Why should the world care about wasps? Ecological and economic importance of wasps

This project is available from the academic year 2020/21 onwards.

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Seirian Sumner

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

Seirian Sumner's Profile Picture

Project Description:

Wasps are one of the most biodiverse groups in the animal kingdom. They are more speciose than ants (11,000 spp), and bees (20,000 spp). Recent research suggests that 18% of UK predatory wasps are declining at 30% or more per decade. This is worse than bees, where 10-12% of species are declining at 30% per decade. Wasps are thought to play pivotal roles in ecosystems, as predators of a wide range of arthropods. This also makes them of economic value as pest controllers, as well as ecological value in control of natural arthropod populations. However, we lack any quantitative measure of the economic and ecological value of predatory wasps. In contrast, we have many estimates of the monetary value of bees and parasitoid wasps. The decline of key natural pest controllers, like wasps, may have serious knock-on effects in the natural environment as ecosystem servicers, and/or economic and environmental implications for our agricultural practices and food security. This project will be the first attempt to quantify the economic and ecological value of predatory wasps. This has important implications for agricultural practices as well as the impact as ecosystem servicers in natural environments.

Research questions include:
• What arthropod species do wasps predate on? Metagenomic next-generation sequencing will be used to identify prey in the guts of wasp larvae.
• How effective are predatory wasps in controlling arthropod populations? Field experiments will be used to determine the impact of social wasps as biocontrol agents in agricultural/natural ecosystems.
• How will declining populations of predatory wasps impact on agricultural and/or natural ecosystems? Bayesian Modelling methods will be used to predict the effects of wasp declines on arthropod populations.

Non-DTP co-supervisors include Prof Bill Symondson, University of Cardiff, and Dr Nick Isaac, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Policy Impact of Research:

Insects offer essential ecosystem services to natural and farmed landscapes. The importance of pollinators is well established. However, little is know about the importance of top insect predators, like the social wasps, in bio-control. This information is vital for predicting the future impact of declining populations of insects, conserving natural ecosystems, and managing a sustainable agricultural system.

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