What does it take to become an invertebrate ecologist?
What do you need to know to be able to undertake invertebrate surveys? How do you develop the subsequent skills needed for species identification and reporting? In this article I will outline how to develop and answer all of the above questions and show how you can eventually become confident enough to carry out surveys and identification for some of the UK’s invertebrates.
Why do we survey for invertebrates at all?
Well, there are invertebrates that receive either European and/or national protection. There are additional species that are listed as priority species of conservation concern and all such species could be material considerations for the planning stage of a development or proposed habitat enhancement work. In addition, there are invertebrate species or groups of species that are good indicators of habitat quality. For example, dragonflies and damselflies are dependent on both good-quality water bodies in which to breed and good-quality habitat surrounding the water body for the adults to feed and find a mate before starting the whole cycle again. Finding freshly emerged dragonflies or their exuviae at a water body is an indication of good condition during the time that the larvae developed.
Where do you start?
First you need to have an interest in invertebrates. However, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a group that excites you, as there are approximately 32,000 species recorded so far in Britain and they constitute approximately 95% of all animal species worldwide (JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee) 2023b). Personally, I was curious about the invertebrates I had just seen, which spurred me to join a few societies. They are an excellent resource and full of knowledgeable people who are very happy to share their knowledge and skills.
By the time that I started my ecology degree I was already able to identify butterflies and Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) and I was the county recorder for Odonata in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. I had also been contracted through the British Dragonfly Society to co-author a report for English Nature (now Natural England) on how to survey and monitor Odonata on all Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England.
Having added experience in another two of the smaller groups I then added ladybirds and shield bugs before moving to the larger and more complex groups such as ground beetles, bees, wasps and ants. In this way I was able to build up my skills over time without feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of them and the difficulty differentiating between the species within some genus.
There is currently only one university offering a specific entomology undergraduate degree that I am aware of: Harper Adams University. However, lots of other universities do offer courses with some modules covering entomology to a greater or lesser extent. I undertook an Ecology, Conservation and Countryside Management BSc at Nottingham Trent University and specialised in terrestrial and aquatic habitats and was thus able to apply my interest in invertebrates whenever possible. There are also a few universities that offer entomology MSc degrees, such as Reading, Harper Adams and Derby. For both BSc and MSc courses it is worth checking the university’s website to see if they have links to external entomologists and/or if any of the tutors have a personal interest in entomology. This can also be done by looking at what papers they have published or contributed to.
You can read the full article here.
If you’re interested in learning more about insect science and what you can do to protect our invertebrates, have a look at the below organisations:
If, like Dave, you have a passion for insects and want to be part of a larger ecology team, contact our Consultancy Director, Gavin Ward, on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Baker Consultants team is highly experienced and we are passionate about what we do. If you need advice related to ecology, surveys or conservation, then please get in touch with us via our contact form on the website, or you can call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on email@example.com.