Mike Rutherford often spends his weekends exploring local rainforests in search of insects. At times he’s accompanied by a camera crew from the BBC, Discovery Channel or a group of UWI students. On other days he makes the solitary trek to the home of a collector who wants to share unique items, which may range from whale bones to butterflies. As The UWI Zoology Museum’s curator, he works alongside colleagues, Raj Mahabir and Jenna Ramnarine, to examine, catalogue and include several of these finds into the impressive collection housed at the St. Augustine Campus. Recently, the museum expanded significantly and is currently home to the largest insect collection in the country.
About the CABI Collection
In July 2012, The University of the West Indies Zoology Museum (UWIZM) acquired the CABI (Centre for Agricultural Bioscience International) Insect Collection. This merger of the largest and second largest insect collections in Trinidad and Tobago, means that in this one room there are now over 50,000 specimens.
The collection dates back to 1949 when Freddie Simmonds moved to Trinidad to study the insect predators of the invasive weed Black Sage (Cordia curassavica) and it grew from there.
Probably the most important contributor to the development of the collection was Fred Bennett. For the more than 30 years that he worked at CABI he collected many specimens and got much material named. As the Entomologist-in-charge he was also the person who allocated resources to create a collection room, buy the cabinets and organise all the locally made insect trays.
Many CABI staff entomologists prepared project collections based on their research interests including Matthew Cock, who did the majority of the Lepidoptera collecting, Rachel Cruttwell (now Rachel McFadyen) and the late Maajid Yaseen. Some would have made collections of other groups of insects that interested them, or insects that caught their attention.
Various visiting researchers also gathered specimens and left some or all to be added to the collection, these included Joanna Darlington, Marinus Sommeijer, John Noyes, Dick Baranowski, June & Floyd Preston and Julius Boos.
The bulk of the material is from Trinidad, but specimens have been added from Tobago and from other Caribbean and Latin American countries on an opportunistic and project-driven basis.
In the 1990s, Michael Morais was responsible for the collection and in the 2000s Perry Polar looked after it for a short period. In the late 2000s it was decided that the collection was no longer being utilised properly at CABI, as research projects had moved into new areas, and that a merger with the UWIZM would be the best way to preserve it for future generations.
– Michael Rutherford
How does bio-diversity help humans?
The importance of biological diversity for human well-being and even survival has become increasingly clear in recent years. Arthropods make up nearly 90% of the estimated 30 million animal species on our planet. Of these, insects are the dominant group with about 80% of all animal species. Disappointingly, it is estimated that more than 85% of all insects remain uncollected and have yet to be described. The situation is particularly acute in the tropics, and Small Island States (SIDs) such as those in the Caribbean are no exception. The situation in SIDs is further exacerbated by the thrust of infrastructure development and lack of trained human resources. Added to this is the reluctance of the donor community to invest in SIDs whose importance would seem to be relatively lower compared to the continental landmasses.
It is common knowledge that of the Caribbean states, Trinidad and Tobago has the most diverse flora and fauna and it would be most unfortunate if the means could not be secured that would allow further development and utilisation of this rich natural resource. This would not only be of benefit to Trinidad and Tobago but also the region as a whole.
Arthropods we can’t do without…..
Arthropods provide a wide range of utilitarian, ecological, scientific, aesthetic and cultural values. In addition to being the dominant group of animals which influence a great deal of ecosystem function and thus ecological sustainability of our planet, there are numerous direct benefits. For instance, arthropods play a significant role in nutrient cycling and indeed, the group can compose half the animal biomass in some tropical forests. From an agricultural standpoint, most people will be familiar with honey and silk production but few are aware that about one third of the world’s crop production depends directly or indirectly on pollination by insects.
….and some we can do without!
Despite the beneficial aspects, it is also true that arthropods and particularly insects cause untold losses and misery. Many are serious pests of crops, livestock and humans, causing direct damage or as vectors of serious diseases. Indeed it is perhaps not surprising that because of this much of the general public has a strong feeling of anxiety, antipathy, and revulsion towards arthropods. While such attitudes can be changed through public education, clearly a major challenge is how to manage those arthropods we don’t need while conserving those we do need. As mentioned above, IPM is widely accepted as the solution. IPM is a knowledge rich strategy which requires an in-depth knowledge of the cropping systems including natural enemies.
Concern for conserving global biological diversity has been fostered as well by an awareness of increasing numbers of species becoming endangered or extinct, particularly in association with widespread habitat destruction by humans. The status of arthropods from a Caribbean context is less clear due to the poor state of knowledge. However, extrapolating from agricultural situations, one can only conclude that it is vital that conservation of arthropods be taken as seriously as conservation of other groups. Unfortunately despite the possible catastrophic extinction of species including arthropods, the general public and most policymakers are largely unaware of how such a loss may affect human well-being in the long-term.
Why do we need Collections?
One of the main obstacles to beneficial use of insect and terrestrial arthropod resources as well as their conservation is inadequate scientific reconnaissance of their diversity. To be effectively used, arthropod diversity must be discovered, described, and organised. Material so collected is reposited in a collection and becomes a basis for reference, identification and training and public awareness.
Collections in Trinidad
The largest arthropod collection in Trinidad and Tobago, the CABI has been merged with The University of the West Indies collection. There are two other sizeable collections: the Barcant Collection maintained by Angostura Ltd and the Urich Collection. There are also several small collections at the Ministry of Food Production, Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC), the National Museum and Caroni (1975) Ltd. There are several other collections covering other groups but the most notable is the National Herbarium which provides a service to the region.
– Excerpt from an article by Moses Cairo