I couldn’t not use this – it is (sadly) one of my favourite films 😊
Anyone who has driven (or walked) along a road will have come across roadkill, be it squirrels, pheasants, badgers, deer or even something more exotic, perhaps it us only us entomologists who notice the squashed invertebrates ☹
Dead carabids and mayflies Shay Lane, Staffordshire, 8th June 2021
But, lets leave the roadkill for a moment, and in the spirit of the title of the film, start in the air. The first thing I discovered when I started to search for the effects of aircraft on insects is the paucity of literature on the subject – it turns out that people are much more interested in stopping disease carrying insects being transported by air or, and coming as a bit of a surprise to me, stopping insects causing plane crashes (House et al., 2020; Grout & Russell, 2021). The aircraft industry is so concerned about the physical dangers posed to ‘planes by insects that NASA actually have a Bug Team dedicated to developing insect proof aircraft.
I am, however, more concerned about how dangerous aircraft are to insects. First, we need to know how many insects are up there and what the probability of them being struck and killed by aircraft is. I’m guessing that bug strike is pretty common, otherwise NASA wouldn’t have a Bug Team. The majority of insects in the air are found at 300-600 m, although this does vary in relation to time of day (Reynolds et al., 2005). Getting a figure for the actual number of insects in the air is as you might expect, actually quite difficult. The first attempt to trap and collect insects using an aircraft was in 1926 in Louisiana (USA) using a specially designed trap (Glick, 1939). These do not seem to have been particularly effective as 5 years of trapping, involving 1528 hours of flying, caught just under 30 000 insects (Glick, 1939). Those of us who have operated pitfall traps for any length of time would consider this a very modest haul 😊
Glick (1939) The aircraft insect trap
That said, the exercise was obviously more hazardous than even collecting insects from roundabouts as this very laconic extract highlights:
“The skill of the pilots who flew the collecting airplanes is evidenced by the fact that no fatalities occurred. Only one major accident occurred, when a forced landing resulted in the destruction of the craft and injury to both the pilot (McGinley) and the writer. Such mishaps must be expected in a more or less hazardous undertaking.”
The distribution of catch number was very similar to that reported from the more recent UK study using radar (Reynolds et al., 2005) and is reinforced by this statement from the NASA Bug Team; “The reason we do these tests at low altitudes or do a lot of takeoffs and landings is because bug accumulation occurs at anywhere from the ground to less than 1,000 feet,” said Mia Siochi, a materials researcher at NASA Langley”.
Given the number of flights made globally and the investment being made into protecting aircraft from bug strike, I would assume that the number of insects being killed by aircraft worldwide is probably very high. I am sure that someone with the skill, time and inclination, can probably come up with a fairly realistic figure. Over to you Dear Readers.
Next up, if we keep to the film title, are trains. There has been a bit more work looking at the damage that trains do to insects, not a lot, but something is better than nothing. Work collecting train kill from railway lines showed that snails were particularly vulnerable to being run over, similar to the effects on trail-following ermine moth caterpillars that I observed in Finland in 1981, with Ephemeroptera (Mayflies) in second place (Pop et al., 2020). This, as the authors suggest, was almost certainly due to the time of year and the presence of a lake nearby. Unfortunately no one has done the equivalent of a train splatometer which might be rewarding as these observations from correspondence in British Birds magazine suggest that locomotive engines are causing some mortality to flying insects. Over to you Bug Life. How about getting the train companies to fit splatometers?
Finally, cars and their effect on insect life. There is anecdotal evidence out there, after all as drivers we have all seen moths in our headlights at night and used our windscreen washers and wipers to try and remove dried on insect corpses and their haemolymph from our front windscreens.
My front bumper – sadly (or perhaps not) much less insect spattered than in the past
Yes, anecdotally we know that insects are being hit by cars (see above) and on my front number plate, a couple of weeks ago (beginning of June) I counted 73 insects, mainly aphids after a 245 km trip. The problem as I see it, is quantifying the numbers killed and calculating the effect that this has on insect abundance. I have mentioned the splatometer in an earlier post which attempts to standardise the number plate counts and I am pleased to see that this has now been revived by Bug Life, and will hopefully carry on for many years. The idea behind this is that over the years we will be able to see if insect numbers as reflected by the change in numbers of splats are increasing, decreasing of remaining the same. This will not, certainly as described, tell us how many insects are being killed by road using vehicles, although it would be possible if the data were collected over delineated stretches of road (Baxter-Gilbert et al., 2015). It is not just flying insects that are killed by cars; not all flying insects fly across roads, many seem happy to walk to the other side, reckless as that may seem.
A brave, or possibly fool-hardy carabid beetle crossing the road – Guild Lane, Sutton, Staffordshire, 9th June 2021.
There have been enough studies done looking at the interactions between roads and insects for a review article to have been published fairly recently, although not all the papers deal directly with mortality effects (Munõz et al., 2015). Many studies have recorded the species affected and the number of dead individuals found but few have attempted to calculate what this means in total. Most studies, as we might expect, have been on large, easily identifiable charismatic species (Munõz et al., 2015) and it from these that we do have some idea of the magnitude of the mayhem caused by road traffic. Some of the figures are incredibly high. A survey of Odonata road kill, albeit near a wetland, of two 500 m stretches of dual carriageway in the Great Lakes region of the USA revealed that at least 88/km/day were being hit and killed by vehicles (Riffell, 1969). Another study in the USA, this time on Lepidoptera, calculated that about 20 000 000 butterflies (mainly Pieridae) were killed in one week in September (McKenna et al., 2001). The most dramatic figures however, are those from a study in Canada which estimated that 187 billion pollinators (mainly Hymenoptera) are killed over the summer in North America (Baxter-Gilbert et al., 2015). An unpublished study by Roger Morris (thank you Richard Wilson @ecology_digest for bringing this to my attention) also highlights the dangerous effects of cars on Hymenoptera). Despite the mounting evidence of the harm that road traffic does to insects there is remarkably little information about how this can be reduced, although I did find a paper that noted that if insects are struck by cars driving at speeds of 30-40 km/h they survive the crash whereas speeds greater than this prove fatal (Rao & Girish, 2007). It might be possible to impose insect safe speed limits along stretches of road that go through sites of special insect interest (perhaps I should try and coin that acronym, SSII, as an additional/alternative term to SSSI (Sites of Special Scientific Interest), but I am not sure how amenable drivers would be to signs telling them to slow down because of insects😊, considering how few drivers slow down in response to the signs warning them about deer and other vertebrate hazards. Another option would be to design road vehicles so that the air flow across them pushes insects away rather than into them; this may already be fortuitously happening as Manu Saunders points in her interesting post about the ‘windscreen anecdote’. That said, even if cars are more aerodynamic and less likely to splatter insects, the levels of road kill reported in the papers I have cited earlier, still imply that insects are being killed by traffic in huge numbers.
This one didn’t get stuck on a car, but died just the same – A519 outside Forton, Staffordshire, 15th June 2021
Even if we do accept that deaths down to direct impact with vehicles is lower than in the past, the roads on which we drive our cars are also having a negative effect on insect numbers. Roads, particularly those surfaced with tarmacadam, present an inhospitable surface to some insects which may make them reluctant to fly or walk across. It has been shown that bee and was communities can be different on different sides of a road (Andersson et al., 2017) as the road act as barriers, particularly for smaller species of bees (Fitch & Vaidya, 2021).
Despite the mortality that vehicles impose on insects, roads are not necessarily a totally bad thing for invertebrates; road verges, when sympathetically managed, can provide overwintering sites for a range of arthropod species (Saarinen et al., 2005; Schaffers et al., 2012) and some insect species seem to enjoy feeding on roadside vegetation because of the increased nitrogen content of the plants living alongside traffic (Jones & Leather, 2012).
Overall however, given the very high mortality rates directly associated with cars and other road traffic and the very real indirect effects caused by habitat fragmentation, it would seem that we have much to do to make roads safer for insects and other animals.
