Acari research

Cheese mite

SEM image of a cheese mite, Tyrophagus casei

Principal Investigator

Dr Anne Baker

Project summary

  • Focus: Creating acari database resources and assessing mites as archaeological indicators of change
  • Funding: NERC

Mites can have both positive and negative effects economically. Some parasitic species can cause serious losses in food production, while predatory mites have been successfully used to target pests in biological control programmes.

Approximately 54,000 species of Acari (mites and ticks) have been named worldwide, with hundreds more described every year.

Biodiversity of British Acari

We are developing an illustrated website to help users identify members of the British Acari and locate information about them. 

Identifying British mites and ticks is difficult as taxonomic literature is scattered amongst scientific journals, while little of the fauna is covered by identification keys. 

As many taxa also occur in other geographical regions, the website will enable at least the preliminary identification of specimens from elsewhere in the world.

The website will include:

  • descriptions of collection and study methods for terrestrial Acari
  • accounts of morphology
  • an identification key to life stages
  • keys to major higher taxa, genera of ticks, major divisions of the Oribatida and Mesostigmata, and exemplar superfamilies and families of Astigmata and Prostigmata.

Checklist for British Mesostigmata

We are compiling a checklist and bibliography for British Mesostigmata, a mite order that includes economically important predators and parasites.

Mesostigmata are commonly found in soil, rotting vegetation and food stores, where most prey on small invertebrates and their eggs.

Each species entry is accompanied by references to published locality records. This allows users to trace the taxonomic history of species, and find ecological and biological information about them. 

The checklist will make new species and distribution records much easier to confirm and changes in the fauna more easily detected.

Box mite

SEM image of a box mite, Phthiracarus sp.

 

Mites as archaeological indicators of change

In this joint project with the University of Sussex, we are assessing mites as indicators of changing livestock densities, and therefore agricultural activity, leading up to the end of the Inca Empire.

At its height, the Inca Empire occupied a large area of western South America. Details of its development and ultimate collapse are poorly understood, partly due to the lack of a written history.

Livestock levels over time are being studied because ancient Peruvian cultures relied on domesticated animals (mainly llamas) for food, wool, fuel, fertiliser and transport. Changes in livestock densities affect the amount of dung and, therefore, nutrients deposited. Variation in habitat enrichment influences the number and species of mites present.

Mites are being extracted from 1200 years of sediment samples from the in-filled lake basin of Marcacocha in Peru. The site is an area of pasture on an ancient trans-Andean trading route where llama caravans would have been grazed and watered.

Identifying the mites will shed light on their habitat and food preferences. This information will be used to build a more detailed understanding of past agricultural activity in the region.

 

Museum staff

External collaborators

Dr Mick FrogleyDr Alex Chepstow-Lusty
University of Sussex

Funded by

Biodiversity research

We are creating molecular and digital tools to explore undiscovered biodiversity

Parasites and vectors

Understanding parasites and the organisms that transmit them to humans and animals

Zoology collections

Our zoology collection has 29 million animal specimens and is rich in voucher, type and historical specimens