue, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, in time

OUMNH

for the pre-meeting mingle with coffee and biscuits and met some of my former MSc students, now doing PhDs, old friends, current MSc students,  undergraduates, one of whom I had interviewed the day before for a place on the MSc in Entomology that I run, and even a scattering of much younger entomologists.  So a real mixture of amateurs, professionals (those making a living from entomology but not employed by a research institute or university) and current and retired academics.

The programme included a mixture of entomologists, ranging from Matt Shardlow, CEO and founder of Buglife, entomological consultant and saproxylic beetle guru, Keith Alexander, PhD student Tom Wood from Sussex University talking about his pollinator research which has just made the news, author and professional entomologist Richard Jones plugging his latest book and school boy Louis Guillot talking about his research into ant colony development; many of which he stores beneath his bed. We also had an entertaining Presidential Address by Claudia Watts about insects and art through the ages.

Having the AGM in the museum was also of course a very positive plus as in the breaks I was able to have a quick look at some of the exhibits – this one particularly caught my eye, although my camera and photographic skills do not do it justice.

Flea dressed

 

My take home message is that a) I was very foolish not to have got involved with the BENH many years ago and b) given the problems we have in getting the media and general public to understand the importance of entomology and insects to the well-being of the world, that many more of us pre-retirement academic entomologists should be willing to get involved with this and other similar societies.

Insects are important

References

Dixon, A.F.G. (1958) The protective function of the siphunculi of the nettle aphid, Microlophium evansi (Theob.). Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, 94, 8.

Hopkins, G.W. & Freckleton, R.P. (2002) Declines in the numbers of amateur and professional taxonomists: implications for conservation. Animal Conservation, 5, 245-249.

Leather, S.R. (1989) Phytodecta pallida (L.) (Col.,Chrysomelidae) – a new insect record for bird cherry (Prunus padus). Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, 125, 17-18.

Leather, S.R. & Brotherton, C.M. (1987) Defensive responses of the pine beauty moth, Panolis flammea (D&S) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). Entomologist’s Gazette, 38, 19-24.

Southwood, T.R.E. & Johnson, C.G. (1957) Some records of insect flight activity in May, 1954, with particular reference to the massed flights of Coleoptera and Heteroptera from concealed habitats. Entomologist’s Monthly Magazine, 93, 121–126

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The Seven Ages of an Entomologist – Happy 60th Birthday to Me

Today I turned 60 – an event which has come as a bit of a surprise to me as inside I still feel about 17 😉 I thought, given the occasion and the fine example set by Jeff Ollerton‘s recent birthday blog post  that it seems a good time to reflect on my career in particular and academic careers in general. Despite there already being at least two other excellent articles about the “Seven Ages”, Jerry Coyne’s, The Seven Ages of the Scientist and Athene Donald’s The Seven Ages of an Academic Scientist, I felt no qualms in adding my own modest contribution to the genre 😉

Given my own career trajectory it turns out that I need more than seven ages, so as an entomologist I feel justified in adding five larval or nymphal instars to the traditional progression.

 

The Larval Stages

The Infant (first instar)

According to Shakespeare “mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms”, which spending the early part of my childhood in colonial Ghana is actually very apt,

Simon babe in arms

although the photograph below shows a very contented baby indeed.

Simon - baby

I have no entomological memories from this time, although given that then it was normal practice to leave babies outside in their prams, I am sure that I was exposed to the whole range of flying Ghanaian insects. There is some evidence of an early interest in nature and entomology in the picture below where I seem to be investigating a small white butterfly whilst indulging in some early forestry work.

Simon Ghana

My first real biological memory, is however, non-entomological, the blue whale skeleton in the Natural History Museum London in 1958 when my parents were on home leave.

 

The Schoolboy (second instar)

 In 1960 my father was moved to Jamaica to work in the Department of Agriculture as a Plant Pathologist and this is where I started my formal education. Shakespeare describes the schoolboy as “whining schoolboy with his satchel, and shining morning face, creeping like a snail unwillingly to school”.

