Over 900 insect species identified at “commando” wood in the Scottish Highlands - The Woodland Trust

A tenacious ecologist has identified 946 species of mostly flying insects in a West Highland wood – and he is still counting!

Dogged dipterist Ian Strachan’s marathon microscope effort began with samples taken five years ago at Loch Arkaig Pine Forest in Lochaber.

The study is thought to be the most thorough ever conducted in a western pinewood in Scotland’s rainforest zone and shows the amazing biodiversity of the habitat. It also shows the extraordinary tenacity of a man with a passion for nature.

Loch Arkaig Pine Forest was bought by Woodland Trust Scotland and local group Arkaig Community Forest in 2016. Funding raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery has contributed to the purchase of the site and the ongoing restoration work.

Various baseline surveys were commissioned to assess what was in the wood – including birds, fungi and lichens. Ian from nearby Roy Bridge was commissioned to survey the insect life.

“The minute you say West Highland insects most people think of the dreaded biting midge,” he said. “Many will be amazed just how small a component those and other biters like clegs are in the scheme of things. There is much more buzzing around at Loch Arkaig than biting midges, though they do have a particular talent for making their presence felt!”

Ian took his first samples from two locations in the forest in 2018 using Malaise traps – tent-like contraptions that funnel flying insects into a jar of preservative alcohol.

He then set about the laborious task of separating out and identifying individual specimens under a microscope. By the time he had sent in his first report in 2020 he had identified 316 species, including two fungus gnats entirely new to the UK. Boletina gusakovae is usually found in Finland and Russia and Mycetophila idonea in Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, Georgia and Luxembourg.

Since then Ian has continued to work his way through the rest of his original 2018 samples. His species total from those has now reached 650. In addition, some further samples were taken in 2021 using techniques including sweep netting and water traps. This has added a further 219 species to Ian’s list.

The grand total to date is 946 invertebrate species made up of 869 flying insects including midges, dance flies, hoverflies, fungus gnats, barkflies, mayflies, stoneflies, dragonflies, alderflies and caddis flies - plus 77 non-flying species, mostly spiders but also including millipedes, centipedes, woodlice, springtails and ticks.

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Posted On: 23/08/2023

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