A survey of insects at our Livingstone project site commenced in early December. The initial aim is to create a reference of species found in the area, before looking at spatial variances in species diversity related to floral diversity. It is hoped that a better understanding of the inter-relationship between insects and trees will assist in improved forest management.
Insects are an important natural resource in ecosystems, and especially in forests where they make up a dominant part (greater than 80%) of the biodiversity of forest fauna. They play a significant role in pollination, nutrient recycling, as pest control agents, and they are involved at every level of trophic networks. The presence or absence of certain species, or rather of certain corteges, makes it possible to verify whether an ecosystem is functioning properly or not. In this way, insects can be good indicators of ecosystem quality and management impacts on the forest habitat. However, knowledge of insect diversity within the Zambezi Basin is not well known, except for a few species.
Led by ALERT researcher Dabwiso Sakala, project volunteers have been assisting sample collection to build the insect reference library. A variety of insect collection methods are being employed, including the use of yellow-pan, pitfall and bait traps, as well as aerial nets and beating sheets. So far the team have collected 207 different insect species covering 12 orders of insect. About 30% of species have been identified to genus level, and only 18% to species level, such is the lack of knowledge about insects in this part of the world. We have several avenues to follow to assist in identifying our samples, but for all we know we have already discovered one or more species that are new to science – only time will tell.