Disentangling Ecosystem Functions: Our Imagination is the Limit

Post supplied by Tomas Roslin and Eleanor Slade (SPATIAL FOODWEB ECOLOGY GROUP, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD & LANCASTER UNIVERSITY)

Studies of Action

Studies of ecosystem function are studies of action: of insects pollinating flowers, of predators killing pests – and in our case (well, more often than not) of beetles disposing of dung. To isolate the effects of the critters that we think will matter, we need to selectively include or exclude them. If we think a particular species or species group is responsible for a certain function, then we test this by keeping it in or out of enclosures. If we want to look at effects of species diversity, then we create communities of different species richness.

Research on dung beetles is far from boring. © Kari Heliövaara.

Research on dung beetles is far from boring. © Kari Heliövaara.

Depending on the target organism, this is sometimes easy and sometimes difficult. But it almost invariably proves to be fun! We enjoy the challenge of inventing new techniques for unravelling ecosystem functions sustained by insects. Working on dung beetles – as we tend to do – can be messy, but it’s definitely never boring.

In targeting ecosystem functions, the real trick is to make the experiments relevant. What we want to understand are the effects of changes occurring in the real world. All too often studies of ecosystem functions have been focused on artificial species pools in artificial settings. To see how we have solved this, we’ll give you a quick look at our dungy portfolio of approaches to date. Continue reading

‘Bee soup’ could help understand declines and test remedies

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘High-throughput monitoring of wild bee diversity and abundance via mitogenomics‘ taken from the University of East Anglia:

It may sound counter-intuitive, but crushing up bees into a ‘DNA soup’ could help conservationists understand and even reverse their decline – according to University of East Anglia scientists.

Research published today in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution shows that collecting wild bees, extracting their DNA, and directly reading the DNA of the resultant ‘soup’ could finally make large-scale bee monitoring programmes feasible.

14614327622_6525ac1c30_o

©Mibby23 (click image to see original version)

This would allow conservationists to detect where and when bee species are being lost, and importantly, whether conservation interventions are working.

The UK’s National Pollinator Strategy outlines plans for a large-scale bee monitoring programme. Traditional monitoring involves pinning individual bees and identifying them under a microscope. But the number of bees needed to track populations reliably over the whole country makes traditional methods infeasible.

This new research shows how the process could become quicker, cheaper and more accurate. Continue reading