Simon, Mark & Spences

I certainly had a satchel and it is from this period of my life that I have my first definite entomological memories. We lived in a suburb of Kingston, 32 Gardenia Avenue in Mona Heights. My father kept bees and I spent a lot of time playing with ants, conducting behavioural experiments with crab spiders and having close encounters with wasps and apparently in this picture from 1961, helping with my father’s very luxuriant garden; he grew a great variety of ornamental plants as well as fruit and

Simon 1961      Simon & Pussy cat

 

vegetables, including grapes, bananas, passion fruit, papayas, peanuts and breadfruit as well as coffee and more traditional vegetables. My final school report from my time in Jamaica shows a prescient comment from my biology teacher;

School report

School report bit

 

Secondary school (third instar)

My father’s next posting was to Hong Kong to work for the Ministry of Agriculture; his office was in the New Territories but we lived in Kowloon (Wylie Gardens) where I attended King George V School. Biology was again my favourite subject but apart from cockroaches and ants my entomological experiences were very limited.

Simon - schoolboy           Before braces – 1966

Simon braces

Keeping my mouth shut to hide my orthodontic appliances 1968.

 

Boarding school (fourth instar)

In 1968 my father returned briefly to the UK before his next posting to Fiji and I was sent to a state school, Ripon Grammar School, which had a boarding section. I was to spend five relatively happy years there and despite the competing interests of girls and sports, further developed my interest in invertebrate zoology, due in the main part to my zoology teacher ‘Brian’ Ford. I have many happy memories of pond dipping, searching for Cepea nemoralis and generally fossicking around in hedgerows.

Simon Fiji 1970

When on school holidays in Fiji I found time to investigate the local insect and amphibian fauna; our house seemed to attract toads in huge numbers which my brothers and I used to competitively collect in buckets for later release.

 

Sixth form (final instar)

In my two final years at school sport and girls continued to play a larger part in my life than entomology although I see from the fly-leaf of my books from that time that I owned and had read both volumes of Ralph Bucshbaum’s Life of the Invertebrates and also Darwin’s Origins.

Second fifteen

Ripon Grammar School 2nd XV – I am third from the left on the front row.

 Careers advice when I was at school was not very sophisticated and if you did Biology ‘A’ Level and were a school prefect, it was automatically taken that you were either destined to be a Doctor, a Vet or a Dentist.

School House Prefects1973

I was no different and despite my misgivings, duly applied for and was accepted at Birmingham University to read Medicine. As luck would have it, things did not work out as planned and after a less than happy year at Aston University in Birmingham, in 1974 I left Birmingham and moulted into a proto-entomologist at the University of Leeds.

 

The Undergraduate

The discovery that learning can be fun and that there might actually be a career in doing something that you enjoy.

I did a now extinct degree (although I have plans to exhume it), Agricultural Zoology, essentially a year of vertebrate zoology, with two years of invertebrate zoology, essentially applied entomology, parasitology and nematology. I loved it and thrived on it and grew my hair even longer.

Simon - undergraduate

I decided to become an entomologist in my second year and discovered the wonders of aphids at the same time. It was also round about this time that I decided I was going to become a university academic and started to work a lot harder; the logical end point of someone with a mother who was a secondary school biology teacher and a father who was a research scientist.

 

The Postgraduate

Discovering that being on “the road to find out” (Cat Stevens) is exhilarating

Simon - PhD student

I did my PhD at the University of East Anglia in Norwich – Aspects of the Ecology of the Ecology of the Bird Cherry Aphid, under the supervision of Professor Tony Dixon. A totally fantastic time, despite the ‘second year blues’ which all PhD students seem to go through when they think that they don’t have enough data. I was lucky enough to be in a large research group, at one stage there were thirteen of us in the lab, so there was always plenty of help and advice available. In addition we had the excitement of conferences and the first unsteady steps towards learning to lecture, mainly demonstrating in undergraduate practicals; I spent a lot of time pithing frogs for physiology classes (don’t ask) and also tutoring first year students in mathematics. We also played a lot of squash and enjoyed our social life; for those of you who know Norwich, The Mitre pub on Earlham Road, was our regular haunt.

 

The post-doc

Discovering how to run a research lab

I did two brief post-docs, the first in Finland, under the auspices of the Royal Society and the

Simon Finland 1981

second back at the University of East Anglia funded by the Agriculture and Food Research Council, both working on cereal aphids. At this stage of my career I started to learn how to supervise postgraduate students; the first port of call in a busy lab after the senior PhD student has failed to supply an answer is always the post-doc as the lab head is inevitably very busy. I also got my first real opportunity to lecture undergraduates, which turned out to be a lot harder than I had thought it would be even when talking about my own research.