Andersson, P., Koffman, A., Sjödin, N.E. & Johansson, V. (2017) Roads may act as barriers to flying insects: species composition if bees and wasps differs on two sides of a large highway. Nature Conservation, 18, 41-59.
Baxter-Gilbert, J.H., Riley, J.L., Neufeld, C.J.H., Litzgus, J.D., & Lesbarreres, D. (2015) Road mortality potentially responsible for billions of pollinating insect deaths annually. Journal of Insect Conservation, 19, 1029-1035.
Melis, C., Olsen, C.B., Hyllvang, M., Gobbi, M., Stokke, B.G., & Røskaft, E. (2010) The effect of traffic intensity on ground beetle (Coleoptera: Carabidae) assemblages in central Sweden. Journal of Insect Conservation, 14, 159-168.
Pop, D.R., Maier, A.R.M., Cadar, A.M., Cicort-Lucaciu, A.S., Ferenți, S. & Cupșa, D. (2020) Slower than the trains! Railway mortality impacts especially snails on a railway in the Apuseni Mountains, Romania. Annales Zoologici Fennici, 57, 225-235.
Reynolds, D.R., Chapman, J.W., Edwards, A.S., Smith, A.D., Wood, C. R., Barlow, J. F. and Woiwod, I.P. (2005) Radar studies of the vertical distribution of insects migrating over southern Britain: the influence of temperature inversions on nocturnal layer concentrations. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 95, 259-274.
This last couple of weeks parts of my daily walks have been accompanied by, the to me, unwelcome din of motor lawnmowers as lots of my fellow villagers strive to turn their lawns into ecological deserts. One of my neighbours has, to my knowledge, cut his lawn five times since the beginning of March, me I’ve done my spring cut and that’s it until autumn.
An ecological desert 😦
This mania for close-cropped lawns, sometimes ‘artistically’ striped, is, I think, the fault of my grandparent’s generation, which took a municipal park attitude to gardens, especially the bit that the neighbours could see; close-cropped, weed-free grass with regimented flower beds, also equally weed-frees. Out of sight, back gardens could be less manicured, and depending on the space available, might include a vegetable garden (also scrupulously weed-free), and a patch of lawn to be used by children for ball games and other activities. Unfortunately they drummed this philosophy into their children, who in their turn, with only a few exceptions (me for one), passed this fetish on to my generation. Sadly, my father, a keen gardener, also espoused this view as did the parents of all my friends. I spent many a grumpy hour removing dandelions and thistles from our front lawn and flower beds at my father’s behest!
So what are these weeds that so many people seem to hate? To those growing crops of economic value, be they agricultural, horticultural or silvicultural, then I guess the following definitions are very reasonable and relatable.
“Plants that threaten human welfare either by competing with other plants that have food, timber of amenity value, or by spoiling and thus diminishing the value of a product”
“Weeds arise out of the mismatch between the habitats we create and the plants we choose to grow in them”
Begon, Harper & Townsend (1996)
“A plant that originated under a natural environment and, in response to imposed and natural environments, evolved and continues to do so as an interfering associate with our desired plants and activities” Aldrich & Kremer (1997)
There are more tolerant descriptions of weeds available, which are much more in accord with my views:
What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered” (Emerson, 1878)
, “A weed is but an unloved flower!” (Wilcox, 1911)
”A plant condemned without a fair trial” (de Wet & Harlan, 1975)
I have, as I have mentioned several times already, been doing a lot of walking during the covid pandemic, or should it now be referred to as the Covid Pandemic? At this time of year, Spring, the early flowers of the hedgerows and roadside verges are alreday out; cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera), blackthorn or sloe (Prunus spimosa) and closer to the ground, but as equally pretty, daisies (Bellis perennis), dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), Lesser Celandines ( Ficaria verna (although some of you may know it as Ranunculus ficaria), and Wood Anemones (Anemonoides nemorosa). The latter two species, although relatively common, are unlikely to be found in the average garden, as they have fairly specific habitat requirements. Daisies and dandelions on the other hand, are pretty much ubiquitous, although the former do not attract as much opprobrium from the traditional gardener as dandelions do. This is a great shame, as ecologically speaking dandelions are an extremely important resource for pollen and nectar feeding insects.
