Newsletter of the Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods)

Volume 25 No. 2, Fall 2006


Project Update: Briefs and Similar Documents prepared by the Biological Survey of Canada

Hugh Danks
Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods), Canadian Museum of Nature,
P.O. Box 3443, Station D, Ottawa, ON K1 6P4


General information and editorial notes

News and Notes:

Bio-Blitz 2006

Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification

Summary of the Scientific Committee meeting

Project Update: Briefs and Similar Documents Prepared by the BSC

Lost Collections – Fate or Fault

The Quiz Page

Canadian Perspectives: Life-cycle Types in the Arctic

Web site notes

Arctic Corner

Update on some Insect Biodiversity Activities in the Arctic during 2006

Invertebrate Community Structure in Lakes of the Central Canadian Arctic

Selected future conferences

Quips and Quotes

Requests for Material or Information Invited


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 country.

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 Several briefs, including the more recent ones, are also available in French-language versions.

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 Office.

Wiggins, G.B., S.A. Marshall, and J.A. Downes. 1991. The importance of research collections of terrestrial arthropods. Bull. ent. Soc. Can. 23 (2), Suppl. 16 pp.

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 published.

Wheeler, T.A., J.T. Huber and D.C. Currie. 2001. Label data standards for terrestrial arthropods. A brief. Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods), Ottawa. ISBN 0-9689321-0-X

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 information systems.

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.

2003. Wheeler, T.A. The role of voucher specimens in validating faunistic and ecological research. A brief prepared by the Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods). Biological Survey of Canada Document Series No. 9. 21 pp.

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.

Environmental Appraisal

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.

Lehmkuhl, D.M., H.V. Danks, V.M. Behan-Pelletier, D.J. Larson, D.M. Rosenberg, and l.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.

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 presented.

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.

Insects are 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.

Study of biodiversity

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.

Marshall, S.A., R.S. Anderson, R.E. Roughley, V. Behan-Pelletier and H.V. Danks. 1994. Terrestrial arthropod biodiversity: planning a study and recommended sampling techniques. A brief. Bull. ent. Soc. Can. 26 (1), Suppl. 33 pp.

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.

Danks, H.V. 1996. How to assess insect biodiversity without wasting your time. A brief from the Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods). Biological Survey of Canada Document Series No. 5, ISBN 0-9692727-6-6. 20 pp.

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 biodiversity.

1997. Danks, H.V. Assessing insect biodiversity - without wasting your time. Global Biodiversity 7(3): 17-21.

Danks, H.V. and N.N. Winchester. 2000. Terrestrial arthropod biodiversity projects – building a factual foundation. A brief from the Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods). Biological Survey of Canada Document Series No. 7, ISBN 0-9692727-9-0. 38 pp.

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 arthropods.

Finnamore, A.T. 1996. The advantages of using arthropods in ecosystem management. A brief from the Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods). 10 pp.

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 biodiversity strategy.

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.

Wheeler, T.A. 2000, and updates. Funding sources for graduate students in arthropod biodiversity: Introduction, General advice on preparing applications, Searching for sources of funding, Specific sources of funding.

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 applications.


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.

Marshall, V.G., D.K. McE. Kevan, J.V. Matthews, Jr., and A.D. Tomlin. 1982. Status and Research Needs of Canadian Soil Arthropods. A brief. Bull. ent. Soc. Can. 14(1), Suppl. 5 pp.

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 situation.

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.

Danks, H.V. 1988. Insects of Canada. A synopsis prepared for delegates to the XVIIIth International Congress of Entomology (Vancouver 1988). Biol. Surv. Can. Doc. Ser. 1. 18 pp.

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.

2000 – Abridged version of Insects of Canada [Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods)]:


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).


Williams, D.D., H.V. Danks, I.M. Smith, R.A. Ring, and R.A. Cannings. 1990. Freshwater springs: a national heritage. Bull. ent. Soc. Can. 22 (1), Suppl. 9 pp.

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.

Danks, H.V., and R.A. Ring. 1989. Arctic invertebrate biology: action required. Bull. ent. Soc. Can. 21 (3), Suppl. 7 pp.

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.

Galloway, T.D. and H.V. Danks. 1991. Arthropod ectoparasites of vertebrates in Canada. A brief. Bull. ent. Soc. Can. 23(1), Suppl. 11 pp.

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 research.



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