Insects and other arthropods can be important barometers of environmental health, and thanks to a National Science Foundation project led by scientists at Washington State University and Western Washington State University, researchers from around the globe will have easier access to one of the largest collections in the United States.
The M.T. James Entomological Collection at Washington State University has more than 3 million specimens and is actively enlarged. Using NSF funding, WSU entomologist Dr. Richard Zack will lead the development of a Web-searchable database of insects that are housed in the collection. “This database will allow individuals from throughout the world to access our holdings of insects and other arthropods in order to develop biological diversity information to aid in environmental impact studies and to search for pestiferous species,” Zack said.
Another advantage is the collection’s age, he noted. “As the collection has been active for over 100 years, access to this information also provides on the opportunity to examine changes in species diversity that have taken place over time and to look at the occurrences of invasive species introductions.”
Another aspect of the project is to develop a Web site to identify moths that occur in the Pacific Northwest. It also will feature detailed information about where and when the moths are found, what they eat, and their importance to the environment.
“Insect collections are like libraries with each specimen providing a chapter in understanding the biological world,” Zack said. “And like libraries, it can sometimes be difficult and very time-intensive to find what one is searching for. The development of the interactive web site and web-accessible database will make our holdings and the valuable information that they provide much more easily accessible.”