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The Rothamsted Insect Survey celebrates 50 years of continuous operation

The Rothamsted Insect Survey celebrates 50 years of continuous operation - 29 April 2014. Rothamsted Research
News from: Rothamsted Research

The Rothamsted Insect Survey operates a nation-wide network of suction- and light-traps contributing invaluable data for 50 years, in a range of studies spanning fundamental to applied ecology.

The Rothamsted Insect Survey, (RIS) a National Capability supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and others, celebrates today 50 years of continuous operation. The RIS was born out of Professor L. R. (Roy) Taylor's quest to understand how and why insects migrate.

Insect migration is crucial to changes in their abundance in time and space (population dynamics). Data on the changes in insect abundance from a wide area, and mathematical analysis, were required to enable a good understanding of insect migration. Understanding population dynamics leads to prediction of abundance and hence of the need for pest control. The trap networks have been proven invaluable, as Roy predicted, in a very wide range of studies spanning the full spectrum of fundamental to applied ecology.

Aphids and moths were the chosen insects as they have contrasting life histories and pioneering work at Rothamsted by C.B. Williams, C.G. Johnson and Roy had led to the development of traps suitable for aphid and moth surveillance.

The suction-trap at Rothamsted entered continuous operation on 29 April 1964 and other traps were soon introduced. The RIS operates 15 suction-traps in the UK, each 12.2 metres tall. The traps are emptied daily in spring, summer and autumn, weekly in winter. Aphids are identified at Rothamsted and SASA (Edinburgh), counted, and recorded on the RIS long-term database.

Dr Richard Harrington, Head of the Rothamsted insect Survey said: "We present all of this information in web and email bulletins which are issued every Friday and used by practitioners to guide aphid control programmes. With the data that have been collected over the last 50 years, we have found strong relationships between winter temperature and the time that aphids are first found in our traps, and their abundance. We use these relationships to forecast when movement into crops is likely to start. Compared to 50 years ago, many aphids are flying a month or more earlier".

The light-trap on Barnfield, Rothamsted Estate, was first switched on in 1933 and ran for four years. It ran for a further four years from 1946 to 1950. In 1960 it started again and has run continuously ever since. In 1965 and 1966 two further traps were installed at Rothamsted and by 1968, 60 traps were running nationally. To date traps have been operated at nearly 500 sites for at least a year.

Dr Richard Harrington said: "We currently have 84 light-traps in a wide range of habitats. Each trap uses a 200 watt tungsten bulb. Most traps are emptied daily throughout the year. The moths are identified by volunteers and by a contractor, counted and recorded on our long-term database but the samples are not stored. We have shown that two-thirds of our common larger moth species have declined significantly over the past 50 years, especially in southern Britain. This is worrying as moths are good indicators of the health of the environment and are important components of the food chain. However, one third of species have become more abundant. The reasons for the changes are being investigated and will inform conservation strategy."

"The data are continually finding new uses", Richard Harrington added. "For example, using modern molecular diagnostic techniques we can now test individual aphids for resistance to insecticides and see whether they are carrying viruses. We are also in a very strong position to predict the impacts of climate change, a phenomenon that was unknown when the work started, on pest attacks. The longer the run of data, the wider are their potential applications. The trap design is used around the World, and this further increases our understanding of pest dynamics."

Professor Martin Parry, Acting Director of Rothamsted Research said: "The RIS datasets are the longest running for any terrestrial invertebrate group anywhere in the World and they are an invaluable resource for current and future research in the areas of insect migration, insect population dynamics and pest control. The Rothamsted Insect Survey has always depended on collaboration between employees and volunteers. Rothamsted Research is most grateful to all those who have run traps, identified insects, analysed data and contributed to projects over the past 50 years, as well as the BBSRC and its predecessors for funding the work".

The Rothamsted Insect Survey celebrates today its 50th anniversary with a full programme of activities including an Open Meeting for the public hosted at Rothamsted Research Tuesday 29 April at 7:30pm.

Image: Rothamsted Research
Image: Rothamsted Research


Notes to editors

Additional Information about the Suction Trap Network

Although no other insect groups are identified routinely, all samples are kept, and there has been increasing use of the non-aphid fraction. Seventy three traps based on the Rothamsted design are now operated in 20 European and Scandinavian countries. In some countries only a subset of the aphid species is identified and not all insects are kept. However, all available data are being incorporated into a single database created under the auspices of the EU Thematic Network EXAMINE.


The British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO), the Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) and the Lawes Agricultural Trust also provide financial support.

BBSRC National Capabilities

A National Capability is defined as a capability (e.g. personnel, infrastructure, facilities, biological collections, databases) that is essential either as a single point of capability, or part of capability, required for UK national strategic purposes, or as an essential, strategic component of the international research base. NCs are by definition externally facing and engaged with the user community e.g. UK, international, commercial, general public; available for access by appropriately qualified academics in UK academic institutions (and to international academics and the commercial sector).

About Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research are the longest running agricultural research station in the world, providing cutting-edge science and innovation for nearly 170 years. Their mission is to deliver the knowledge and new practices to increase crop productivity and quality and to develop environmentally sustainable solutions for food and energy production.

Their strength lies in the integrated, multidisciplinary approach to research in plant, insect and soil science.

Rothamsted Research receives strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) of £27.2M per annum.

Tags: data environmental change pests Rothamsted Research press release