Male tawny mining bee Andrena fulva – Sutton March 25th 2021
Bumble bee, Sutton March 30th 2021
Seven spot lady bird, too early for aphids, Oulton Road March 30th 2021
I’m not alone in my love of dandelions 🙂
We shouldn’t forget the humble daisy either. It provides nectar to many butterfly species, including among others, the Green Hairstreak, the Grizzled Skipper, the Small Copper and the Small White. They are also important resources for honey bees (Raquier et al., 2015), bumblebees and hoverflies (Blackmore & Goulson, 2014).
A nice patch of daisies.
Domestic gardens, if managed correctly, have tremendous potential as reservoirs of insects and other invertebrates of ecological importance (Davies et al, 2009). The easiest thing that you can do to help the insects is to reduce the frequency at which you mow your lawn and grass verges. To sum it up in a nutshell, the less you move, the more flowers you get and the more flowers you get the more nectar and pollen feeding insects you make happy, some of which can be rare and endangered (Wastian et al., 2016).
The less frequently you mow, the more flowers you get. The more flowers you get, the more bumblebees you get (George, 2008).
It is not just flower feeding insects that benefit from reducing your lawn mowing activities; grass feeding insects also benefit from longer grass ( Helden & Leather, 2005) and if, for some strange reason, you are not a great fan of bugs, just remember that the more bugs you have the more birds you will attract (Heden et al., 2012). So do your bit to save the planet, be like me, only mow your lawn twice a year.
Davies, Z.G., Fuller, R.A., Loram, A., Irvine, K.N., Sims, V. & Gaston, K.J. (2009) A national scale inventory of resource provision for biodiversity within domestic gardens. Biological Conservation,142, 761-771.
Garbuzov, M., Fensome, K.A. & Ratnieks, F.L.W. (2015) Public approval plus more wildlife: twin benefits of reduced mowing of amenity grass in a suburban public park in Saltdean, UK. Insect Conservation & Diversity, 8, 107-119.
George, W. (2008) The Birds and the Bees: Factors Affecting Birds, Bumblebees and Butterflies in Urban Green Spaces, MSc Thesis, Imperial College, London.
Helden, A.J. & Leather, S.R. (2005) The Hemiptera of Bracknell as an example of biodiversity within an urban environment. British Journal of Entomology & Natural History,18, 233-252.
Helden, A.J., Stamp, G.C. & Leather, S.R. (2012) Urban biodiversity: comparison of insect assemblages on native and non-native trees. Urban Ecosystems,15, 611-624.
Lerman, S.B., Contostac, A.R., Milamb, J. & Bang, C. (2018) To mow or to mow less: Lawn mowing frequency affects bee abundance and diversity in suburban yards. Biological Conservation, 221, 160-174.
Requier, F., Odoux, J., Tamic, T.,Moreau, N., Henry, M., Decourtye, A. & Bretagnolle, V. (2015) Honey bee diet in intensive farmland habitats reveals an unexpectedly high flower richness and a major role of weedsEcological Applications,25, 881–890.
Studying the history of science is more than the interpretation of ‘landmark’ texts but must involve following ideas in circulation- studying both the people speaking on behalf of the dead scientists and the consumers of that information. Mendel as an example in this blog from the John Innes Centre.
This recent paper suggests that plant sucking bugs feeding on plants (in this case citrus trees) where the levels of neonicitinoid insecticides are too low to kill the pests, can instead kill beneficial insects that feed on the honeydew produced by the pests
Do we realize the full impact of pollinator loss on other ecosystem services and the challenges for any restoration in terrestrial areas? Interesting article from Stefanie Christmann
A few weeks ago I read the first volume of Jocelyn Brooke’s Orchid trilogy, The Military Orchid. I have never been a great fan of orchids, my main experience of them being as ornamental house plants in which context I have always found them ugly, ungainly and obtrusive.
