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Almost 100 people attended this year’s Biology Week Policy Lates on insect declines, with the take-home message being that insects are indeed under threat, but more data collection is needed to understand how and why.

A panel of experts came together for the event “Policy Lates: Insect declines in the headlights,” including Dr Nick Isaac, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Professor Chris Thomas, Royal Entomological Society and University of York, Dr Larissa Collins, Fera Science Ltd and Dr Lynn Dicks, University of East Anglia.

The panel was chaired by professor of science communication Adam Hart, from the University of Gloucestershire.

Professor Hart started the discussion with some of the headlines that have dominated the news regarding insect declines. However, as panellists delved into their datasets, they demonstrated that insect decline is not as clear cut as headlines imply.

Panel policy lates

From left to right: Professor Adam Hart, University of Gloucestershire - Panel Chair; Dr Nick Isaac, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology; Dr Lynn Dicks, University of East Anglia; Dr Larissa Collins, Fera Science Ltd; Professor Chris Thomas, Royal Entomological Society and University of York

 

Dr Isaac discussed long-term trends in UK insect populations, using data collected from the volunteer-led UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.

Datasets highlighted how although some butterfly species numbers were decreasing, some moth species were seeing an increase. With dominant crop pollinators increasing in occupancy, but bees declining, Dr Isaac highlighted how different datasets on insect populations can tell different stories.

Dr Isaac concluded: “We should be worried, but don’t believe the hype.”

Panel policy lates

Dr Collins on the work of Fera and how they are working to use insect monitoring for better pest management

 

Professor Chris Thomas discussed his work on the biomass dynamics of British moths, including a sneak-peak at findings from his latest research. He also reiterated a common theme in ecological research: more long-term, widespread data are needed on insect abundance to understand long-term trends.

 

Dr Collins explained how we need to increase monitoring, to better identify pests, diseases, and potential predators for pests that may reduce the need for insecticide resistance. Use of real-time, online technology such as Crop Monitor increases the understanding of crops and their pests, and helps to identify how to improve crop management.

 

Panel policy lates

Dr Dicks shows an example of insect decline using two different light traps

 

Dr Dicks reiterated that understanding insect decline is still very complex, and that more data is needed. She offered practical solutions that anyone can employ to increase insect abundance, including growing more flowers and shrubs, cutting grass less often, avoiding disturbing nests and hibernation spots, and using pesticides carefully and sparingly.

A lively audience Q&A followed, covering topics such as potential policy changes, pollinators thriving in urban environments, future plans for long-term monitoring, the importance on volunteers contributing to data collection, and the need for more insect taxonomists.

You can view a twitter moment summarising some of the topics discussed. An audio of the discussion will also be available online later this month.

The event was part of Biology Week 2019, and was held with the support of the Royal Entomological Society.

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