 

Interlude or host alternation

 The Research Scientist

 Discovering that directed research on its own is not enough

Copy of Simon SSO

In a normal academic career, the next stage after post-doc is an appointment as a University Lecturer. In the early 1980s university lectureships were in short supply and many of us who would normally have gone into an academic career found ourselves either having to go abroad as lecturers at Commonwealth universities (I was offered but turned down a lectureship at Kano University in Nigeria) or joining research institutes. In 1982 I joined the UK Forestry Commission’s Northern Research Station where I spent ten years as a forest entomologist, answering enquiries, conducting directed research and giving the occasional guest lecture. I was however, lucky enough to be able to gain some PhD supervisory experience and after ten years, the last five which were increasingly frustrating, was lucky enough in 1992 to be appointed to a Lectureship at the Silwood Park campus of Imperial College.  In retrospect this was the last time I was able to spend about 90% of my time at the bench and in the field doing ‘hands on’ research, but I have never regretted moving into academia – the opportunity of being able to pass on what you have discovered and hopefully enthuse and motivate a new generation more than makes up for the loss.
Back to the primary host

 

The Lecturer

When I discover that I love teaching

Simon - Lecturer

You may have noticed that I have had a haircut; it was a source of some amusement to me that on joining the university sector I was expected to get my hair cut.

I was appointed as a Lecturer in Pest Management to teach on the world-renowned MSc Entomology course at Silwood Park, and as I was replacing a specific person (Geoff Norton), although not in exactly the same subject area, my ‘grace’ period was shorter that it might have been. Normally at research intensive institutions like Imperial College, new appointments are given two to three years to apply for grants and get their research groups started before being given teaching and departmental jobs. I had a year, but as I discovered that I very much enjoyed teaching (something that many of my colleagues then and later found very strange) I was not dismayed. Unlike some of my colleagues I had read the dictionary definition of the word lecturer: noun. One who delivers lectures, especially professionally.   I have never really understood the mentality of those who aspire to university positions and yet find the idea of having to teach students not only a distraction but in some cases abhorrent and to be avoided at all costs and strive to obtain funding to buy them out of teaching as soon as possible. Some of my senior colleagues at Imperial College (and elsewhere) had and have almost no experience of teaching at all and so have no idea of what is involved in delivering a decent course, a state of affairs that explains some of the very strange decisions that are made at some of the research intensive universities in the UK.   I often felt that they would be much happier in a research institute.

I also discovered that if you take teaching seriously then your ‘bench time’ is much reduced and you begin your career as a research manager, appointing PhD students and post-docs to carry your research ideas forward. I made a decision early on that I would attempt to keep some of my skills extant and set up a long-term field project looking at the insect communities living on sycamores at Silwood Park, especially the aphids. This meant that I had to set a day a week aside to collect data. By doing this it meant that I had a reality check on what was actually possible. I have seen too many colleagues who because of the time they had spent away from the bench or the field, had totally unrealistic expectations of what was actually possible to be achieved by their students and research assistants.

 

The Senior Lecturer

When the Department discovers that I love teaching

In 1996 I was promoted to Senior Lecturer (I think that it is a real shame that some UK universities have decided to adopt North American terminology and introduce the title of Associate Professor, apparently to avoid confusing the rest of the World. At Imperial College promotion to Senior Lecturer was to reward teaching excellence and was usually the kiss of death for any further promotion.

Simon - Lecturera

Senior Lecturer in Applied Ecology

 I was as well as teaching on the MSc Entomology course doing an increasing amount of undergraduate teaching including a final year course in Applied Ecology of which I was very proud, hence the decision to retitle myself. I was also very busy with external activities, being on the Editorial Board of the Bulletin of Entomological Research and just been appointed as Editor-in-Chief of Ecological Entomology, just finished a term on the council of the Royal Entomological Society and been appointed to a slew of Departmental and University committees. My research group was really starting to take off, I was supervising 8 PhD students at the time; given the poor return rate on major grant applications in the UK, I decided early on that going for PhDs was a better use of my limited time and this is a strategy that I have mainly followed to the present day.