My colleague Lucy’s orchid ‘brightening up’ our communal office kitchen area
‘Artistically displayed’ for sale by an on-line florist – still just as ugly
Jocelyn Brooke’s account of his search for the Military Orchid was however a bit of a revelation. His obsession with the eponymous orchid reminded me of how I quite liked seeing the first emerging spikes of the common spotted orchid, Dactylorhiza fuchsii appearing in Heronsbrook Meadow at Silwood Park as I returned from my lunchtime run. A little bit later Jeff Ollerton posted an interesting article about orchid pollination myths and this got me thinking about the common names of our native UK orchids, especially those named after arthropods.
It turns out that there are fewer than I thought; Bee, some varieties of which seem to be called the wasp orchid, the Fly, Lesser butterfly, Greater butterfly, Early spider and Late spider orchid being the lot. My self-imposed mission was to first find a suitable photograph of each species to see if it did look like its namesake and secondly to identify the main pollinators. Or to put it another way, exactly what are they mimicking and what or who are they really fooling? Orchids generally speaking are honest brokers, providing nectar as a resource for pollination services (Nilsson, 1992). About a quarter of orchid species are however frauds or cheats (Nilsson, 1992), either pretending to be a food source or a receptive female insect, nutritive deceptive or sexually (reproductive) deceptive as the jargon has it (Dafni, 1984). Ophrys orchids are sexually deceptive (Nilsson 1992).
The Bee Orchid, Ophrys apifera, is pollinated by a solitary mining bee, Eucera longicornis (Kullenberg, 1950) belonging to a group commonly known as long horned bees, which in the UK is rather uncommon meaning that the Bee Orchid is generally self-pollinated.
If you look at the female bee, which is what we suppose the flower is mimicking, you can just about convince yourself that there is a slight resemblance between the two. Insects of course do not see things the same way humans do (Döring et al., 2012) so what we think is almost certainly irrelevant. That said, it doesn’t actually have to be a particularly good visual mimic for the insects either, as it is the smell that really matters and as long as the flower is the right shape to enable the deceived male to copulate in such a way that the flower is fertilized that is all that matters. To quote Dafni (1984) “The olfactory specificity allows a high degree of morphological variability because the selective pressures leading to uniformity-as a means for better recognition-are relaxed. When odors become the main means of attraction, they efficiently serve as isolating agents among closely related species”
The fly orchid, Ophrys insectiflora, is also sexually deceptive, but despite its common name is pollinated by digger wasps and bees (Kullenberg, 1950; Wolff 1950).
most commonly by the Pine Hawk Moth, Hyloicus pinastri and the Elephant Hawk Moth, Deilephila elpenor (Nilsson (1983). These orchids provide a nectar reward, and attract their pollinators by producing a strong scent (Nilsson, 1978) easily detected by humans even at a distance (Tollsten & Bergström, 1989). As an added extra, the flowers are very light-green and also highly light-reflecting, giving the moths a visual as well as an olfactory signal (Nilsson, 1978). In terms of shape the flower more closely resembles H. pinastri.
The closely related Greater Butterfly Orchid, Planthera chlorantha is also pollinated by night-flying moths, the two Elephant hawk moths Deiliphila porcellus and D.elpenor,
but mainly by Noctuid moths, most commonly, Apame furva (The Confused) and A. monoglypha (the Dark Arches) Nilsson (1983). Although recent video evidence has shown that the Pine Hawk moth also pollinates it (Steen, 2012). Like the Lesser Butterfly Orchid, the flower only vaguely resembles its pollinators. The chemicals responsible for the characteristic and intense fragrances of these two closely related orchids differ between the species and is probable that they are linked to the preferences of the different pollinator species (Nilsson, 1978).
Despite its name and suggested resemblance to its namesake, the Early Spider Orchid, Ophrys sphegodes is pollinated by a solitary bee,
Andrena nigroaenea (Schiestl etal. 2000). The scent of the nectarless flower, closely resembles the female sex pheromone of the bee and fools the male into ‘mating’ with it (Schiestl et al., 2000). If you allow your imagination to run riot you could possibly just about see the flower as a giant female bee which might act as an extra stimulus for an excited male bee (Gaskett, 2011).
