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Plant-insect interactions

The following article appeared in Australasian Plant Conservation volume 19(2)

Building our knowledge of the inter-relationships between plants and insects: some books that assist

Maria Matthes: Ecological Sustainability Consultant, Bagotville NSW. Email: maria@healinghistory.com.au

In the last issue of Australasian Plant Conservation (page 33) I reviewed the wonderful CSIRO book The flowering of Australia’s rainforests: a plant and pollination miscellany, by Geoff Williams and Paul Adam. I suggested that as plant ecologists and conservationists alike the information is there for us to extract and put into a format that will be useful for our work or interest. I also noted that in understanding local pollinator populations, one can start the process of considering the likelihood of pollination success or failure, and appropriate planting arrangements. While detailed accounts and lists of pollinators were provided in the book, we need to be able to find, identify, and understand the species that interact with our local plants.

As much as I love all aspects of plant ecology and evolution, I am equally fascinated by the co-evolution of insects and plants over many millions of years. While invertebrates make up 99% of the world’s species diversity, most of which are insects, there are many gaps in our knowledge of the life cycle requirements of most insect species and of their distribution, particularly at local and regional scales. There is a plethora of examples of plant-insect relationships, including those species-specific relationships that have co-evolved. It is these relationships that need to be maintained in conservation land management planning and projects.  

The CSIRO has produced a number of guides to assist in the identification of different insect groups, including beetles, katydids, stick and leaf insects, butterflies, moths and dragonflies. I have prepared short reviews of most of these guides to encourage the many people working in plant conservation to look beyond the plants and to begin recording, photographing and documenting insect species, their life cycles and behaviours, the plants they pollinate, their relationship with other insects, and their larval food plants. My experience is that these books will make it easier for plant conservationists to become amateur or professional experts in recording and studying insects.

Click on the following links to see the review of each of these publications

The CSIRO has also published The Complete Field Guide to Dragonflies of Australia, which I have not reviewed.

We are facing a global pollinator and ecosystem crisis, affecting both agricultural and ecological productivity, which requires a greater understanding of the life histories of our insect biodiversity and the role insects play in maintaining the balance. I hope that a few people involved in plant conservation are inspired to take this challenge seriously!