Insects are the most species-rich group of animals on Earth and fulfill a myriad of different ecosystem functions. Yet our knowledge about insect diversity in natural ecosystems is still surprisingly scarce. In the face of rapid declines of insect abundance and diversity – a phenomenon dubbed the insect apocalypse - there is a pressing need for a comprehensive large-scale monitoring and Insect Biome Atlas project (IBA) tackles this exact issue.
The insect biome atlas project
The Insect Biome Atlas project (IBA) is a Sweden-wide campaign designed to provide an adequate description of the national insect diversity, composition, and spatio-temporal dynamics. Over the course of one year, 4748 samples are collected from Malaise traps across Sweden by volunteers. The project overcomes the typically cumbersome and time-consuming process of insect taxonomic identification by applying a DNA-based method: metabarcoding - high-throughput sequencing of marker gene amplicons. Metabarcoding provides us with detailed information about the biological diversity present in a sample. Complemented with information on species abundances, it can become a powerful tool for gaining deeper insights into the ecology of insect communities. 

Stations with Malaise traps for insects sampling within the IBA project

Research work
In our lab at Naturhistoriska riksmuseet, we develop methods to gain information on the diversity and composition of the insect communities from the Malaise traps. The main method we apply is a combination of a non-destructive protocol with genetic barcoding of the whole samples, as well as on every individual insect present in the samples, as shown in Figure 1. This allows us to verify our metabarcoding results by comparing to the true composition of the sample (from individual barcoding) and build models for species abundances of the Swedish insect fauna.

A schematic overview of the two methods applied to insect samples from Malaise traps. All bulk insect samples are processed with the standard IBA’s mild lysis protocol - a DNA extraction method, that is non-destructive to the specimens – and then metabarcoded (upper panel). After mild lysis we perform individual insect barcoding (lower panel). We sorted all insects into separate wells of a microplate and did another DNA extraction, followed by DNA barcoding

Article about decline in insect diversity in the New York Times
Article in the New York Times
By Brooke Jarvis
Nov. 27, 2018
This work was produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union.
Meike Latz was supported by a research grant (34442) from VILLUM FONDEN.