The research assistants Daniela Guasconi and David Åhlén, shows volunteer Amanda Bråkenheim Brising (middle) where the traps are located. Photo: Niklas Björling


“We are investigating how various environmental factors affect insect communities and the existence of different species at a given location,” says Ayco Tack from the Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences, Stockholm University, who is one of the leading researchers behind the project Insect Biome Atlas. 

“What different roles do insects play when it comes to, for example, pollination, predation and degradation of plant parts and other substances in their habitat?”

We are currently aware of about 31,000 species of insects in Sweden, but the project hopes to discover many more, as well as gain a better understanding of how different insects interact with each other and other organisms. For example, if they live in symbiosis with each other or if they parasite other organisms. The project uses a combination of methods, including insect traps, field sampling and DNA sequencing in a laboratory.

“Ten per cent of all insects in Sweden have still not been identified, and even when it comes to those that are described, we do not know where or how they live. We do not know why they exist in a certain location or what their roles are in nature.”

The reason they have chosen to make comparisons with Madagascar is that the country is such a contrast to Sweden: only about ten per cent of all insects there have been identified.

Ayco Tack
Ayco Tack. Foto: Niklas Björling

“Since Madagascar is an isolated island, insects have evolved over millions of years, which has created a huge diversity of species,” says Ayco Tack.

In Sweden, on the other hand, insects have “only” had about 12,000 years to evolve since the end of the last ice age, so we do not have as high a diversity of species.

In addition to surveying various species, the researchers are investigating where and in what types of habitats they live. First, they make a random selection of locations in different habitats: forests, grasslands, farmlands, mountains, wetlands and some urban environments. The traps are placed in relation to how common these types of landscapes are in Sweden. This increases the possibility of finding new species.

“We can find out which species live close to each other and if they are affected by the same environmental factors in the surrounding landscape, for example the plants that grow there and how open the landscape is. This will make it possible to link species and groups of insects to different ecosystems.”

The project is unique due to the large number of volunteers, more than one hundred, who will help collect the insects in 2019. This is called citizen science.

“A project of this scale would never be possible without volunteers. Allowing citizens to participate in a research project becomes a way to create an awareness of biodiversity and the threats against it,” says Ayco Tack.

In Madagascar, employees in national parks will empty the traps, since many of them are located in protected areas.

Insect Biome Atlas is expected to take about five years in total.

“The material will be a treasure trove for researchers from all over the world and will provide answers to many questions about insect biodiversity,” Ayco Tack concludes.