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Bugs are more important than you think
Published on: Sunday, June 18, 2017

DOING an assignment on bugs is not about the most exciting thing one could do, unless you are Jack Devlin.

Jack who?

There are between six and 10 million species of insects around the world, all contributing in some small – or large – ways to the environment and food chain, according to the Incredible World of Insects.

Insects, certainly a nicer word than bugs, can be found on curiosity.com.

To most of us, some of the world's most beautiful insects are only seen through pictures.

Whether they disgust or fascinate you, insects are pretty amazing. Bees are the main pollinators of the food we eat, caterpillars transform into beautiful butterflies, and ladybugs munch on the aphids that destroy essential crop plants.

The Incredible World of insects goes on to say that bugs give us much more than just mosquito bites, so what can we do to help them in return? What is the role of bugs in our environment?

From the common housefly to surreal stick insects, bugs come in many different shapes and sizes, so says the World of Bugs.

They can be found all over the world and in just about every climate.

However, deforestation, climate change and urbanisation, among others, are killing off the insects that are key to the planet!

Let's get back to Jack – this dashing Welshman is from mid Wales and is currently at Cardiff University doing an undergraduate degree.

What is he doing in these parts of the world, especially at Danau Girang Field Centre, where his smile is most apparent these days?

Jack explains: "I am passionate about entomology (the branch of zoology on the study of insects) and especially interested in the roles that arthropods – invertebrates with jointed legs – play within the tropical ecosystem."

This writer had already wanted to take the next boat out of DGFC, but the lanky Welshman continues, "Insects are integral to the forests that surround Danau Girang, and therefore, it is key that these weird and wonderful animals are studied."

Arthropods make up about 75pc of all animals on Earth and have a major role in maintaining ecosystems as pollinators, recyclers of nutrients, scavengers and food for other animals.

Arthropods are divided into four major phylum: Hexapoda (insects); Myriapoda (including centipedes and millipedes); Chelicerata (including spiders, mites and scorpions); and Crustacea (including slaters, prawn and crabs).

Jack takes pains to explain that they make up about 80pc of all animals on Earth and include many animals we come across in our gardens, such as spiders, ants and centipedes.

"Arthropods are key to any ecosystem, and are heavily involved in many ecosystems processes, such as pollination and the nutrient cycle. They have incomparable diversity and abundance, making them key to the success of the habitat here in Sabah," he says.

Birds, mammals and larger reptiles, according to Jack, have dominated studies in ecosystem-level modified landscape research. A great deal more work is needed for invertebrates and plants.

Arthropods, on the other hand, tend to have a moderate rate of growth and population turnover, making them suitable taxa as bioindicators (Hodkinson, 2005). Arthropods also exist in a wide range of niche roles, acting as, but not limited to, predators, parasites, detritivores and herbivores.

Part Three of the Borneo Jungle Diaries is on bugs and environmental photojournalist, Aaron 'Bertie' Gekoski, will take you on a whirlwind journey into the world of bugs.

Asked three questions, Jack is quick to reply to the one on scares.

"No nasty experiences really! You just have to treat them with the respect they deserve," he said.

Would people want to travel from all around the world to see these bugs (at DGFC or Borneo)?

"I would say so – yes. There are many unique species here such as the lantern bugs and giant stick insects that should interest people!

"The most wonderful experience was finding one of the world's largest insects – Phobaeticus serraptis, which is a giant stick insect species found here at DG," was his reply to the third question.

While doing his research at DGFC, Devlin hopes to seek out more answers to a number of issues.

The past logging activities of the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary is expected to have altered the arthropod communities found within, and it is key to understand the arthropods that are surviving or even thriving in such a modified landscape.

Other studies have shown forest fragmentation to have a negative effect on populations in certain arthropod populations, but more work is needed, because of the sheer diversity found here and across Sabah!

"Due to the high diversity found in equatorial rainforests, and the rapid anthropological (human-based) changes, it is more appropriate to sample for a wide range of arthropod species, before it is too late!

"This project will attempt to quantify the diversity and family richness of arthropods by a variety of sampling methods within the sanctuary," he said.

Devlin adds that his project will identify any arthropods that are thriving in this modified habitat, creating a catalogue of arthropod diversity and density, from which conclusions can be drawn as to the health and suitability of the forest for higher taxonomic groups.

So the next time you see a bug, take a moment to realise just how important they are to the lives that you live!

Without them, life would be very difficult for mankind!

Borneo Jungle Diaries is produced by SZtv and follows environmental photojournalist, Aaron 'Bertie' Gekoski as he investigates life behind-the-scenes at the Danau Girang Field Centre.

All episodes have Bahasa Malaysia subtitles and be released on SZtv's website, YouTube and Facebook.

What's more, viewers are encouraged to take part in the competition that is being held;

All you have to do is answer five questions from the episode correctly each week to win a 4-day / 3-night stay the Danau Girang Field Centre. There will also be a grand prize at the end of the 10-series Borneo Jungle Diaries for those who get all questions correct across all quizzes.

For more information, check out Borneo Jungle Diaries on SZtv.

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