Conserving Little Things That Matter - KLT’s 2019 Lyceum

Bob Kimber, KLT Advisor

Phil deMaynadier, a biologist with Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, led off this year’s lyceum with a talk about the department’s efforts to locate, map, and protect habitats essential to the wellbeing not only of aquatic insects—the main focus of his remarks—but of other species as well. In the course of his talk, Phil used the phrase “conserving little things that matter,” which struck me as an appropriate motto for all three of this year’s lectures, because each one showed us vividly how much these little creatures do indeed matter.

Charlene Donahue, retired Maine Forest Service Entomologist and President of the Maine Entomological Society, began her talk on terrestrial insects by noting a few of the crucial roles insects play in maintaining the ecological health of our world. Despite all the benefits insects provide to natural systems worldwide and to us humans as well, we have not been as considerate of them. Scientists in Germany have reported a 76-percent loss of flying insects over the last 27 years, and similar reports from around the globe have led scientists to declare half the world’s insect species in decline.

As to causes, the agricultural practice of using every square inch of tillable land and leaving no hedgerows for insects to winter over in is one major culprit, along with the use of insecticides and synthetic fertilizers. Also, invasive plant species can crowd out native plants. Then there are the impacts of global warming. In the final talk of the series, Roger Rittmaster, a retired endocrinologist and Maine Master Naturalist, reported on the many strategies he has used on his own property to combat these hazards to insects, strategies that make use of Roger’s extensive knowledge about the interactions between particular plants and insects. He also recommended some simpler steps all of us can take, which I’ll wager just about any entomologist would endorse: Don’t use pesticides and herbicides. Reduce lawn space. Grow native plants. Bushhog fields late in the fall. Let flowers bloom.