The final arthropod orchid is the Late Spider, Ophrys fuciflora; do be careful how you pronounce it, a soft c might be advisable 🙂
As with all Ophrys orchids, they are sexually deceptive and attract male insects to their nectar-free, but highly scented flowers, with the promise of a good time Vereecken et al., 2011). Most pollination is by solitary bees (Kullenberg, 1950) although the Garden Chafer, Phyllopertha horticola has been recorded as pollinating it in northern France (Tyteca et al., 2006). Again both pollinators could be said to resemble the flowers to some extent
That concludes my tour of UK arthropod orchids. Having learnt a lot about other orchids in the last couple of weeks while researching this article it seemed a shame to waste it. So, as an added bonus, I’m going to finish with a few imaginatively named orchids, the names of which do not refer to their pollinators but rather to the imagination of their human namers.
This not usually pollinated by sexually-deceived humans but by two beetles, Cantharis rustica (soldier beetle) and Cidnopus pilosus (click beetle) and also by two species of sawfly Tenthredopsis sp. and Arge thoracia (Schatz, 2006).
Again, as with the Man Orchid, the Monkey Orchid, is not pollinated by cruelly deceived anthropoids. There are, as far as I can discover, only a few confirmed pollinators of O. simia. They include the beetle C. pillosus, the moth Hemaris fuciformis and some hymenopterans such as honeybees (Schatz, 2006). According to PlantLife, hybrids of the Man Orchid and Monkey Orchid are called the Missing Link Orchid.
My fellow blogger Jeff Ollerton and his colleagues (Waser et al., 1996), point out that pollination systems are not as specialist as many might think, and even in sexually-deceptive orchids that use pheromone mimics, many of their pollinators can get ‘confused’ and pollinate closely related orchid species. Hence the existence of what are termed ‘natural hybrids’ such as the Missing Link Orchid and the interesting hybrid between the Fly Orchid and the Woodcock Orchid pictured below.
I was intrigued to notice what appears to be a Cantharid beetle, species of which are known to pollinate other orchids (Schatz, 2006), lurking in the background. There are a number of Cantharids noted as being pollinators in Australia, some of which have been recorded pollinating orchids, although not specifically on Calaena (Armstrong, 1979) so this may be an overlooked pollinator, just waiting to be confirmed by a dedicated pollinator biologist or orchidologist. There is also, if you wondered, a Small Duck Orchid, Paracaleana minor.
Who would have thought that reading a biography would have started me off on such an interesting paper hunt? Perhaps the most interesting new bit of information I discovered was that male orchid bees although they attract females with scents, do not produce their own pheromones but collect flower volatiles which they mix with volatiles from other sources like fungi, plant sap and resins (Arriaga-Osnaya et al., 2017). They use these ‘perfumes’ as part of their competitive courtship behaviour to attract females; the best perfumier wins the lady J
Arriaga-Osnaya, B.J., Contreras-Garduño, J., Espinosa-García, F.J. García-Rodríguez, Y.M., Moreno-García, M., Lanz-Mendoza, H., Godínez-Álvarez, H., & Cueva del Castillo, R. (2016) Are body size and volatile blends honest signals in orchid bees?Ecology & Evolution, 7, 3037–3045.
Schatz, B. (2006) Fine scale distribution of pollinator explains the occurrence of the natural orchid hybrid xOrchis bergonii. Ecoscience, 13, 111-118.
Schiestl, F.P., Ayasse, M., Pauklus, H.F., Löfstedt, C., Hansson, B.S., Ibarra, F. & Francke, W. (2000) Sex pheromone mimicry in the eraly spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes): patterns of hydrocarbons as the key mechanism for pollination by sexual deception. Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 186, 567-574.
No doubt I am behind the curve, but I have only recently discovered Google Trends; a result of attending a Departmental seminar given by a colleague talking about Biochar!
