The New York Times wrote a nice story summarizing the “Insect Apocalypse” <https://nyti.ms/2DMT70v
>. A couple thoughts about the role of the Museum concerning that issue.
I was having a conversation with an imaginary person a while back about restoring pollinator habitat. It dawned on me that not only should the restored area be monitored for restoration efficacy, but monitoring really should proceed indefinitely.
We monitor the weather constantly, in more and more places, more and more ways, higher and higher accuracy and precision. We will continue to do this into the foreseeable future because it tells us: 1) what’s happening now; 2) what will happen in the immediate future; 3) what will happen in the far future.
We are already monitoring specific insects (pests, invasives, some butterflies and bees, etc.), but insects in general need to be monitored quantitatively in various ways across the landscape. The same way that we monitor the weather. Museums are IN SOME WAYS “preadapted” to deal with this issue. We can get money, set up studies, collect, preserve, ID, and report. But we can’t do any of those things quickly or easily. Most museums do not operate on a business model, but an academic one. Citizen science and private companies can provide a quick and cheap service, but not high quality. Information can be gleaned from photographs and yellow sticky cards. But consider all the resources that go into gathering those data, but the enormous loss of efficiency (potential) when good specimens aren’t recovered.
A few things we could do:
A. Develop a “modular” standard monitoring protocol so that studies can be compared across time and space. For example: protocols for FIT, Malaise, pitfall, sifting, UV light trap, etc. (not just how to set them up, but when to deploy and for how long, etc.). One or more monitoring types could be employed (the “modular” part) as is appropriate to the site, budget, etc.
B. We need to be able to process and ID specimens faster. Whereas insect mass was used previously to study changes over time, we’ll want to be able to track taxa over time (there will be a trend toward increased accuracy and precision). To revisit the weather analogy, in the old days we only recorded temperature at a given time every day, now we record temperature continuously, plus humidity, windspeed, pollen, latex, etc. I’ve jabbered about my mass ID idea before: https://listserv.unl.edu/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ECN-L;3743ad37.1709E
C. Business models. Working through academic institutions can be difficult. Creation of a private company that acts as an intermediary between the “client” and the institution a museum is associated with might help remove bureaucracy and create an easier experience for the client. We would only need one such “company” in the US. In future, monitoring will not just be funded by NSF grants. Cities, private organizations, companies, states, friend’s groups of parks, private citizens, etc., etc. will want to establish long term monitoring at their sites. Creating a system where an agency or individual can order a monitoring service online as easily as ordering something from Amazon should be a priority!
D. Permits. I was in northern Missouri last week and the little bit of land (~good habitat) that isn’t a corn or soybean field requires a permit. At least three different agencies would have to be contacted (Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri State Parks, and a National Wildlife Refuge) to collect from nice sites that are less than 20 miles apart. I fully appreciate that all the agencies have mandates, duties, should be aware of what’s happening on their land, etc.
To ease the permitting process, we (ECN?) should develop a general “statement” that outlines monitoring procedures, protocols, responsibilities of the collectors, methods of specimen deposition, etc. that could be used when applying for permits. It would save countless hours of reinventing the wheel on our end and if done correctly would make the permitting process more streamlined for the permitting agencies.
For example the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, application for scientific collecting permit asks for:
“A detailed narrative of the project for which the permit is being applied for. Narrative must include: the reason the project is being undertaken, the expected outcome and/or conservation benefit for Iowa, list of the species or the groups of plants or animals and the number of each species or group to be studied and collected, and a description of collection methods to be used.”
Missouri Department of Conservation wildlife collectors permit asks for the following:
“Copy of research proposal must accompany requests for Biomonitoring/Environmental Assessment and Scientific Research activities.”
There is no reason two different research proposals should be written to get the two permits, nor any reason two different researchers should submit different proposals to one of those agencies. A single statement, lightly edited, would work for multiple researchers across both of those agencies.
I fully appreciate that the above seems like a pipedream, but forms are updated, committees accept changes, etc. Most places are not interested in making more work for themselves, so if they can include a check box on the collecting permit form that says “Biomonitoring under ECN-201903” and NOT have to read, evaluate, and edit another collecting proposal, some will be willing to do that, especially if other places are doing the same.
E. All of the above lends itself to the idea of creating a national-wide insect biomonitoring organization that helps to coordinate activities of various independent groups: museums and academia, citizen scientists, businesses, independent monitors at various parks, refuges, cities, etc.
There is a great potential to increasing funding and specimen accrual for museums in the near future. In order to maximize that potential we will have to be proactive and willing to change or work around some of our (stodgy) ways.
If you made it all the way to here, congrats.