Research group

This does not include MSc or BSc students – they would add about 10 to each yearly figure from 1995 onwards

The Reader

 When I discover that it is possible to get even busier

In 2002 I was promoted to Reader one of the definitions of which according to Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary is defined as follows; Old English rǣdere ‘interpreter of dreams, reader’. In the UK university system, it is the rank below full Professor and comes with an endowed title, in my case I chose to become Reader in Applied Ecology to reflect the

Simon - Reader

myriad teaching roles I had accumulated and also to encompass the fact that my research group no longer dealt solely with arthropods, vertebrates had somehow sneaked their way in. Looking at Athene Donald’s list I see that I was pretty much doing a professorial role, serving on external committees, validating degrees for other universities and acting as an external examiner. I was also appointed as Editor-in-Chief of Insect Conservation and Diversity, a new journal for the Royal Entomological Society. My administrative duties had also continued to increase.  It was no wonder that my beard was getting greyer! I was however still preparing my own talks, although I will confess that a lot of my data analysis was being passed on to members of the group, duly acknowledged of course. I am extremely grateful that I have always had a loyal and very supportive research group, without their help life would have been impossible.  My thanks to you all (if any of you are reading this).

 

The Professor

Discovering the joys of being pretty much able to do what I want (with certain restrictions)

It became increasingly obvious that things could not carry on as they were, my teaching and administrative loads were becoming ridiculous; our Director of Teaching calculated that I was actually doing more teaching than anyone else in the Department including the Teaching Fellows. I was seriously considering early retirement although I was reluctant to do this as I was sure that with my retirement the last entomology degree in the UK would quickly disappear. Luckily in 2012 my team and I were miraculously offered the chance to move to a new more supportive location, Harper Adams University in Shropshire.

Simon 2015

So now I have become a Senior Professor, with a new entomology building, with less undergraduate teaching, which I miss, and a role that requires me to sit on more external and internal committees, to meet the great and the good and to make solemn pronouncements.  At the same time however, it does allow me to plough my own furrow and to influence university policy. Most importantly I no longer feel that I am beating my head against a brick wall and that the future of entomology as a degree course in the UK is much safer than it was five years ago.  I think I am at Stage 4 in Jerry Coyne’s list as I now find that I am much more interested in synthesizing and disseminating what I have learnt rather than doing original research – I can feel a book coming on 😉

My hope is that in five years time when I become a retired Professor and my hair and beard colour are the same, that entomology will be taught at more than one university in the UK and not just at postgraduate level.

A small point of personal satisfaction, is that, despite my elevation, I still do not own a suit 😉

 

For reference

Jerry A. Coyne’s summary, reproduced from his blog

  1. As student, listens to advisor give talk on student’s own work
  2. As postdoc, gives talks about his/her own work
  3. As professor, gives talks about his/her students’ work
  4. Talks and writes about “the state of the field”
  5. Talks and writes about “the state of the field” eccentrically and incorrectly—always in a self-aggrandizing way.
  6. Gives after-dinner speeches and writes about society and the history of the field
  7. Writes articles about science and religion

 

And the famous original from which the title is borrowed and adapted.

 

Seven Ages Of Man

(from As You Like It by William Shakespeare)

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players,

They have their exits and entrances,

And one man in his time plays many parts,

His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,

Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

Then, the whining schoolboy with his satchel

And shining morning face, creeping like snail

Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,

Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,

Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,

Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel,

Seeking the bubble reputation

Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice

In fair round belly, with good capon lin’d,

With eyes severe, and beard of formal cut,

Full of wise saws, and modern instances,

And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts

Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,

With spectacles on nose, and pouch on side,

His youthful hose well sav’d, a world too wide,

For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,

Turning again towards childish treble, pipes

And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history,

Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

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Entomyopia and Entoalexia – two potentially life-threatening conditions

