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the Biological Survey
About the Canadian Fauna
Recommendations are made to address the declining state of research collections of terrestrial arthropods in Canada, culminating in a proposal for a national plan to improve the infrastructure of all biological research collections, administered by the Canadian Museum of Nature and funded through a specified supplement to the annual budget of the Museum.
IMPORTANCE DES COLLECTIONS DE RECHERCHE D'ARTHROPODES TERRESTRES
Les écosystèmes terrestres et d'eaux douces du monde renferment des millions d'espèces d'insectes et d'arachnides, pour la plupart encore inconnues de la science. L'incapacité d'identifier les espèces d'arthropodes constitue un sérieux obstacle à l'étude scientifique des écosystèmes terrestres et d'eaux douces; par conséquent, la systématique des arthropodes terrestres présente certaines des plus graves lacunes qui soient en biologie. L'insuffisance de fonds et l'érosion des collections de recherche d'arthropodes terrestres ainsi que des travaux de conservation associés sont des problèmes sous-jacents à cette situation au Canada. Ces collections constituent une ressource scientifique irremplaçable. Sources d'une grande partie de nos connaissances sur la systématique des insectes et des acariens du Canada, elles offrent une base pour l'avancement de notre savoir dans le domaine; de plus, elles font partie de la banque de données écologiques du pays, données essentielles pour decouvrir et pour corriger les perturbations effectuées par les humains dans les systèmes naturels. Ces collections représentent une part importante de la participation canadienne à la tâche visant à documenter les organismes vivant du monde entier.
Ce mémoire offre des recommandations visant à améliorer la situation des collections de recherche sur les arthropodes terrestres du Canada et, en particulier, à établir un plan national pour l'amélioration des collections de recherche en biologie, lequel serait administré par le Musée canadien de la nature et financé grâce à des fonds supplémentaires affectés à cette fin au Musée.
Why are terrestrial arthropods important? Insects, arachnids, and other terrestrial arthropods are important because together they comprise at least 75 per cent of the one million species of animals in the world now known to science. Estimates of the actual number of insects and related forms now living range from 3 million (Wilson 1989) to 30 million (Erwin 1983); therefore, whatever the total, a great deal of fundamental scientific work remains to be done.
The dominance of insects and arachnids among the world's animals is a fundamental scientific insight, yet one not widely appreciated. This dominance means that in numbers of species beyond our comprehension these animals permeate diverse and essential natural processes in Earth's terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, contributing to the function of the natural world as a self-sustaining biological system (e.g. Wiggins 1983).
The importance of insects and arachnids on this planet is not reckoned solely on the destructive competition of relatively few species in agriculture or forestry or other activities of humans, even though these include problems of great importance. A more essential consideration is their diverse and fundamental involvement in biological support systems - consumption and degradation of organic materials living and dead, predation and parasitism on other insects and animals, biogeochemical cycling, pollination of flowers for fruit and seed production, and movement of energy through trophic networks involving multitudes of other species. Evolving over some 400 million years, terrestrial arthropods have come to occupy these niches on Earth; and the resultant interconnected biological support systems are the foundation for the continued existence of much of life on this planet. Simply put, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems would not work without insects and arachnids.
Scientific investigation of these essential natural processes is severely hampered because a very large proportion of the arthropod species involved cannot be identified, and hence precise knowledge of the processes cannot be obtained. A world-wide deficiency in studies on the biology of soil-dwelling insects and arachnids is one striking example (Marshall et al. 1982); lack of precision in studies on the ecology of freshwater communities is another (Resh and Unzicker 1975; Schindler 1989).
When specimens documented with basic field data are authoritatively identified by expert systematists, they become reference points for research detailing the systematics, geographic distribution, and biology of particular species. The specimens also become references for identifying other specimens submitted from investigations in agriculture, forestry, public health, environmental issues, and also from educators or the public. Identification is the key to unlocking the information available in the scientific literature on each species throughout the world, and is greatly facilitated by comparison with specimens of confirmed identity in research collections. Institutional research collections benefit from many individual contributors, growing to become more significant with the passage of time; and as habitats are modified, early collections provide useful benchmarks in documenting changing communities. For all of these reasons, well-established institutional collections of terrestrial arthropods are irreplaceable sources of scientific information (e.g. Kim 1975; Knutson 1978).
The nature of systematics
To serve the need for science to comprehend the biological world, one of the tasks of systematics is to establish a taxonomic foundation of named species, distinguishable one from another and classified in a system of hierarchic categories that permit communication and generalization about them. This basis for communication in biology is the elementary objective of systematics.
Research in systematics involves the study of virtually all available specimens of a taxonomic group in order to ensure comprehensive treatment, and is dependent on the availability of well curated collections. In the course of these studies, species previously unrecognized are frequently discovered. A single holotype specimen designated for each species is the standard of definition for that species. Much of research in biology is ultimately dependent on the scientific names of the species; the stability of those names depends on the existence of type specimens which serve to resolve any question as to what species each name refers. It is essential that type specimens be maintained in collections that can guarantee their permanent security. Systematic biology, which could not proceed without collections, can be fairly described as the foundation upon which the rest of biology stands, and as the science of biological diversity.
Because different species can differ in important biological attributes, and researchers sometimes make mistaken identification through error or inadequate systematic support, it is important that anyone publishing research on insect species deposits voucher specimens in a permanent collection. If there is any future doubt about the identity of the specimens upon which published work is based, voucher specimens are essential to ascertain just what species was used in the research (e.g. Francoeur 1976; Yoshimoto 1978). For example, what was considered a common, variable species of cutworm moths a few years ago is now known to be four different species (Franclemont 1980). Early papers supposedly dealing with one species might actually deal with any of the four, and would be rendered valueless unless supported by voucher specimens for subsequent confirmation.
The importance of the systematics of terrestrial arthropods rests solidly on the necessity to understand how ecosystems function, and what organisms are involved in particular biological processes. For that understanding, the species must be known. Similar justification could be made for most other groups of animals and plants; but the vast numbers of insects and arachnids in the world's terrestrial and freshwater biotas (see above), coupled with the primitive state of knowledge about them, confirm that within the systematics of arthropods are some of the most critical gaps in biological science (e.g. Evans 1968; Wilson 1971, 1985). Moreover, the immature stages of insects are usually the most crucial in biological impact, but the taxonomy of larval stages lags far behind that of adults. The conclusion is inescapable that the systematics of terrestrial arthropods is confronted with an unfinished task of enormous size and fundamental importance. Progress with that unfinished task is not possible without strong research collections.
Although they have a fossil record less known than that of vertebrates, arthropods bring an important asset to the study of evolution; the vast numbers of living species in taxa of extraordinary age and diversity suggest that many phylogenetic relicts are still extant as living fossils (e.g. Kristensen 1984; Wiggins 1984). These species are crucial in importance, for they enlarge our understanding of phylogenetic relationships, and enhance the information content of classifications; some represent the missing links sought by evolutionary theorists (e.g. Walker 1937).
The tragedy now in full view is that perhaps one quarter of the earth's plant and animal diversity will become extinct over the next few decades, mainly through destruction of natural habitats by humans (Raven 1990). Several million species of insects and other terrestrial arthropods will be lost forever, and with them the information that might substantially illuminate evolutionary history. The only practical recourse now is an accelerated program of taxonomic inventory of arthropods in threatened areas; but these initiatives are feasible only from the base of established research collections where long-term curation of the collections is assured.
We cannot know now all of the conceptual advances that will be furthered by a working knowledge of the millions of species of insects and their relatives. Yet, to comprehend the biological complexity of this planet is as much a part of our humanity as any other intellectual pursuit.Value of collections in environmental studies If biological diversity can be likened to the interwoven fabric of the ecosystems supporting all living things, species are the threads maintaining the integrity of the fabric. Concern for the loss of biological diversity, weakening that fabric, is a large part of the growing anxiety about the natural environment. Yet for insects and other terrestrial arthropods, by far the largest component of that diversity, our knowledge is little better than elementary and in many cases even less. It is scarcely conceivable that the science of what life exists on Earth should be in the elementary state that it is when the consequences of continued erosion of biodiversity and biological support systems include massive extinctions and severe degradation of the quality of human life (e.g. Brown et al. 1984). Yet, that is indeed the state of the world.
Recognizing that insects and arachnids are the dominant and most diverse component of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, it follows that perturbations in those systems can first be detected by change in the community structure of their species. This is the basis for the practice of ecological monitoring, for example by sampling the benthic insect faunas of rivers and lakes; and insects are an important source of data for environmental impact assessment (e.g. Rosenberg et al. 1986). However, these procedures are effective only to the extent that the species can be identified (e.g. Resh and Unzicker 1975; Lehmkuhl et al. 1984); but in Canada, as in most other parts of the world, identification of many species of insects and arachnids is difficult with existing scientific literature, and identification of their larval stages to species is largely impossible (e.g. Kosztarab and Schaefer 1990).
Research collections of terrestrial arthropods are relevant to this problem in two ways: an increase in the necessary taxonomic database depends on the resources of collections for specimens and related field information; and interpretation of the significance of new samples requires comparison with an antecedent base-line from comparable communities - historical information for which regional collections are the most likely sources (Danks et al. 1987). Because of this crucial contribution to the investigation of environmental damage and climate change, support for research collections of insects and arachnids would be justifiable on environmental issues alone.
Value of collections in education
Collections of terrestrial arthropods are the data banks for basic systematic knowledge about these organisms. The collections are not anachronisms, as is widely believed, but unique and highly significant scientific and cultural resources. Their present holdings are irreplaceable, and their capacity for acquisition and processing important new data is unique.
There are in Canada a dozen or so collections of terrestrial arthropods with holdings exceeding 100,000 specimens. The Canadian National Collection in Ottawa, maintained by the Biosystematics Research Centre of Agriculture Canada, is by far the largest; and with about 15 million specimens, it is one of the world's major collections of terrestrial arthropods. Significant museum collections are maintained by the Royal British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria; the Provincial Museum of Alberta, Edmonton; the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa; and the Nova Scotia Museum, Halifax. There are important collections at universities in Canada: Spencer Entomological Museum, Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia; Strickland Museum, Department of Entomology, University of Alberta; Department of Entomology, University of Manitoba; Department of Environmental Biology, University of Guelph; Lyman Entomological Museum of Macdonald College, McGill University; and Département des Sciences Pures, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi. Individually, these collections and the entomologists responsible for them contribute to the research and educational programs of their institutions. Collectively, the holdings in these collections constitute nearly the entire scientific database on the terrestrial arthropod fauna of Canada - and not only the existing database, but also the capacity to acquire, process, and preserve new data on the Canadian fauna. Moreover, because Canadian systematists have actively undertaken field work and research in many areas outside Canada, the collections also house substantial bodies of data on the terrestrial arthropod fauna of other countries.
Location of these collections across the country is an effective basis for a system of regional collections in Canada - a concept set out in the Pilot Study for a Biological Survey of the Insects of Canada (Downes 1977) and elsewhere (Danks 1983). Serving as repositories for specimens from sampling programs and faunal studies, regional collections become aggregation points of significant data for taxon-based systematic studies. Regional collections can also serve as benchmark references for environmental studies and in public education.
There is a second tier comprising collections of insects and other terrestrial arthropods in Canada with holdings of fewer than 100,000 specimens (Biological Survey of Canada 1978). Although, in total, these collections represent a significant body of primary data on insects and other terrestrial arthropods in Canada, individually they may have an uncertain future because they are less central to the primary objectives of the institutions maintaining them; and some of them are private collections. Some policy is needed in Canada to encourage transfer of these collections to regional centres when they are no longer required by their present custodians.
Some portion of the funds awarded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council for support of biological research by university personnel in Canada is used for field collecting and study of the systematics of various taxa of terrestrial arthropods. At the conclusion of the recipients' research these collections do not always remain in Canada, despite the recommendation in the NSERC Awards Guide that they should be deposited ultimately in a Canadian institution providing long-term curatorial protection.
Institutions maintaining research collections of insects and other terrestrial arthropods in Canada hold a part of the database of biological science for the country. Public funds directed to these collections and to their supporting activities are responsible investments toward understanding and ultimately protecting biological diversity (e.g. Steere et al. 1971). These collections comprise an irreplaceable scientific resource, growing in importance with new concerns about global change and the loss of biodiversity. To ensure their protection and the perpetuation of their role, the collections and their curatorial activities require a higher level of financial support than they have received in recent years.
Responsibility for research collections in Canada
RecommendationsIn recognition of the issues considered in this brief, the Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods) makes the following recommendations to sectors of government, both national and provincial, and to universities, where public funds are assigned in support of science in Canada.
À la lumière des faits étudiés dans le présent mémoire, la Commission biologique du Canada (Arthropodes terrestres) présente les recommandations suivantes aux organismes publics nationaux et provinciaux, ainsi qu'aux universités, qui disposent de fonds pour le soutien des sciences au pays.
Biological Council of Canada. 1977. Museum collections and Canadian science. A brief submitted to the Secretary of State for Canada. Biological Council of Canada, Toronto. 10 pp. Republished in Newsletter Assoc. Syst. Collections, 5: 56-58.
Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods). 1978. Collections of Canadian insects and certain related groups. Bull. ent. Soc. Can. 10(1), Suppl. 21 pp.
Brown, L.R. et al. 1984. The State of the World 1984. Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society. W.W. Norton and Co., New York.
Brundin, L. 1966. Transantarctic relationships and their significance, as evidenced by chironomid midges. K.Svensk. Vetenskaps-akad. Handl. 11:1-472.
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Danks, H.V. (ed.) 1979. Canada and its
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Danks, H.V., G.B. Wiggins, and D.M. Rosenberg. 1987. Ecological collections and long-term monitoring. Bull. ent. Soc. Can. 19(1): 16-18.
Downes, J.A. 1977. A pilot study for a biological survey of the insects of Canada. Bull. ent. Soc. Can. 9(1), Suppl. 3 pp.
Erwin, T.L. 1983. Tropical forest canopies: the last biotic frontier. Bull. ent. Soc. Am. 29: 14-19.
Evans, H.E. 1968. Life on a Little-known Planet. E.P. Dutton & Co. New York.
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Franclemont, J.G. 1980. "Noctua c-nigrum in eastern North America, the description of two new species of Xestia Hübner (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae: Noctuinae). Proc. ent. Soc. Wash. 82(4): 576-586.
Francoeur, A. 1976. The need for voucher specimens in behavioral and ecological studies. Bull. ent. Soc. Can. 8(2):23.
Kim, K.C. 1975. Systematics and systematics collections: Introduction. Symposium on the status and role of systematics collections in entomological research. Bull. ent. Soc. Am. 21(2): 89-91.
---- 1980. Accurate insect taxonomy basic to pest management. Sci. Agric. 27(2): 7.
Knutson, L. 1978. Uses and user community of entomological collections. Ent. Scand. 8: 155-160.
Kosztarab, M. and C.W. Schaefer (eds.). 1990. Systematics of the North American Insects and Arachnids: Status and Needs. Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station Information Series no. 90-1, 247 pp. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg.
Kristensen, N.P. 1984. Studies on the morphology and systematics of primitive Lepidoptera (Insecta). Steenstrupia 10: 141-191.
Lehmkuhl, D.M., H.V. Danks, V.M. Behan-Pelletier, D.J. Larson, D. M. Rosenberg, and I.M. Smith. 1984. Recommendations for the appraisal of environmental disturbance: some general guidelines, and the value and feasibility of insect studies. Bull. ent. Soc. Can. 16(3), Suppl. 8 pp.
Marshall, V.G., D.K. McE. Kevan, J.V. Matthews, and A.D. Tomlin. 1982. Status and research needs of Canadian soil arthropods. Bull. ent. Soc. Can. 14(1), Suppl. 5 pp.
Mayr, E. 1968. The role of systematics in biology. Science 159: 595-599.
Raven, P. 1990. Opportunities in biology. BioScience 40(5): 385-387.
Resh, V.H. and J.D. Unzicker. 1975. Water quality monitoring and aquatic organisms: the importance of species identification. J. Water Pollut. Control Fed. 47(1): 9-19.
Rosenberg, D.M., H.V. Danks, and D.M. Lehmkuhl. 1986. Importance of insects in environmental impact assessment. Environ. Manage. 10: 773-783.
Schindler, D.W. 1989. Biotic impoverishment at home and abroad. BioScience 39(7): 426.
Steere, W.C. et al. 1971. The systematic biology collections of the United States: an essential resource. A report by the Conference of Directors of Systematic Collections to the National Science Foundation. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, N.Y. 33 pp.
Walker, E.M. 1937. Grylloblatta, a living fossil. Trans. R. Soc. Can., Ser. 3, Sect. 5, 31: 1-10.
Wiggins, G.B. 1983. Entomology and society. Bull. ent. Soc. Am. 29: 27-29.
---- 1984. Trichoptera - some concepts and questions. Keynote address, pp. 1-12 in J.C. Morse (ed.), Proc. Fourth Internat. Symp. on Trichoptera. (Clemson University, S.C.) Junk, The Hague.
Wilson, E.O. 1971. The plight of taxonomy. Ecology 52: 741.
---- 1985. The biological diversity crisis: a challenge to science. Issues Sci. Technol. 1985, pp. 20-29.
---- 1989. The coming pluralization of biology and the stewardship of systematics. BioScience 39(4): 242-245.
Yoshimoto, C.M. 1978. Voucher specimens for entomology in North America. Bull. ent. Soc. Am. 24: 141-142.