Project Description

A full project description can be found on Find a PhD. Please see below for additional information about this project:
The European earwig (Forficula auricularia), a generalist feeder that eats live or dead insect, plant and other material, was first recorded in the Falkland Islands in 1997. Their numbers have now increased to the extent that they are regarded as serious pests, causing damage to garden and greenhouse plants and leading to the halt in production of a number of commercial crops. When they move indoors in Autumn, they are also regarded as a health hazard in hospitals.
Although earwigs are pests in The Falklands, the extent to which they are damaging other species is unclear. This project will assess direct impacts through predation of invertebrates, damage to plants and aspects of competition and other changes to the food web and possibly explore a range of remediation strategies.
The impact on the only endemic cricket (Parudenus falklandicus), is of particular concern. Similar in size to earwigs, it may have a comparable diet and could be ecologically displaced, a hypothesis that this project will test. Anecdotally, earwigs impact on a range of other invertebrate within Port Stanley, resulting in the decline of blow flies (Calliphora sp.) and various native beetle species which are essential ecosystem service providers (i.e., nutrient recycle and pollination, respectively). In contrast, densities of centipedes seem to be increasing, possibly in response to high earwig densities. It may be that centipedes will control earwig population, but with collateral negatively impact on native species.

Introduced alien species can devastate native species. In the Falkland Islands, European earwigs have in the past 20 years become so numerous that they may now be posing a critical threat.

The European earwig (Forficula auricularia) eats live or dead insects, plant and other material. First recorded in the Falkland Islands in 1997, their numbers have now increased to the extent that they are regarded as serious pests, causing damage to garden and greenhouse plants and leading to the halt in production of a number of commercial crops. When they move indoors in Autumn, they are also regarded as a health hazard in hospitals.

Although earwigs are pests in the Falklands, the extent to which they are damaging other species is unclear. This project will assess direct impacts through their predation of invertebrates, damage to plants and aspects of competition and other changes to the food web and possibly explore a range of remediation strategies.

The impact on the only native camel cricket (Parudenus falklandicus), is of particular concern. Similar in size to earwigs, it may have a comparable diet, so this will be assessed. Anecdotally, earwigs impact on a range of other invertebrate within Port Stanley, resulting in the decline of blow flies (Calliphora sp.) and various native beetle species.

In contrast, densities of centipedes seem to be increasing, possibly in response to high earwig densities. It may be that centipedes will control earwig population, but they may also negatively impact native species.

The focus will mainly be on the comparison of invaded and non-invaded areas (possibly including smaller islands with no records of earwigs).

Essential skills

  • Enthusiasm, critical thinking and organisational skills.
  • Working with insects and willingness to learn both fieldwork and practical laboratory skills are essential.
  • Creativity and problem-solving skills are also key for the success in this project.

Desirable skills

  • Previous background in entomology, molecular biology, and field sampling are desirable but not essential.

Photo by Patti Adair. Map courtesy of Eric Gaba.

Supervisors

John Baird

Primary Supervisor:

Profile: John Baird
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Colin McClure

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Colin McClure
Email: c.mcclure@qub.ac.uk
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Juliano Morimoto

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Juliano Morimoto
Email: juliano.morimoto@abdn.ac.uk
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Additional Supervisor:

Dr Archie Murchie, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Northern Ireland, Sustainable Agri-Food Sciences Division,
archie.murchie@afbini.gov.uk

 

Research Methods

To understand the aspects of the ecology and pest status of earwigs in the Falkland Islands, this project will compare invaded and non-invaded areas (possibly including smaller islands with no records of earwigs) using the following methods
1) Assessment of invertebrate diversity with various sampling techniques such as suction sampling and pitfall traps to assess species richness, relative abundance and diversity, in relation to earwig presence.
2) Development of a DNA fingerprint database for invertebrates encountered at the sampling sites (this is possible due to the limited number of invertebrates within the assessed habitats and will provide the basis for the next step listed below
3) Analysis of earwig and native cricket faeces to provide insight into their diet
4) Assessment of the impact on the native camel cricket by sampling all life stages in infected and uninfested sites
5) Assessment of the impact of earwigs on the vegetation; vegetation measurement using quadrants, measurements of sward heights, seed density in soil

Expected Training Provision

You will receive full training to allow you to:

Assess invertebrate diversity with various sampling techniques to determine the impact earwigs are having on native species. You will develop of a DNA fingerprint database of native species in the study areas, then relate that to the faeces of earwigs to determine their diet.

Determine the occurrence of the native camel cricket by sampling all life stages.

Assessment of the impact of earwigs on the vegetation; vegetation measurement using quadrats, measurements of sward heights and seed density in soil.

You will travel to and be based at The South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands for approximately 50% of your time, carrying out field work in spring, summer and autumn. Approximately 50% of your time will be mainly or exclusively spent in School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen carrying out DNA barcoding

Impact

It is well-documented that invasive insect species, particularly generalists such as earwigs, can have major impacts on native flora and fauna. The European earwig has established itself in Falkland Islands and occurs in such high numbers that it is considered a pest. But very little is known about the impact on native species or indeed, the extent to which earwigs have established themselves throughout the islands and neighbouring islands. Whether or not earwigs can or should be controlled needs an evidence-base that doesn’t currently exist and this project will go some way to address this. The information relating to abundance, occurrence, impact on individual species and other species in general, will afford statutory bodies the ability to make informed decisions. The biocontrol element might afford statutory bodies tools to reduce the impact of earwigs. That this project is backed by agencies in the Falkland Islands, demonstrates that has value to these agencies and Falkland Island society. The findings will have value also to the scientific community, providing insight into what makes the Falkland Islands such a good habitat for earwigs, the damage or possibly even benefits in some cases, earwigs afford the natural environment and agricultural environments. This information may be of benefit should earwigs become established on other oceanic islands.

Proposed Timetable

Timeline
1. Literature review (October – December 2022/3 months)
2. Falkland Island Fieldwork. Assess the Falklands and nearby islands for suitable study sites. Set out pitfall traps, carry out suction trapping and environmental assessment (measuring vegetation, collect frass, seeds, identify invertebrates) (January – June 2022/6months)
3. Begin barcoding work in Aberdeen (July – December 2022/6 months)
4. Continue fieldwork in Falkland Islands (January to June 2023/6 months)
5. Continue barcoding in Aberdeen (July to December 2023/6 months)
6. Continue fieldwork in Falkland Islands (January to June 2024/6months)
7. Continue barcoding in Aberdeen (July to December 2024/6 months)
8. Write up in Aberdeen (January to March 2024/3 months)

QUADRAT Themes

  • biodiversity
  • environmental-management

Partners

South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute

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