nevilleinsectstudytalk-mar-2020

Metchosin Insect Study 2020 Season Kickoff Meeting

The third season of the Metchosin Insect Biomass study, led by Dr. Neville Winchester of the University of Victoria and partially supported by the Metchosin Foundation, kicked off on Saturday, March 7th at the Municipal Hall.  Dr. Winchester delivered a presentation to Metchosin’s citizen scientist Malaise trap site hosts, summarizing the preliminary findings of 2018 and 2019, as well as the emerging global crisis of falling insect populations, related to the multitude of threats insects face from agricultural pesticides, climate change, and habitat destruction.  Metchosin is serving as an important component in the worldwide effort to understand this phenomenon, and this long-term study is the only one of its kind so far in Canada, and perhaps in North America.  In 2019, Metchosin Malaise traps (tent-like structures that catch and preserve a small sampling of flying insects for study) collected 114,782 individual specimens, which are still in the process of being sorted and identified (not a small task) and will be added to the collection at the Royal British Columbia Museum.  Most of the 19 private landowners who are generously providing trap sites and sample collection support for the study were in attendance, and the presentation was followed by a Q & A.  This year, the project will be expanded with the continued support of Metchosin Foundation volunteers and other expert volunteers to better document characteristics of the different trap sites.  This effort will include land classification from aerial imagery, vegetation surveys, and documenting other factors including elevation, human use, proximity to water features, etc.  This will help to gain a better understanding the factors driving the differences in insect abundance and diversity across the different trap sites.  Outcomes of this study will include identifying measures that can be taken locally within Metchosin, and beyond, to support insect population health.  Dr. Winchester will also be assisted by student researchers, including one funded by an Eco Canada scholarship that the Metchosin Foundation applied for.  We have an exciting field season ahead, including the possibility of being featured in the CBC’s “The Nature of Things with David Suzuki”!  The Metchosin Foundation would like to thank our community’s citizen scientist Malaise trap hosts for their continued support of this important project.

A copy of Dr. Winchester’s presentation from March 7th is attached here for download. Metchosin_Insect_Biomass_Study_update_2020_Neville_Winchester_(web)

Insect Biomass Study Procedures

The Metchosin Foundation helps to fund a long-term study of Metchosin insect populations. The study, coordinated by University of Victoria’s Dr. Neville Winchester, will enter its third summer in 2020.

To measure the insect populations, sample insects are collected during the summer months at properties throughout Metchosin using Malaise traps (picture above).  The traps are tent-like structures that funnel flying insects into collection bottles.  The bottles are changed every two weeks. The bottles, filled with preservative, are then taken to a central location.  

During the winter months, after the traps have come down, the insects in the bottles are sorted, counted, and weighed. In 2018, 132,000 insects were collected.  The count for the 2019 collection is going on now. The expectation is that the count from the 2019 season will be much larger–perhaps 300,000 insects.

You may have seen the traps at some of their Metchosin locations. Metchosin Foundation supporters may be interested in the less visible part of the study–how the count actuallly happens. On January 31, Metchosin Foundation Director Kem Luther visited the lab at the University of Victoria where the insects are tallied.  Here is his account of the procedure

The 2019 bottles are stored on shelves. With 19 Metchosin trap sites and bottles being collected about every one or two weeks, approximately 245 bottles arrive at the lab over the course of the summer.

From the bottles, the insects go onto a special sorting tray under a dissecting microscope.  So far, most of the sorting–hundereds of hours of it–has been done by Dr. Winchester.

The insects are sorted into several broad categories and are moved to small containers for each category. Categories include moths, beetles, hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps), and flies. A multiunit counter at the desk keeps track of the insects in each category.

Stacks of the smaller containers holding the sorted insects sit beside the counting scope.  As each container is used, a label is affixed to note its contents, collection date, and location.

At a later point, the sorted collections in the small bottles are taken to the sink and each one is put through a filter that removes the preserving liquid. They are left in the filter until the liquid is mostly gone, measured by the number of drops per minute coming out of the bottom of the container.

The drained insect mass is taken to a calibrated scale where it is weighed and the weight recorded.

Once weighed, the insects are rebottled. But this time they are moved to special archive bottles supplied by the BC Museum. New preserving liquid is added, the bottles are sealed, and special archival labels are affixed.  The Museum will become the long-term home for the collected insects, available to future researchers.

Holiday Message from the Metchosin Foundation 2019

Recent communications to the Metchosin Foundation have stimulated discussions about grassroot responses to decarbonization and greenhouse gas reduction. A natural synergy exists between these efforts and the Foundation’s mandate to pursue action and education on local environmental issues. The Foundation has been exploring ways that it could include some of these efforts inside of its funding mandate, while remaining sensitive to national political differences.

          Some of the Foundation’s projects—the protection of undeveloped land through conservation and covenants, species and biomass databases that are maintained over long periods such as the Metchosin bioblitzes and the insect inventory—are inherently related to an increasing grassroots interest to understand and reduce Metchosin’s carbon footprint. The Foundation’s efforts, however, are only a small part of what has been done, and continues to be done, by Metchosin residents. A Metchosin Green Blue Spaces strategy, for example, has been in place for over a decade. Information about this project, which is linked through the municipal web site, can be found at https://metchosinmarine.ca/greenblue.htm. The multi-year efforts of the Metchosin Environmental Advisory Select Committee (MEASC), especially its work on identifying environmentally sensitive lands inside the boundaries of the district (see their March 2011 Report to Council) are important contributions to local planning around carbon sequestration. Several local farms, the Foundation has learned, have begun working with the Habitat Acquisition Trust to plant and enhance hedgerows around their fields to promote both biodiversity and agricultural productivity.

          The communications received by the Foundation have also pointed toward efforts made by other communities to promote grassroots activities that address greenhouse gas issues.  The information found on three websites—naturalclimate.solutions, mnai.ca, and drawdown.org—include information on environmental stewardship practices that could yield multiplier benefits if applied to our own community. The Foundation encourages Metchosin residents to consider which of these outside strategies might be successfully imported. 

          Happy Holidays to all friends and neighbours from the Metchosin Foundation board of directors. We look forward to hearing more of your thoughts and ideas in the New Year, in person or through our website , about the importance of building a sustainable society and what can be done about it by local efforts, including the projects that might be undertaken by the Foundation.