Insect radar monitors the web of life

The first insect radar installed in Israel near the Hula Valley.

Despite your hatred for mosquitoes, insects are an important part of the web of life. The body of insects contains 10% nitrogen and 1% phosphorus and they are full of protein. Some startups like Flying Spark are even marketing insects for human consumption as part of the Alt Protein movement. Insects, of course, and their larvae, are already a source of nutritious food in the countries of Africa and East Asia.

But beyond how insects can feed us humans directly, they are great fertilizer for plants and crops, they make nutritious meals for birds, bats and amphibians like frogs and salamanders. Frogs and salamanders are indicator species that help us know the health of ecosystems. Insects pollinate the food we eat.

If the insects leave, the amphibians leave. And if anyone reading this has noticed how much less bugs stick to your windshield when driving around the country, you might be guessing – we have a problem.

Why fewer insects? Pesticides, human development, forestry, industrial pollution.

To help understand insect populations, a new insect radar, the first for Israel, has been installed near the Hula Valley Nature Reserve. The region is a major resting place for millions of migratory birds moving between Africa and Europe each year.

The insect radar offers a chance to measure the amount of insects in Israel’s skies and was installed by the University of Haifa. Insect radar, like the bird radar installed by Professor Yossi Leshem decades ago, will allow researchers to estimate the density, direction and speed of migration, elevation and body size of insects, and assess the factors influencing insects. who fly in this area.

“We will be able to identify pollinating insects that are of great importance to wild plants and agriculture, as well as other insects that cause damage to agriculture, such as various species of moths” , said Professor Nir Sapir of the University of Haifa.

In a previous study in which Professor Sapir was also involved and which was published in the journal Science, it was found that insect migration is the largest migration in terrestrial environments.

In Britain alone, some 3.5 trillion insects migrate each year, creating a biomass almost eight times greater than that of migrating birds.

Professor Sapir predicts that insect migration in Israel will be on an even larger scale: “In northern areas like England, there is no insect activity in winter. In our area, there are large populations of insects throughout the year, including in winter. The conditions for the development of large populations are much more favorable there.

“Using the radar, we will be able to calculate the quantities of insects of each given size and group that pass through Israel, which was impossible with previous tools. We will be able to understand if ambient temperature and other conditions, such as wind, affect insect numbers. We will be able to measure the impact of global warming on the number of insects.

“This is important because insects form a major part of vital ecological interactions in many ecosystems,” Professor Sapir concluded.

One of the first studies undertaken by the researchers using the insect radar aims to monitor the Fall Armyworm, an invasive species of moth that recently arrived in Israel from South America. Professor Sapir explains that this species is one of the most harmful in the world and is known to cause damage to more than 350 species of plants.

“The crop most affected by FAW larvae is maize…we have started using radar to understand the movement of these moths, as a first step towards controlling their spread,” added Professor Sapir.

Using variables such as size, flight speed, wing motion and body shape obtained from radar, the researchers plan to apply a classification tool based on machine “learning” to identify groups of insects and later specific species, such as the Fall Armyworm, with the help of radar.

Could it work as an early warning system against locusts and new invaders? Hopefully neighboring countries like Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Syria will also invest in insect radars so science can help make connections on a regional rather than local scale.

radar entomology cabi biosciences

Radar Entomology, a textbook published by CABI Bioscience

Cabi, an organization I used to do research with as a graduate student in Switzerland, published a book about 20 years ago – Radar Entomology – showing how radar can be used to pest control. The book discusses the applications of radar findings in the management and forecasting of harmful and beneficial insects, and is an important reference for those working in agricultural entomology and pest control.