This post was stimulated by two recent events.  First, a conversation I had at a curry evening organised by the amateur band that my wife plays in.  My neighbour was a well-educated modern languages teacher in her early forties.  We discussed our various jobs and she evinced surprise that anyone would want to work with insects and even when I explained the myriad benefits of understanding insect biology and ecology to her in terms of food security, vector control, detritivores, integrated pest management, pollination etc., she was still unconcerned about the lack of training provision for entomology and the dwindling number of young entomologists in the population.  I also highlighted the growing disconnect between people and nature.  Her response was that it was just the way it was and that people had other interests now!  I was, despite the fact that I have bemoaned the lack of funding for invertebrate research and training for some time now, totally amazed and down-hearted.  The second event was when one of my entomological colleagues reported to me how shocked he had been, when describing the recent opening of our new entomology building at Harper Adams University to his next door neighbour, a retired engineer, that the neighbour expressed great surprise that anyone would want such a facility and why anyone would want to spend that amount of money to enable entomological research.

I have written before about my worries about the decline of interest in natural history and entomology (Leather & Quicke, 2009, 2010) but I feel that it is now well past time to do something urgently about this lack of understanding among the public, the educational establishment, funding councils and the government.  Not only is institutional invertebratism  (Leather, 2009, 2013) still alive and well but we now have two potentially life-threatening conditions that desperately need curing.

Entomyopia

noun

entomological short-sightedness

        • a condition in which insects are viewed either as pollinators or as nuisances
        • a lack of foresight or discernment as to the importance of entomology:  a narrow view of entomology

Entoalexia

noun

entomological blindness

        • a condition in which a person or organisation, is totally oblivious to the importance of entomology and insects

Insects - what insects

Symptoms

The closing of entomology departments and research groups

A reduction in the numbers of entomologists employed by universities and research institutions

An ageing population of practicing entomologists, many characterised by grey beards and spectacles

Lack of understanding by the general public about why the study of entomology is important to their well-being

A lack of teaching of invertebrate biology at secondary schools and at undergraduate level

A lack of government funding

A tendency for members of the general public to scream and/or flinch when insects enter their personal space

A tendency for members of the general public to kill insects when found in their personal space

A failure by the majority of the population to appreciate the beauty and wonder of insects

Investing hundreds of millions into medical research to keep people alive for longer (a good thing) without thinking about how the extra mouths are going to be fed without similar levels of investment in crop protection research (a very bad thing)

Funding in conservation and whole organism biology and ecology heavily biased towards “large charismatic mega-fauna”

Schoolchildren able to name the ten most endangered mammal species in the world but unable to recognize and name the ten most common insect species in their own country

 

Treatment

A concerted effort by all entomologists to explain to the general public, the educational establishment, funding bodies, the media and  government why we need urgently more entomologists and why the study of entomology is crucially important to our well-being.  I would go further than that and suggest that we need to redouble our outreach activities and to actively lobby those who hold the purse strings and those that represent us in government.  Yes, national entomological societies such as the Royal Entomological Society in the UK are doing much more to promote entomology than they used to but much more remains to be done.  The Amateur Entomologist’s Society  has, I have been reminded, also been active in this area for more than eighty years.  My message to all entomologists is act now before it is too late.

 

Prognosis

At the current level of investment  into treatment and cures, very gloomy.

 

Post script

As I was preparing this article Brigit Strawbridge published an impassioned plea to all of us to take more notice of the little things that run the world

http://www.beestrawbridge.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/mass-insect-extinction-elephant-in-room.html
Post post script

I would be remiss if I did not point out that mycology, plant pathology and plant nematology are also extremely vulnerable and just as important to our well-being as entomology.

 

Post post post script

Entomyopia  is apparently not a new disease, shortly after posting this I came across this gem from 1882.

“No science is so generally slighted, ignored, and misunderstood as is Entomology.  Hysterical humanitarians, novelists, poets, political agitators, classical students, speak in terms of contempt or horror of the “fly-hunters””

Anonymous (1882) The Journal of Science, and Annals of Astronomy, Biology, geology, Industrial Architecture, Manufactures and Technology, 4, 208

 

References

Leather, S. R. (2009). Institutional vertebratism threatens UK food security. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 24: 413-414.

Leather, S. R. (2013). Institutional vertebratism hampers insect conservation generally; not just saproxylic beetle conservation. Animal Conservation 16: 379-380.

Leather, S. R. & Quicke, D. L. J. (2009). Where would Darwin have been without taxonomy? Journal of Biological Education 43: 51-52.

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

 

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