Basing biosurveillance on good natural history: a case study of Crabronidae wasps and the emerald ash borer. TCE Editor’s Pick for 146(1)

Cerceris 560

New “field assistant”, getting its unique identifying paint job.

I’m pleased to announce the following Canadian Entomologist paper as this issue’s Editor’s Pick: The use of Cerceris fumipennis (Hymenoptera: Crabronidae) for surveying and monitoring emerald ash borer (Coleoptera: Buprestidae) infestations in eastern North America.

It was written by Philip Careless, Steve Marshall and Bruce Gill.

This link will be active and freely available for the next month, so do not worry about a paywall.

This research focuses on using natural history information to assess creative ways to monitor one of eastern North America’s most important invasive, exotic tree-feeding pests, the emerald ash borer (EAB).  The Crabronidae species Cerceris fumipennis is a wasp that is known to provision its nests with metallic wood-boring beetles in the family Buprestidae. Therefore, there is potentially to find out where EAB is located based on whether nests of the wasps contain that particular beetle. It’s a clever approach, and although the basic biology of the system was already known, Philip and colleagues worked to quantify and fully assess this potential biosurveillance tool for the EAB. We need to know where this pest is, and an indicator such as C. fumipennis holds much potential.

I caught up with Philip and he kindly answered a few questions about this work:

What inspired this work?

Almost all graduate work begins as a spark in the advisor’s mind.  Certainly this project came from the creative thinking of Dr. Stephen Marshall so he deserves credit for that.  I was simply fortunate enough to be the one chosen to run with the idea.  Though, more importantly, he and the rest of the advisory committee gave me enormous freedom to transform the question into a journey through the strange world of solitary wasps.  As for fueling the fire, I would say it was the writing of entomologists like Howard Evans, a healthy dose of nature documentaries, and correspondence with enthusiastic forest managers like Troy Kimoto who are struggling to address pressing conservation challenges.

What do you hope will be the lasting impact of this paper?

I hope that it will help people think of other novel ways to utilize the often overlooked services that insects all around them provide and in turn care for and conserve biodiversity.  In our case an insect that the public instinctively hates, fears, and kills has been transformed into an amazing, useful, and valued colleague.

Where will your next line of research on this topic take you?

We have over 370 nest-provisioning solitary wasps in Canada. Each species is eloquently designed to collect their specific preferred taxa – eg. Stictiella takes adult Lepidoptera, Isodontia takes Orthoptera, Crossocerus takes Psocoptera, etc.  The next steps will be to look at our native wasps, identify what they provision with and then determine if they are well-suited to life as a biosurveillance tool – assisting with life science inventories or monitoring pests.  As the prey choice of most solitary wasps is unknown, professionals and amateurs alike can assist by photographing provisioning wasps and uploading the images to bugguide.net or the like.

Do you have any interesting anecdotes about this research?

Sitting in the middle of a ball diamond under a beach umbrella with a butterfly net (watching wasps provision their nests) tends to draw a lot of curious looks and questions from passers by.  On one such occasion in Windsor, Ontario – while showing a dog walker my prized wasp bringing back a beetle – I observed a novel form of predation.  As the prey-laden female wasp diligently droned past us to the nest, the dog – previous quite bored – snapped it out of the air and ate it, prey and all!  We humans were both surprised but the dog seemed quite pleased.

Brenna 560

Brenna Wells hard at work, waiting to steal beetles from wasps.

For more information on this initiative, or even to get involved yourself, please visit the project website.

Dr. Christopher Buddle

Editor, the Canadian Entomologist

@CMBuddle

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