Host specificity of insect herbivores on rain forest trees: a study involving ecologists, taxonomists, parataxonomists and village collectors

A project undertaken at the Parataxonomist Training Center, Madang, Papua New Guinea, and supervised by V Navotny

The principal aim of the project was to train school leavers from villages in Papua New Guinea as parataxonomists (research assistants) so that they can document insect diversity of Papua New Guinea and become active in grassroots environmental education. The project was based at the Parataxonomist Training Center (PTC) and included 12 parataxonomists, with varying degree of professional experience (from 6 months to 7 years). All parataxonomists were involved in training programmes on various levels. The PTC parataxonomists also contributed to training parataxonomists in other organisations. In particular, we developed a joint insect research project with the Sangamanga Culture and Environment Preservation (SCEP), an NGO from Mu Village in the Simbu Province.

Research training included various methods of collecting, rearing and preserving insects, mounting them as museum specimens, and documentation. The latter included computer databasing and digital and classical macro-photography. Further, the parataxonomists were taught the basics of biology and environmental sciences, as well as basic techniques of data description and analysis. The overall aim of research training was that the parataxonomists were able to run a research project on their own, with the input by researchers limited to the design of the study, occasional consultations, and final stages of analysis. The focus of training was on a variety of research projects, with particular focus on biodiversity surveys using moths and ants as target taxa. These surveys were identified as an appropriate for the parataxonomist training as they can be used for environmental monitoring and conservation decisions, in addition to academic research.

The skills obtained by the parataxonomists during the training include:

  1. quantitative field surveys of moths by light trapping, ants by pitfall trapping and litter extraction, leaf-chewing insects by hand collecting and various insects by Malaise traps
  2. rearing various insect herbivores, including caterpillars, beetle larvae and fruit fly larvae from their host plants
  3. mounting, labelling and databasing specimens of all insect orders
  4. sorting herbivorous insects to families and morphospecies (i.e. unnamed species) using stereomicroscopes, literature and computer databases
  5. digital photography of insects by a digital camera, followed by image processing by Photoshop software
  6. reporting on the research data, including reports, posters and oral presentations
  7. basic computer literacy using MS Office programs, image processing, internet browsers, e-mail programs, and computer peripherals – networks, scanning, printing, CD burning etc. 

Further, the parataxonomists were given an opportunity and some technical guidance to develop their own environmental presentations and educational materials for grassroots and village school level.

 

The results of work by parataxonomists are presented at PTC website:  http://www.entu.cas.cz/png/

 

Sorting and databasing of insect specimens

Light trapping of moths during a biodiversity survey in the Finnistere Mountains

Environmental leaflets on display at PTC

K. Molen giving a presentation at the 'Science and Technology in Developing Countries' conference