Photosharing websites aid study of insect biodiversity

Photo buffs around the world are doing insect researchers a favor by uploading their pictures of bugs, an article in ZooKeys suggests. By examining the thousands of snapshots on photosharing websites, scientists can learn more about a species’ distribution and conservation status.

In the past, naturalists used to document insects by drawing them painstakingly by hand. Then came photography. Now more people than ever own digital cameras that can take detailed close-ups, leading to “a democratic revolution in the study of biodiversity,” the authors write. These pictures, often uploaded to websites, offer “a huge image data base that hemipterists can no longer ignore.”

Uploaded photos can reveal that a rare species still exists or give clues to its current locations. For example, pictures of an American species of assassin bug taken in the Iberian Peninsula showed that the insects were also present in Europe. The tropical species Spilostethus furcula has been photographed along the northern Iberian coast, which may reflect changes in habitat due to global warming. And by analyzing 550 images of the southern green stink bug taken from 2008-2012, the authors were able to plot the relative abundance of adults and nymphs over time. Roberta Kwok | 5 August 2013

Source: Goula, M., J-M. Sesma, and L. Vivas. 2013. Photosharing websites may improve Hemiptera biodiversity knowledge and conservation. ZooKeys doi: 10.3897/zookeys.319.4342.

Image © Radu Bercan | Shutterstock