Dr Chris Reid, Australian Museum Entomologist, talks about how his work and how it relates to Biodiversity.
Hello. My name is Chris Reid. I’m an expert on beetles here at the Australian Museum and by working on beetles, I’m working on a major component
of biodiversity in the world.
My favourite beetles are leaf beetles. We have 3,000 specie of leaf beetles in Australia – the group that I study.
Many of these are neither pests nor are known to be beneficial in any direct way. They’re simply a component of the enormous biodiversity in this country.
3,000 species of beetles in one family, more than 100 families of beetles in Australia, and more than 40,000 species of beetles in the whole of Australia. The particular family that I study – the leaf beetles – feed on plants. That’s why they’re called ‘leaf beetles’. They all feed on plants, but we don’t know the plant hosts for most of the species.
So, in fact, we don’t know what they’re doing out in the bush, out in the natural environment. And we don’t know whether loss of those species might lead to the release of some plants as terrible pests in some part of the country, or whether loss of those species might, in some way, cause an imbalance in the environment.
But we find out, often through our own actions, when we’re putting in plantations of trees, for example. A new plantation of trees up in Darwin, of sandalwood, brought in a beetle species in the group that I work on that had never been noticed before as a pest. Suddenly, a major pest of that plantation. Plantations of eastern Australian eucalypts put in in the Perth area have recently attracted many, many species of pests which had never been noticed as pests before.
These species are just sitting out there in the bush, toddling along, doing their own little thing, waiting for us to do something silly to the environment that makes life much nicer for them.
This problem – not knowing exactly what all of these species are doing out there in the environment – is the core part of my research. What I’m trying to do is work out, through working out relationships, how we might guess what potential pests might do in the future if we put in new plantations or if we disturb the environment in particular ways.
And it’s a never-ending research project, given that there are 40,000 species of beetles in Australia.
Last Updated: 4 August 2010
Dr Chris Reid View full size
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