Article image

Citizen scientists monitor invasive Asian bamboo longhorn beetles

An alarming number of Asian bamboo longhorn beetles have been emerging across Europe over the last century, according to new research from Pensoft Publishers. The study, which was based on documentation by citizen scientists, demonstrates the importance of involving the public in species monitoring.

The experts noted that invasive species represent one of the major challenges of a globalized world. 

“These species, while often barely recognized, may represent severe economic and ecological threats (e.g. as agricultural pests, ecological competitors or predators of native species),” wrote the researchers. 

“However, despite their potentially high importance, surveying non-native species is still only performed for a limited number of highly invasive species, as it is time consuming and expensive.”

As an alternative to costly research projects, the general public can be included in surveying activities through citizen science initiatives and online platforms.

“While large invasive species, such as mammals, birds and fish, are detected more easily, smaller arthropod species often remain unspotted for some time after their introduction. Nevertheless, arthropods, and especially insects have high invasion potential and can often be detrimental pests,” wrote the study authors.

“Insects are frequently transported with raw materials, and agricultural products, or living plants and plant material. One of the groups specifically commonly introduced with plants and wood are the longhorn wood boring beetles of the family Cerambycidae.”

The Asian bamboo longhorn beetle feeds on a variety of plants, but prefers bamboo. The species has been continuously expanding its distribution through the international trade of bamboo, as the insects “travel” along with the wood. The beetle’s first appearance in England was documented in 1924.

More recently, students at the University of Hamburg were conducting a fieldwork study – held within the city due to COVID-19 restrictions – when they stumbled upon an Asian bamboo longhorn beetle.

Further investigation revealed that there were even more recent sightings of the beetles that had been recorded across different citizen science platforms, such as iNaturalist and iRecord.

The researchers contacted the citizen scientists, who provided additional collection details and images. Based on this information, the researchers formally confirmed the presence of the Asian bamboo longhorn beetle in Belgium and the Netherlands. 

Overall, the experts identified thirteen new introductions of the species in Europe. This translates to a 42 percent increase of Asian bamboo longhorn beetle records in Europe.

“In light of the warming climate and a growing abundance of ornamental bamboo plants in Europe, the beetle might get permanently established. Not only could it become a garden pest, but it could also incur significant costs to the bamboo-processing industry,” said study lead author Dr. Matthias Seidel.

Now that the researchers have witnessed the potential of citizen science for bridging the gaps in invasive species monitoring, they propose that specialized platforms could be established to speed up the surveying process. The platforms would be designed to familiarize citizen scientists with non-native species of interest, while providing them with more sophisticated reporting tools. 

“In order to use the power of citizen science for the monitoring of non-native species more effectively, two approaches may be specifically promising,” explained the study authors.

“On the one hand, specialized platforms introducing non-native species of interest to the general public and providing reporting tools may increase public awareness and also recording activities for these taxa.” 

“On the other hand, drawing records of specific non-native species of interest, which are flagged and regularly exported from other citizen science databases and platforms may help to provide a better overview of distributions of these taxa.”

The research is published in the journal BioRisk.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day