Issues Magazine

The Tasmanian Forest Insect Collection

Source: 

Forestry Tasmania

Insects are one of the most diverse groups living in our forests. Some are pests that cause damage to trees, and some are natural enemies of the pest insects, but mostly insects contribute to the biodiversity of forests and are essential for the function of healthy forest ecosystems. We need to understand our insects to enable us to look after our trees, our forests and our biodiversity.

The Tasmanian Forest Insect Collection (TFIC) commenced in 1974 under the headship of Dr Humphrey Elliott, the Chief Scientist of the Division of Forestry Research and Development at that time and now a member of the Forestry Tasmania Board. The collection began with an initial focus on forest pests and their predators and parasitoids. Dick Bashford continued the focus on forest pests and particularly wood borers.

More recently, Dr Simon Grove has overseen a major focus on beetle biodiversity, particularly log-dwelling and ground beetles. The insects collected during many studies done by university students are also added to the TFIC.

The TFIC is one of only three state forestry-specific collections (Queensland and NSW hold the others), is registered as a satellite collection of the Tasmanian Museum & Art Gallery, and is also a member of the Council of Heads of Australian Entomological Collections.

The main value of the TFIC is in providing a reference that either links insect specimens with their accepted name, or, if un-named, with a consistent “morphospecies” (a grouping of insects with the same physical characteristics). This is particularly important for long-term studies, where it is critical to maintain the correct identity of insects collected at different times.

As the TFIC was becoming established, most specimens were sent to the Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra for identification. Now, however, many insect identifications are done in-house or in collaboration with overseas entomologists who specialise in particular groups. In the future we may rely more on DNA techniques to identify insect specimens.

During the past few years there has been a major reorganisation of the TFIC to group specimens according to their taxonomic relatedness, greatly increasing the scientific value of the collection. Further adding to the value of the TFIC has been the development of the TFIC Database. All new specimens added to the TFIC are captured in the database and, progressively, many specimens already in the collection have been added as well. The TFIC currently contains approximately 320,000 specimens in 24 ten-drawer cabinets, 40% of which are databased (123,326 specimens, 98% of which are beetles), including 1944 species of beetles.

The TFIC has thus become a valuable resource for research into the link between forest management and biodiversity, and in supporting operational programs such as health surveillance and quarantine. As the TFIC continues to grow, it provides new opportunities for scientists to discover patterns across space and time – a critical aspect of forest management. Making the TFIC more accessible to scientists, and others, through a web-based portal is currently being examined.