The newspaper of Imperial College London
 Issue 139, 31 March 2004
£76m centre for clinical imaging«
Tribute to miracle miler Sir Roger«
Harriet’s prime howler!«
International student awards«
Making a grand entrance«
Lowering blood pressure«
It’s a bug’s life«
Will powers IC Trust«
We’re on the map«
Britain the ‘tobacco control time-warp’«
Cutting carbon emissions«
When too much competition can prove unhelpful…«
Emotional intelligence scrutinised«
Move to new headquarters«
Staff Pay and Grading update«
An international night to remember«
Water way to make a splash at College…«
Science soirée at Silwood«
Snap happy…«
In Brief«
Media Spotlight«
What’s on«

It’s a bug’s life

by Tom Miller

SHARING the same enemy could be all that’s needed to affect the development of different species of insects in tropical rain forests.

A tractor removes the host plant from the experimental plots

Painstaking research reported in Nature demonstrates how species that never meet may influence each other’s ecology through shared parasites.

Ecologists have long believed that species which have nothing in common but a ‘natural enemy’ — something that eats or parasitises both of them — may interact indirectly.

Now compelling new experimental evidence on how tropical rain forest food webs are constructed may have important implications for environmental management.

The authors of the research from the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Population Biology at Imperial and the University of Oxford, carried out the large-scale field experiment at the Natural History Museum’s Las Cuevas Research Station in Belize, Central America.

In research supported by NERC, they removed all traces of the plant that sustained two particular leaf miner larvae. A year later, they found significantly lower parasitism and significantly higher abundance among the other beetles and flies which existed in the food web.

“This is basic ecological research intended chiefly to increase our understanding of these insect communities, but it also speaks to a number of biodiversity and management issues,” explained Professor Charles Godfray from the centre, and author of the research.

“It suggests that removal or addition of species, for example through selective logging or the release of a biological control agent, may have knock-on effects mediated by the network of natural enemies.”

If the results are also typical of herbivore communities, say the authors, the development of this theory, and its associated experimental tests, will be essential to understand the diversity and structure of insect communities, especially in the species-rich tropics.

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