What Dipterology needs: a response

Chris Raper (see his blog at http://chrisraper.org.uk/blog/) had a thoughtful reply to my post. With his permission, I’m making it available here as a guest post for flyobsession.

Costa Rican tachinid

Some good points there Brian … how about also:

– We need to work through the millions of indet. and unmounted specimens help in museums around the world. Vast quantities of material exists on our doorsteps but lacks the time and experts to work through them. I know for a fact that the NHM & OUM have a lot of material that has been collected (often in malaise traps) and just sits on the shelves waiting for someone to work on them. The initial sorting can be done by volunteers or students, pinning can be done by out-sourcing but the taxonomic work needs to be done by the very few experts around the world.

– Digitisation of types – we need to make collections more accessible and harness the power of the internet by demanding that all major museums take high-res images of their collections (or types as a minimum) and make these available online free of charge. It might be too much to think that we could see enough to completely describe something (though with deep-focus/stacked imaging this is getting easier) but one of the most basic thing we need to do is to see whether the specimen in our hands looks like reliably-detted material. Just being able to Google for images of different genera would help me immensely and would reduce much of need for loaning valuable specimens or for expensive visits to foreign museums.

– More digitisation of all journals/articles and these to be made available free online. Projects like BHL are doing great work but they are not yet as comprehensive a collection of papers as they need to be. We all still keep far too many paper journals and PDF libraries on our hard-drives – just in case.

– We need to work together – using the internet / modern comms (forums/blogs) to help each other more and to mentor young entomologists and to develop/encourage enthusiastic amateurs (‘citizen scientists’) to pick-up groups and run with them. Online forums like diptera.info and bugguide.net are great for this but I feel that they are under-used or under-appreciated by many professional entomologists who feel that giving IDs to photos or working with amateurs is beneath them or a waste of time. Since setting up the UK Tachinid Recording scheme and providing a strong online presence (as well as seminars and workshops) we have managed to take tachinids from a fringe interest here to something that more and more entomologists are keen to try. We add between 1-2 new species to the British list and most of those from amateurs who have been encouraged by our scheme.

– There needs to be more money to pay for morphological taxonomy. In Europe there are many keen citizen scientists but they have to spend most of their time doing mundane jobs to pay the bills, when their time could better be used doing important taxonomic work. They can only be freed up if they can get contracts or salaried posts, working perhaps at home but attached to major institutions. We have much of the necessary manpower but at the moment it is badly under-funded and under resourced … even simple things like equipment and travel expenses are often down to the person to fund themselves and in hard economic times like these this is getting less and less possible.

I’m sure there are more things but those will do for a start

2 comments to What Dipterology needs: a response

  1. Chris Raper says:

    I’m honoured you think that it is worthy to be a guest post 🙂 Being a ‘citizen scientist’ myself I am really passionate about getting other people involved with entomology (particularly tachinids) and trying to attract funding and greater opportunities for the amateurs out there who toil so hard. The funding and opportunities are rare as hens teeth though, but if we don’t make a little noise and push it onto the agenda then I think we have only ourselves to blame if nothing changes! 😉

    I understand that the situation on each side of the Atlantic is a bit different – we have a culture of far more amateurs getting involved at the sharp end of entomology – doing really excellent work and driving the subject on. Over in the US I think there is far more a professional culture, based around institutions like museums & agricultural departments. For me the greatest problem in taxonomy is the lack of manpower to do the immense amount of work so developing the existing amateur resources is logical. Of course we need to make sure that we have less bad taxonomy, but from what I have heard from taxonomist friends of mine, the current problem isn’t really with bad amateurs – it’s with badly-trained students and “professionals” in the emerging nations (e.g. China) who just haven’t got the culture of attention to detail that we have. It would just take a little money to get a lot of very good entomologists working full-time on their fields.

    Also, as someone who isn’t sitting next to a nationally recognised collection and doesn’t have a comprehensive entomological library to-hand, getting that information out of the institutions and in the hands of the masses (via the internet) is a very high priority. When I ask amateurs whether they’d like to take up studying neotropical material the usual response is “I’d love to, but where do I start? The collections are all located abroad and the literature will take years to collect!” But if they could get to them from the comfort of their arm chair then what would there be to stop them … except the limitations of their time and enthusiasm 🙂 Of course, if you are revising a genus then you will need to have material on loan or visit a foreign museum – but the most basic phase of the research is the really simple stuff – scanning drawers of material and working out what you want to put under the microscope.


  2. pvven says:

    Very good suggestions here. Since I started taking insect photos, I’ve been trying to ID everything I find down to the species level. It can be a headache, especially for an amateur like myself. I’ve found that there are tons and tons of amazing insect sites out there, some specializing in identification, some with endless amounts of PDF’s on taxonomy, some containing the most brilliant macro photos I’ve ever seen, but with captions like “fly” and “wasp”. Never the twain shall meet?

    BugGuide is the best ID site I’ve come across (though the folks at Reddit’s whatsthisbug, entomology, and insects boards are very knowledgeable), but has its pitfalls. Project Noah does a great job at encouraging citizen scientists, but they cover everything, not just invertebrates. If we could combine these elements with AntWeb’s dedication to high resolution images, I think we’d have the site we need.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *