One role of the BSC is to
highlight key themes that are of particular interest in understanding the
Canadian arthropod fauna, as well as to advocate proper procedures for such
scientific enquiry. Beyond its typical scientific publications, therefore,
from time to time the BSC prepares briefs or similar documents that are
distributed widely to entomologists and, depending on the subject, to other
people such as officials in charge of Provincial programmes studying
biodiversity, especially if they can be introduced personally by a Survey
representative. Moreover, the contents of many of the briefs, especially
those about assessing biodiversity, the value of collections and the
appraisal of environmental disturbance, have been explained by the head of
the Survey in lectures and seminars at various institutions across the
This update outlines the
briefs and similar products of the BSC. Most of the publications are
available in electronic form on the BSC web site at http://www.biology.ualberta.ca/bsc/english/briefs.htm
Several briefs, including the more recent ones, are also available in
Many of the briefs deal with
general issues in the study of diversity, such as the rationale and care of
collections, or methods for assessing biodiversity. Some of them pertain to
scientific projects of the BSC, but discuss the relevance and wider context
of those subject areas.
Collections and collections policies
Work of the BSC Pilot Study
led to some recommendations about collections and notably to the concept of
regional centres. A brief was prepared for publication, but following an
invitation to present the material at the 1981 meeting of the Society for
the Preservation of Natural History Collections, the paper on regional
centres was published instead in the proceedings of that meeting.
Danks, H.V. 1983. Regional collections and the concept
of regional centres. pp. 1 51-160 in D.J. Faber (ed.), Proceedings of 1981
workshop on care and maintenance of natural history collections. Syllogeus
44. Nat. Mus. Nat. Sci. Canada.
The Biological Survey of
Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods) was developed as a focus for national
discussion and guidance of systematic and faunistic entomology. Therefore,
one general concern of the Survey is the status of resources of preserved
material in collections. The existing collections of Canadian terrestrial
arthropods are discussed. More than half of the estimated 16 million
specimens in collections are in the Canadian National Collection, but
there are about 50 other collections in Canada that contain more than
10,000 specimens each. Some of these are deteriorating through lack of
maintenance. The Biological Survey believes that the support and
development of regional centres based on regional collections (in addition
to a strong National Collection) are essential to proper study of the
fauna. Such regional centres would serve not only as focal points for
curation and identification of specimens, but also would underpin
research, education and reference in a broader context. Some preliminary
ideas about the development of regional centres are sumarised.
During consideration of
long-term research activities, the BSC wanted to emphasize the long-term
value of collections in this arena, and a document was prepared for
discussion and subsequently published.
1987. Danks, H.V., G.B. Wiggins, and D.M. Rosenberg.
Ecological collections and long-term monitoring. Bull. ent. Soc. Can.
19 (1): 16-18.
Following up a number of
concerns about the status of research collections, especially the
disposition of materials collected with federal funds, a brief was prepared
to point out the importance of collections, as a basis for specific policy
suggestions about orphaned collections, collection guidelines within the
granting programmes of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
of Canada, and so on. The brief was then widely disseminated. A broader
discussion of the subject was also published as a paper in the journal of
the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections. In
addition, more specific briefs emphasizing the need for collection
infrastructures were directed to both NSERC and the Biodiversity Convention
Terrestrial and freshwater
ecosystems of the world include millions of species of insects and
arachnids, most of them still unknown to science. Inability to identify
these arthropod species is a severe impediment for scientific
investigation of terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems; therefore, some of
the most critical gaps in biological science occur in the systematics of
terrestrial arthropods. Underlying this deficiency in biological science
in Canada is inadequate and declining funding for research collections of
terrestrial arthropods and their associated curatorial programs. These
collections are an irreplaceable scientific resource. They are the source
of much that is known about the systematics of insects and mites of
Canada, and the base for what has still to be learned; and they are part
of the ecological database of the country which is essential for detecting
and correcting man-made perturbations of natural biological systems. These
collections represent a major part of Canada’s participation in the task
of documenting the biota of the world.
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.
Danks, H.V. 1991. Museum collections: fundamental
values and modern problems. Collection Forum 7 (2): 95-111.
Collections support scientific
enquiries about the natural world and enhance education. These fundamental
values notwithstanding, resources for collections remain limited despite
recent increases in material stemming from biodiversity itself, from the
development of mass collecting techniques, and from the need to house
endangered collections, voucher specimens, collections preserving genetic
diversity, and regional collections. The pressure on resources can best be
met by obtaining more resources. Knowing biodiversity (and thus
understanding the world we inhabit and living there sensibly) requires the
steady accumulation of information supported by collections (and by the
systematics work they facilitate) must be explained to those who use this
support but do not appreciate its true cost. Initial project costs should
include the means to identify material and preserve voucher specimens. In
addition, existing resources can be used more efficiently by setting
priorities to optimize scientific quality and resource use. Increasing
operational efficiency (collections management and improved preservation)
and division of labour (regional participation, networks, and data
standards) also conserve resources. Modern problems can be solved by
emphasizing the fundamental scientific value of collections in building
knowledge for current and future use.
Langor, D.W., H.V. Danks and G.E. Ball. 1995.
Recommendations for support of biological collections infrastructure in
Canada, with special reference to terrestrial arthropods. Briefs prepared
for submission to the Biodiversity Convention Office and to the Natural
Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
Following BSC discussions
about geographic standards for data labels, a brief to give standards not
only for geographic information but also for label preparation was
The data associated with
specimens and recorded on their labels are a permanent record of research
that is as important as the specimens themselves. This brief provides
recommendations on how to prepare data labels for collections of
terrestrial arthropods. Given here are standards for label data, to ensure
that the data associated with the collecting event are clearly presented
and organized, as well as standards for label preparation, to ensure that
the labels are clear, useful and permanent. Labels should provide
accurate, unambiguous locality information that includes latitude and
longitude. Specific recommendations are also provided on how to format
information about the date, collector, collecting method and habitat that
should appear on labels, and about unique identifier codes if used.
Guidelines for preparing computer-generated specimen labels are given, as
well as recommendations on paper and printers for both dry (pinned)
specimens and wet specimens (preserved in fluid). Label data should be in
a format that maximizes the efficiency with which the data can be
extracted into databases, data retrieval systems and geographic
More recently, the importance
of voucher specimens was emphasized, both in general terms and in view of
the many studies of biodiversity underway that did not always preserve
reference specimens. A detailed brief was produced to point out the
advantages of vouchers as well as the disadvantages of neglecting them.
Voucher specimens deposited in
natural history collections are the only reliable means to verify the
identity of species used in biological studies. However, despite their
importance in confirming the results of research, deposition of vouchers
is still the exception rather than the rule, especially in non-taxonomic
studies. Furthermore, many journals do not require or even recommend
deposition of vouchers. This brief reviews the nature of voucher specimens
and sample policies on vouchers in systematic, faunistic and ecological
research. The advantages of having vouchers available for subsequent
study, and the pitfalls of not designating and depositing vouchers, are
discussed using examples from the literature. Recommendations as to best
practices in voucher policy are given for funding agencies, agencies that
issue research permits, university departments, journal editors and
natural history collections.
The Survey considered the
appraisal of environmental disturbance as well as the allied topic of formal
Environmental Impact Assessments. A brief was prepared to recommend, to
those generally concerned with the environment and entomology, procedures by
which scientifically effective appraisals could be carried out. A paper was
also prepared to point out the value of insects in the more formal process
of Environmental Impact Assessment.
This brief considers the
development of proper scientific standards for the monitoring and
appraisal of environmental disturbance. Insects are useful in various ways
for such evaluations, as demonstrated by examples. The objectives of any
such study should be defined by consultation among all interested parties.
The complete study should be planned by defining scientific objectives in
an ecological context, with the help of peer review of the plans. Data
collected should be related to specific questions that have been
formulated about the influence of a given disturbance on the system.
Scientific answers should be the best attainable at the present state of
knowledge; this requires expert personnel for design, analysis and
identification of species. Because of their diversity in natural systems,
and because they are not well-known, insects usually have not been
identified to species in past studies of this kind. However, problems of
identification can now usually be overcome with expert help: species
identifications are normally necessary because species are the only
taxonomic units by which information on the functioning of natural systems
can be organized. Some recommendations summarizing these conclusions are
Rosenberg, D.M., H.V. Danks, and D.M. Lehmkuhl. 1986.
The importance of insects in Environmental Impact Assessment. Environmental
Management 10 (6): 773-783.
particularly suited for use in environmental impact assessment (e.i.a.)
because of their high species diversity, ubiquitous occurrence, and
importance in the functioning of natural ecosystems. Examples are given of
the use of insects in the predictive phase of e.i.a., in the monitoring
and assessment phase, and in the much rarer instance of an e.i.a. that
includes both of these phases. The importance of working at the species
level to understanding the results of e.i.a. is emphasized.
The BSC recognized that
increasing interests in biodiversity were not always matched by knowledge of
what is required for proper study, especially for the arthropod components.
Therefore, the BSC published a series of briefs. The first emphasized
sampling procedures and general planning; a second detailed the steps
required to properly plan and execute a biodiversity study; and the third
demonstrated the validity of those steps, based on specific studies, and
also considered the costs of biodiversity work in more detail. The content
of the second brief was also published in popular form elsewhere.
Knowledge of biodiversity is
important for wise management and use of the earth’s resources.
Terrestrial arthropods (insects and their relatives) are by far the most
diverse groups of animals and important contributors to biodiversity.
However, a synopsis of techniques suitable for assessing diversity for
terrestrial arthropods is not readily available to many of those
responsible for general assessments of biodiversity. This brief therefore
offers general guidelines for planning a study of arthropod biodiversity,
including attention to long-term planning, choice of taxonomic groups, and
the resources required for sampling, sorting and identification. The brief
recommends in some detail the specific sampling methods appropriate for
this purpose. It proposes a standard sampling protocol for the assessment
of regional biodiversity, suggesting that any such general inventory
should include, at a minimum, Malaise, flight-intercept and pan traps, as
well as behavioural extractors such as Berlese funnels, and it presents
some estimates of the time required to process samples, for use in
planning a budget. The major current impediment to properly planned and
executed studies of arthropod diversity is the limited number of
systematics experts available to identify species. Resources for
systematics support therefore should be included in project budgets.
The diversity and
ecological importance of insects makes them very valuable for studies of
biodiversity. However, the same overwhelming diversity means that valid
and useful results will only be obtained if studies are properly planned.
This synopsis outlines the
steps required for appropriate biodiversity assessments. Steps that have
to be planned from the outset are: definition of objectives, gathering of
existing and background information, development of a plan for the project
as a whole, definition of level of detail, site selection, selection of
taxa, duration of study, selection of sampling methods, quality control of
actual sampling, sorting and preparation of samples, identification of
material, data management, curation and disposition of specimens, and
publication and dissemination of information.
The initial definition of
objectives is especially important so that studies will answer specific
questions, not just generate isolated sets of general information.
Planning in advance for identification to species is essential, because
using the results requires specific identifications, yet expertise for
proper identification is limited. Indeed, project resources may well have
to be explicitly devoted to the development of expertise for
identification. Finally, it is very important that results are available
in the published scientific literature, and not just in unpublished
reports, and that voucher specimens remain available, both to validate
progress toward the project objectives, and to add to the fund of
knowledge that is required to make real advances in understanding
1997. Danks, H.V. Assessing insect biodiversity -
without wasting your time. Global Biodiversity 7(3): 17-21.
Guidelines for conducting
studies of arthropod biodiversity properly are reinforced using results
from selected recent studies in Canada. The costs for doing such work are
also given explicitly. The necessary components of a biodiversity study,
and selected examples, are briefly tabulated for ready reference. Careful
advance planning should include explicit scientific objectives and ways to
ensure that the work proceeds to completion. Work on more than one taxon
is necessary, because neither patterns of species richness nor relevant
ecosystem involvements can be extrapolated from one taxon to another.
Plans for identification, normally to species, are especially important,
requiring specific collaboration with systematists. Protocols for
sampling, sorting, specimen preservation and data management should be
clearly defined and costed. Curation and retention of specimens and
ongoing scientific and other publications are also essential if projects
are to have real long-term value. Examples and references illustrate how
these components can be developed. Proper support for studies of
biodiversity, as opposed to superficial promotion of its importance,
therefore requires mechanisms to provide stable long-term funding.
In addition, during
development of the grasslands project a brief was published about the uses
in ecosystem management of studies of the biodiversity of grassland
Human society and regional
economies are tied to resources produced by ecosystems. Realistic
information on biological diversity must be integrated into policy
planning and management practice if ecosystems are to be managed for use
by future generations. Arthropods (insects, spiders, mites, &
relatives) are the most diverse group of organisms in most ecosystems and
many species are well suited to provide ecosystem information. Ecosystem
baselines that document arthropod species assemblages in a manner
comparable in space and time are key to interpretation of arthropod data.
Government departments, agencies, boards, and private sector companies and
organizations with interests in ecosystem management should act to support
the acquisition of ecosystem baselines of arthropod biodiversity. The
acquisition of ecosystem baselines of arthropod biodiversity should be
viewed as an integral component in the implementation of Canada’s
More recently, given the
difficulties experienced by students of biodiversity in securing funding for
their projects, a list of relevant sources of funds was prepared and posted
on the Survey web site.
One of the greatest obstacles
to conducting research in biodiversity is finding a way to pay for it.
Because of this, one of the most essential skills for students to develop
is the ability to locate and secure funding for graduate and postdoctoral
studies, research and travel. This document provides information on some
of the available funding sources for graduate study and research in
biodiversity, with special reference to terrestrial arthropods.
Even after a source of funding
has been located, there is still the matter of getting it. It is
surprising and discouraging to see how many students submit poorly
prepared applications for funding. One of the reasons for this may be that
many students never receive training in grantsmanship. Therefore, this
document also gives some general advice on the preparation of grant
The diversity of the soil
fauna and the lack of knowledge about soil arthropods despite their
importance in maintaining soil fertility attracted the interest of the
Survey even from its inception, but available taxonomic resources were too
limited to support an active project. Instead, the Survey prepared a brief
to outline the ecological roles of the arthropod fauna of soils and the
current state of knowledge.
This brief points out that
knowledge of soil arthropods in Canada is strikingly deficient. Although
the fauna of the soil is relatively rich, especially in the northern
life-zones characteristic of the country, the expertise available in
typical soil groups is very limited, especially in taxonomy.
The soil fauna is abundant and
ecologically important, particularly in decomposition and
nutrient-cycling, and hence of immediate concern in activities such
as agriculture and forestry that depend on soil fertility. Some species of
soil arthropods are directly important as pests, and others may serve as
indicator species, agents of biological control, or aids for teaching.
Deficiencies of information
are greatest for immature forms, especially in groups that contain many
species, such as mites, springtails and flies; however, fewer than half of
our estimated 18,000 or more soil species have been described even in the
adult stage. These deficiencies reflect a general lack of support for
study of soil arthropods at the present time. A basic problem is the lack
of taxonomic expertise, which in turn greatly hinders ecological work.
This brief is intended to provide a basis for initiatives and
representations that can be made as circumstances permit to improve this
Insects of Canada
As part of the preparations
for the 1988 International Congress of Entomology held in Canada, a synopsis
of the Canadian insect fauna and of entomology in Canada was published in
the form of a brief and distributed to each delegate. The content was
subsequently adapted into an abridged form by the Canadian Museum of Nature,
with photographs, and posted on the Museum’s web site.
This booklet introduces the
insect fauna of Canada. It summarizes general features of the country as
well as the taxonomic composition and ecological relationships of its
insects. The treatment accords with the faunistic interests of the
Biological Survey of Canada, and species of economic importance, for
example, therefore are treated in a limited way and from general
ecological rather than control perspectives.
The booklet also outlines
major entomological resources, including Canadian entomological
collections and the organizations that support or carry out entomological
work. Selected references are provided for readers who wish to explore the
subject matter further.
The BSC recognized that
freshwater springs are discrete habitats of great biological interest that
can be relatively easily sampled. However, finding these habitats is
difficult in many jurisdictions, and the Survey therefore made
representations to the Commission of inquiry on federal water policy about
the need for an inventory of springs. A brief pointing out the values of
springs and making recommendations for future work on arthropods was
subsequently published, and together with other efforts helped to launch a
project that produced various scientific publications about springs.
1984. Brief submitted to the Pearse Commission of
Inquiry on Federal Water Policy (prepared by D.D. Williams and H.V. Danks;
presented by I.M. Smith and H.V. Danks).
Springs are the points of
issue of groundwater, an important storage element little studied in
Canada. Many springs are very vulnerable because of their potential for
recreational development (spas), water-bottling sites and stock watering
holes. Some type localities for organisms have already been destroyed.
Existing government policy in Canada provides little protection to
groundwater despite its increasing use and contamination from a variety of
anthropogenic sources. Biomonitoring of spring-dwelling organisms is
suggested as a practical method of assessing groundwater quality and the
history of individual aquifers.
The Biological Survey of
Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods) urges that guidelines be drawn up for the
protection of springs from industrial, urban and agricultural pressures.
It recommends that an inventory be made to identify rare and regionally
characteristic Canadian spring types and their biota which should then be
protected as part of our biological heritage.
The BSC has had a
long-standing interest in arthropods of the arctic, with ongoing scientific
programmes, but in addition it produced a brief in 1989 to point out the
virtual lack of work on invertebrates in the arctic, in contrast to earlier
Canadian efforts. The Survey also wrote letters at that time to relevant
agencies about the lack of support for arctic entomological research.
This brief points out that
although invertebrates are the most common and diverse animals in the
arctic ecosystems that are characteristic of Canada, no concerted efforts
are being made to study their biology in the north. Studies are not
integrated despite wide though generally diffuse interest, and despite the
existence of valuable general resources for arctic studies, such as field
stations and information banks. Arctic invertebrates not only offer
instructive cases of adaptations to northern conditions, and lessons about
food-chain function and other ecological processes in a tractable but not
oversimplified ecosystem, but also they provide information to address
broad questions of great long-term environmental importance, such as
climatic change and pollution.
This brief therefore
recommends ways in which studies of arctic invertebrate biology can be
enhanced: through international cooperative research ventures, to identify
and develop key active studies; through scientific workshops associated
with professional societies, to address broader themes; and by
coordination among individuals and organizations interested in arctic
studies. The Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods) proposes
through these recommendations to develop a long-term programme of
cooperative studies on arctic invertebrates.
Arthropod ectoparasites are a
diverse element of the Canadian fauna but are not well known. Recognizing
that work on arthropod ectoparasites of vertebrates was inadequate, a brief
was prepared to document the situation and recommend ways to improve it.
Arthropod ectoparasites are a
diverse element of the Canadian fauna, and frequently impinge upon the
performance and well-being of man, domestic animals, and wildlife. The
fauna is not well known, with only about 17% of the expected species
recorded. The mites and chewing lice in particular need study. There is
considerable potential for investigation of the ecological, physiological
and systematic relationships of the ectoparasites and their hosts.
Unfortunately, there has been no coordinated research effort, and much of
the research has been directed only to economically important species or
disease vectors. Consequently we are presented with a rather biased view
of faunal relationships.
The Biological Survey of
Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods) therefore recommends ways to improve the
state of knowledge of Canadian arthropod ectoparasites: additional
resources aimed at long-term objectives, increased awareness among a
variety of biological disciplines, and fruitful avenues for future