To quote Wikipedia “Google Trends is a public web facility of Google Inc., based on Google Search, that shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world, and in various languages. The horizontal axis of the main graph represents time (starting from 2004), and the vertical is how often a term is searched for relative to the total number of searches, globally.” I was greatly taken by my colleague’s slide showing the birth and development of a new concept
and wondered if this would be a useful tool to look at some entomological topics. Immediately after the seminar I rushed back to my office, and as you may have guessed, entered the word “aphid” into the search bar and was, after a bit of computer chuntering, rewarded with my first Google Trend output 🙂
I was immediately struck by how closely this resembled real aphid population
data, albeit a more regular and smoother than these examples of real data. I found that if you ran the cursor along the data lines the month was displayed, and as I expected, the peak in aphid interest was generally June and May, reflecting their peak abundance in the field. I next entered
“Ladybird” to see if it coincided with aphid peaks and interestingly found that it had two peaks within each year, May, when they start to become active and October when they start to look for hibernation sites, so as with aphids, the frequency of the search term usage reflects biological activity. “Butterfly” and “Ant” as search terms revealed that interest in ants and butterflies has remained
fairly constant over the last decade or so, although somewhat to my surprise, ants have had proportionately more searches than butterflies. Given my worries about the declining interest in plant sciences and the funding problems facing
entomology, I thought it might be educational to compare botany and entomology.
Not an encouraging picture, although at least the decline has plateaued out. Then, just in case, as in many universities, Botany departments have been replaced with Plant Science departments, and is now taught under that title,
I substituted “Plant Science” for “Botany” and was surprised to see that “Entomology” was searched for about twice as many times as “Plant Science”.
Comparing “Botany” with “Plant Science” reveals that “Botany” was searched for considerably far more than “Plant Science”, despite most universities no longer having Botany Departments. Perhaps they should reconsider their decision to do away with the title?
Keeping with the subject theme and having written in the past about how molecular biology has gained funding and kudos at the expense of whole organism biology (Leather & Quicke, 2010) I compared “Entomology” with
I therefore compared “Giant Panda”, with “Insect” and “Entomology” and was pleasantly surprised to see that “Insect” wasn’t quite overshadowed by “Giant Panda” although somewhat saddened to see that the whole discipline of “Entomology” was not overly popular.
I confess that felt a little frisson of delight when I found that in recent years “Asian giant hornet” has been giving the “Giant panda” a bit of competition 🙂
Recently there has been huge debate over the use of neonicotinoids and their possible/probably part they may have in the decline of bees of all sorts (Jeff Ollerton’s blog is a good place to follow the latest news about the debate), so I used “Bee” “Bumblebee” and “Neonicitinoid” as search terms and was
surprised to find that “Neonicitinoid” in this context has not really had an impact, although if you search for “Neonicitinoid” by itself you
can see that there is an increasing interest in the topic. A corollary to the banning of pesticides or a call for a reduction in their usage as outlined by the EU Sustainable Use Directive, should be an increased interest in the use of alternative pest control methods, such as
This does not, however, appear to be the case, with interest in biological control and IPM being at their highest in 2004-2006 and despite the ‘neonictinoid debate’ no signs of interest increasing, which is something to puzzle about.
It appears that there is definitely something to be learnt from using Google Trends, although it would be more useful if some indication of the actual number of searches could be made available. A word of caution, make sure that your search term is well defined, for
example a general search using “butterfly” will give you results for the swimming stroke as well as for the insects.
Although you can compare different geographical regions, and also see the figures for related searches, what does seem to be lacking,
or perhaps I have been unable to find it, is a way to compare different locations at the same time on the same graph.
I would be very interested to hear from any of you who have used this already and also from any of you who are inspired to use this by my post. Please do feel free to comment. Have fun!
Estay, S.A., Lima, M., Labra, F.A., & Harrington, R. (2012) Increased outbreak frequency associated with changes in the dynamic behavour of populations of two aphid species. Oikos, 121, 614-622.
Leather, S. R. & Quicke, D. L. J. (2010). Do shifting baselines in natural history knowledge threaten the environment?Environmentalist 30, 1-2.