Creepy-crawlies – Monitoring invertebrates

ID cards created for a US Education Centre. Diary, 2002A while ago a group of us (government agency and NGO staff, researchers as well as scientists) got together and discussed the need for a decision-tree to guide groups through the process of setting up a monitoring program.

The decision-tree would set out basic questions and then point groups toward appropriate protocols and so on. I recall enthusiastically putting my hand up for this… and promptly put the project to one side with the more pressing need to get on with the PhD. A recent email from an entomologist keen to see more groups monitoring invertebrates got me thinking again.

From a community group perspective, where do insects fit into the restoration picture? For some it’s a general view e.g., “recreate an environment where native bird/insect species can thrive”. An overview of the questionnaire data shows (unsurprisingly) that a few well-established groups tackle invertebrate monitoring though a handful of other groups have expressed an interest in doing so in the future. It’s a different picture in the U.K., where thousands of zealous Britons are engaged in insect monitoring through the Opal (Open laboratory) Citizen Science program. The reason? To “Learn new skills, have fun, and help scientists in important research”. Those few words sum up exactly what characterises community environmental monitoring: a social experience embedded within scientific inquiry. However as with most contributory-type Citizen Science projects, it’s the scientists who set up the monitoring program and then analyse and make use of the data collected by citizen volunteers. For smaller groups to do this from ‘the grassroots’ poses a far greater challenge.

I strongly suspect low levels of insect monitoring are due to a lack of knowledge of why it may be useful to do so. A lack of suitable information sources, community-friendly protocols, a place for housing data, knowing what the data mean for future site management and a lack of leadership/ accessible mentors are all likely impediments. Contrast this with gaining access to predator control training workshops, getting technical advice, traps, baits and poisons from both regional councils and DOC – that’s all very straightforward. A lack of group capacity is also significant factor as is their motivation – some groups just want to kill predators because the work is both tangible and satisfying.

At the Wellington Restoration Day in May this year, the Official Ambassador for Creepy-Crawlies, Ruud Kleinpaste hurtled listeners into a world of invertebrates; later there was a talk on weta. Part of the solution lies giving people the opportunity to think a little more broadly about insects while looking a little closer – even if only at the charismatic species. And following logically on from that would be the aforementioned decision-tree…

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