Richard Harrington, Rothamsted Research (with Jason Chapman)
The Rothamsted Insect Survey comprises two nationwide networks of traps, initiated in the mid sixties and providing daily data since. Approximately 100 light traps sample moths and 16 suction traps (12.2 m tall) sample aphids and anything else unfortunate enough to fly over the aperture. There are similar suction traps in many other countries. The networks were designed originally as tools to study the spatial ecology of insects but now generate a broad spectrum of fundamental and practical knowledge on population dynamics and genetics, leading to outputs ranging from papers in high impact journals to bulletins for growers. For example, the data are used to chart, and suggest the reasons behind, changes in the distribution, phenology, abundance and patterns of invasion of insects, especially those that are pests, beneficials or of conservation concern. They are also used to provide information that aids rationalisation of pesticide usage by crop growers: molecular and serological diagnostics are used to assess the insecticide resistance status of individual aphids and whether or not they are carrying certain plant viruses. Whilst only aphids are identified routinely from the suction traps, all samples are stored, making it possible to study other groups as funding permits. Recently, the dynamics of Culicoides midges have been studied and results are already being used in models to predict the risk of blue tongue disease in the UK. Samples from the light traps are not stored. The network infrastructure is funded by the BBSRC and the Lawes Agricultural Trust, with specific projects using the data funded by a wide range of organisations. We are always interested in discussing collaborations making use of the sample archive and data. A new web-based system enabling easier access to data is at an advanced stage, but funding for database maintenance and development remains a difficult issue.