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Insect Biodiversity Survey

In this place-based experiential activity, students actively explore the diversity of insects found right below their feet.

Biodiversity refers to the variety of living species on Earth, including plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi. Biodiversity is measured by looking at the number of different organisms found in a specific area and the number of each type of organism present. It is usually recorded for a particular habitat or ecosystem as a biodiversity survey.

Biodiversity is a widely used tool for estimating the complexity, stability, and thus general health of an ecosystem. A variety and balance of all the different kinds of organisms (not just a high number of organisms) contributes to a healthy environment. A uniform population of a single species adapted to a particular environment is more at risk if environmental changes occur. A more diverse population consisting of many species has a better chance of including individuals that might be able to adapt to changes in the environment.

Biodiversity index

The biodiversity index describes the amount of species diversity in a given area. A simple biodiversity index is calculated as follows: number of species in the area ÷ total number of individuals in the area = biodiversity index

Example 1: let’s say an environment has three different organisms A, B, and C.

  • If there were 24 A organisms, 2 B organisms, and 4 C organisms, this environment would be low in biodiversity.
  • If there were 10 A organisms, 10 B organisms and 10 C organisms, then the environment would be considered higher in biodiversity.

Example 2:

  • a 4 X 4 meter square area in a carrot patch has 300 carrot plants, all the same species. It has a very low biodiversity index of 1/300, or 0.003.
  • A 4 X 4 meter square area in the forest has 1 pine tree, 1 fern, 1 conifer tree, 1 moss, and 1 lichen, for a total of 5 different species and 5 individuals. The biodiversity index here is high, 5/5 = 1.

Objectives

  • Observe the local biodiversity in insects.

  • Discuss factors that may effect insect biodiversity in the local environment.

Materials

  • Per Class:
    1 Bag of leaves/dirt/compost
    1 Large tarp
    10-15 yogurt containers

    Per Student:
    1 spoon

    Optional:
    Insect pooters
    Insect identification book or guide
    Magnifying glasses
    Paper and pencil

Key Questions

  • How many different types of organisms did you find?
  • Which organism did you find the most of?
  • Did you expect to find so many insects?
  • How should you treat an insect that you collect?
  • What kind of insects are you interested in collecting?
  • What do you expect to find?
  • Did you find something you have never seen before?
  • What habitats did you sample? What were the differences?
  • What conditions existed in the habitat that may have increased/decreased the biodiversity?
  • Calculate a Biodiversity Index. Would you consider this a high or low biodiversity environment? How can you tell?

What To Do

Set up

  1. Collect a bag of leaves and dirt and/or compost from the school yard (tip: use a shovel, pick an area that is in partial shade near vegetation), or give students time to explore the neighbourhood or schoolyard to find and collect insects in a yogurt container (discuss the importance of sticking to a defined area).
  2. Remove these contents on to the tarp on a table.

Activity

  1. Search through the leaves/dirt/compost for insects. Insects can be collected with insect pooters or a spoon to put them in yogurt containers.
  2. Sort the caught insects into groups of similar looking insects. Use the yogurt containers to separate different types of insects.
  3. Use magnifying glasses to look even closer at the organisms, and any available resources (Seek app, books, etc.) to narrow down and identify organisms.
  4. Document the different types and number of organisms on the board or large piece of paper (this may need adjustment if collections came from a variety of locations).
  5. Calculate the biodiversity index and discuss whether the pile of leaves/dirt/compost is an environment high in biodiversity.

Extensions

  • Chart or graph the biodiversity of insects observed.
  • Contribute to global Community Science by uploading observations to a database for scientists (iNaturalist)
  • If more than one habitat was sampled, compare the biodiversity. What might account for the differences recorded?
  • Discuss sampling bias, and how they method may have found more or less of a group of insects (large vs.small, colourful vs camouflaged, winged vs flightless etc.)
  • Design a sampling technique to account for under-sampled groups of insects (flight traps, pit traps, water traps etc.)
  • Discuss permanent collections of insect biodiversity and preservation/mounting techniques for museum specimens. Mount insects and create "mounting labels" with the scientific collection data for your specimen photos/drawings.

Other Resources

American Museum of Natural History | How to Calculate a Biodiversity Index

Nature Companion | Western Canadian Provinces Organism IDs

Insect ID| Bug Finder

Insect ID| Bug Guide

Natural Resources Canada| Forest Insects

Canadian Encyclopedia| Insects

iNaturalist Canada

Seek App