Pollination, matter decomposition, bio-control. These are just a few of the vital services that insects around the world are providing to balance our ecosystems and human well-being. By identifying, describing and naming insect species, taxonomists contribute to their conservation and existence overall.
Recognising the need for assessment of the available taxonomic expertise on insects across Europe, CETAF, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Pensoft investigated the issue within the European Red List of Insect Taxonomists, a large-scale initiative of the European Commission. Unfortunately, the study finds that not only the insects are in decline, but also the European community of experts in insect taxonomy.
The report reveals that due to this decline, 41.4% of the insect orders in Europe are not covered by a sufficient number of scientists. At EU level, this number equals 34.5%. Although the four largest insect orders: Coleoptera, Diptera, Lepidoptera, and Hymenoptera, which include beetles, flies, moths, butterflies, wasps, bees, ants and sawflies, were covered by more than 80% of the countries, adequate capacity was attained by only a few of all countries.
In order to assess the status and future trends of insect taxonomic expertise, the report obtained detailed information on the current number, location and productivity of insect taxonomists. This was achieved by a quantitative analysis of taxonomic papers published in scientific journals during the last decade and an online questionnaire. Exactly 1,527 self-declared insect taxonomists from 44 European countries were registered, of which 1,196 were from the EU27. Based on the answers about their personal and academic profile, qualification and activities, it was concluded that the lack of taxonomic expertise is more evident in the countries with the greatest species diversity. The research team also revealed that the community of taxonomists is predominantly male and ageing.
Strengthening taxonomic expertise across Europe might be challenging, but not impossible. The Red List of Insect Taxonomists gives practical recommendations on strategic actions, science and societal engagement, which have the full capacity to reverse the decline of experts in insect taxonomy in Europe and ensure their long-term sustainability.
Find the full report here.