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Islands Full of Insects - Hakai Institute

Islands Full of Insects

Many species crawl, fly, and scurry over the islands of the BC Central Coast.

A close-up of a ground beetle (Cychrus tuburculatus). Their impressive jaws and skinny upper body are used to break inside their preferred snail prey. Photo by Chris Ernst

This past summer, the 100 Islands research project set out for its inaugural field season. Their multi-year mission is to compare the diversity of plant and animal species living on coastal islands of various sizes along the BC Central Coast. But when it comes to number of species, one group of animals undoubtedly outnumbered the others—the insects.

“Insects are often underappreciated,” says entomologist Chris Ernst, a Hakai Institute post-doctoral scholar at Simon Fraser University.

Finding out how many species live on each island requires an assortment of capture methods. Crawlers, flyers, and hiders each warrant a different strategy.

Active predators and scavengers fall into pit traps while they crawl along the ground. Flying insects are lured to a yellow paint trough that, to an insect, resembles a giant flower. Camouflaged species are caught by “beat sheeting”—hitting a tree branch or shrub with a stick and catching the dislodged insects and spiders as they fall into a net placed below.

“We are up to 60 species of beetles from just 12 islands, and that does not even include the flies or other groups. I would not be surprised if we topped 1,000 species for these islands,” says Ernst.

In addition to being the first systematic study of coastal insects conducted on this stretch of coastline, this research fits into the larger goals of the 100 Islands research project.

“The real power in the 100 Islands study comes from the synergies between different research groups,” adds Ernst.

By looking at the diversity and abundance of insects, as well as plants, birds, and mammals, the research team can begin to piece together how the flora and fauna on these coastal islands interact, and why certain species are present on some islands but not on others.