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Museum expertise helps conserve Thailand's biodiversity

06 September 2007

Scientists from the Natural History Museum have helped put together Thailand's first national collection and identification facility for insects.

The state-of-the-art infrastructure will help conserve the biodiversity in Thailand and was opened in May 2007.

Disapearing biodiversity

Biodiversity in Thailand is at risk from deforestation, pollution and human population pressure and half of Thailand's natural forests have disappeared in the last 30 years.

There are over 1000 plant and animal species that are endangered, making it essential to have a good specimen collection and trained local people to tackle this problem.

Project leader Dr Ralph Harbach, mosquito and insect expert at the Museum, said, 'Thailand's plant species have been well-studied, but only a fifth of the estimated 87,500 indigenous animal species have been identified, of which almost half are insects.'

'This new infrastructure provides the cornerstone for Thailand's national biodiversity and conservation research on insects.'

State-of-the-art facility
State-of-the-art cabinets hold insect specimens in climate-controlled rooms.

State-of-the-art cabinets hold insect specimens in climate-controlled rooms.

The new facility is based on the system used at the Natural History Museum in the UK, which looks after a comprehensive collection of insects from Southeast Asia and the rest of the world.

Museum scientists helped put systems in place to collect and look after biological specimens, train local people and develop research opportunities.

Some of the facilities include state-of-the-art insect cabinets in climate-controlled rooms. These are essential because, when insect specimens are added to a collection, they are at risk of being eaten by other insect pests.

Three groups of insects

There are more species of insect in the world than any other group, so the team began by collecting insects from three groups: flies (order Diptera), beetles (order Coleoptera) and butterflies and moths (order Lepidoptera).

Colleagues collecting mosquitoes

Colleagues collecting mosquitoes

It is also necessary to have samples of all the different stages in the life cycle of an insect. Dr Harbach helped to collect and identify the larval, pupal and adult stages of 126 mosquito species.

International collaboration

The project is a collaboration between the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden in Thailand, the Darwin Initiative (DEFRA, UK) and the Natural History Museum UK.

'As a very successful international collaboration,' says Dr Harbach, 'this will also be a valuable international resource for conservation studies of endangered insects.'

The infrastructure has already attracted a new international project with the remit of studying the biodiversity of insects in 30 of Thailand's national parks.