Saving Europe’s Crickets and Grasshoppers From Extinction

A recent assessment of cricket and grasshopper species in Europe has shown that up to 25% are facing extinction. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the group Orthoptera, which includes Grasshoppers, Crickets and Bush Crickets, is the most threatened group assessed so far. An estimated 1000 species of Crickets and Grasshoppers are found in Europe. They play a vital role in grassland ecosystems; many species of birds and reptiles feed on them. The main factor contributing to decline is habitat loss due to wildfires, tourism and intensive farming. Many species are confined to small areas due to the break up of their natural habitats; for example the Crau Plain Grasshopper has been confined to the steppes on Southern France.

So what can be done in order to protect these insects? According to research from the IUCN Global Species Programme, more effort must be put into restoring the habitats of these insects in order to increase population size. This can be achieved using sustainable grassland management by employing traditional agricultural practices. It is imperative that these insects are saved from extinction, not only because they are very important biodiversity indicators, but also they are an integral part of grassland ecosystems.

Image Credit: Axel Hochkirch

Bittern Numbers Booming In The UK

The Common Bittern, Botaurus stellaris, a shy, secretive relative of the heron, was once extinct in the UK, however the bird has made a massive comeback over the years. Bittern numbers are now at their highest recorded numbers in the UK.

The bittern lives mostly in reed beds and is rarely seen due to the superbly camouflaged streaked plumage, which blends perfectly with the environment. However, the male’s booming call can be used to identify the presence of bitterns, and so researchers have been able to count these birds.

This year, the breeding population has been at it’s highest since the 1800s, with 140 singing males seen, compared to 11 in 1997. Somerset has the largest bittern population, with 20 males located at Ham Wall nature reserve,

According to the RSPB, one factor contributing to UK population increase in bitterns is due to restoration of quarries, which has helped bitterns to thrive. The bittern is still on the RSPB’s red list, but the development of these restored quarries is expected to increase the UK’S bittern population in the future.

Image credit: Helen Briggs

Restoration of Native Flora Encourages Bird and Insect Pollinators

Scientists investigating the effect of exotic plant species on native plant biodiversity on the island of Mahe in the Seychelles have found that ecosystem restoration by removal of exotic plant species is linked to an increase number of pollinating species such as bees, butterflies and birds and an increase in flowering of native flora.

Eight study sites on Mahe’s mountains were monitored for a period of eight months, with non-native plant species being removed from four sites. Native plant species were found to be flowering more frequently and attracting more pollinators. An increase in the number of pollinator species was also observed 6-12 months after the removal of exotic species, including bees, wasps, flies, beetles, moths, birds and lizards.

The research from Mahe mountaintops gives us a clear demonstration of the role of ecosystem restoration in pollination and interaction between plants and animals, and that ecosystem degradation is, at least partially, a reversible process.

Picture credit: C. KAISER-BUNBURY

SOUTH AFRICA WILDLIFE CONSERVATION INTERNSHIP

My research at Bournemouth University has focused on the impacts of human and wildlife conflicts, with response to how these could be mitigated and appropriately managed. As part of my post graduate studies, I carried out an 8-week wildlife research conservation internship with GVI South Africa, Limpopo. This is a charitable organisation that focuses largely on conservation within a game reserve. This opportunity allowed me to broaden my horizons within the conservation sector and enable me to develop direct research experience within the field.

Working closely with a team of dedicated conservationists within the South African bushveld, I partook in conducting valuable research on the wildlife dynamics of a relatively small game reserve. This involved developing tracking skills, where dominant predators were tracked using radio telemetry, to develop a better understanding of the movement patterns of the animals and in turn aiding with the management of the area. Vital behavioural data was collected daily with emphasis on predator and herbivore species presence and interactions, so that a better understanding of the animals could be achieved. Additionally, there was focus on reserve management to ensure that the reserve is maintained to the best standard.

This internship utilised established training methods, where predominant telemetry skills were initially developed, and a subsequent focus on tracking and signing within the bushveld was explored. These significant skills were established so that a holistic approach to conservation can be achieved, with a sustainable and long term emphasis. Scats and tracks were identified, where we were tested on various parameters, including individual and group species movements, when they were last seen in the area, and any prominent indications of directions. Furthermore, key bird identification skills were practised on a regular basis

There was also a strong focus on community engagement projects, with the aim of encouraging and teaching local school children about the significance of conservation within the community and local area. By doing this, we aimed to encourage local people to have a better understanding of the value and importance of biodiversity within their country.

This experience has enabled me to develop key skills that are applicable to my academic studies, encouraging me to further explore the research skills and aid with professional development, emphasising on scientific output. Working as an intern, I have been exposed to broader global research working with industry professionals and an insight to the vital ongoing conservation work within this region.

You can find out more about this program by following this link, and get involved with this unforgettable experience.