Written by Francesca Danielle O. Suguitan
Illustration by Sophia de Guzman
Published 2021 November 15
What comes to mind when you think of a bug? Is it fear? Disgust? Sure, there are beautiful ones like butterflies and fireflies, but when you think of a bug, the first thing that usually comes to mind for others are centipedes, cockroaches and millipedes. When you see a bug, the first thought that comes to mind is: “Oh, gross!”, right? Because of this, insects are often disregarded or overlooked in conservation efforts. It begs the question as to why insects have such a bad reputation among the animal groups.
Despite the understated role of insects in the ecosystem, they often play a huge part as the foundations of all terrestrial environments. In fact, they have a dominant role in the maintenance of ecosystems because they cycle nutrients, pollinate plants and maintain soil structure and fertility . Naturally, there must be a way to detect the changes within an environment. Thus, the importance of bioindicators.
Bioindicators are used as a means to “predict the state of a certain region or the level of degree of contamination” . Oftentimes, this serves as a blanket definition for biotic and abiotic signals within the environment. Animals, for instance, can show the general health of an area based on their population size. Moreover, according to Patikh and Rawtani and Khatri (2020), because insects are often in close contact with different parts of the ecosystem such as water, land and air, they are perfect bioindicators.
While there are many insects that may be utilized as bioindicators, there is one group that serves as excellent indicators of the health of a marine ecosystem. This is the order Coleoptera where one can find many species of beetles.
Why beetles? Well, according to Ghannem, Touaylia and Boumaiza (2017), beetles are extremely sensitive to several ecological parameters. Because of that, there have been efforts to explore the possibilities of using beetles as bioindicators.
You may be surprised that there are local research efforts dedicated to the use of beetles! As bioindicators, beetles are able to respond quickly to minute changes in the environment which alerts those observing them of the pollution levels within the area . Not only are they flexible to their living conditions, since they are often in close contact with soil and water, it is easy for them to detect toxic elements within it.
In fact, one of Ateneo’s very own spearheaded a study on the potential use of the genus Hydraenidae in environmental biomonitoring. Hendrik Freitag (2014) posits that this diverse genus of marine moss beetles should undergo further analysis as potential signals because they are widely distributed within Southeast Asia. This shows that there lies an infinite amount of potential in the world around us—we need only look with a more critical eye.
Not only that, but our university’s very own Biodiversity Lab had found more than 40 new species of insects! 17 of them being aquatic beetles. With this in mind, the more we uncover about the different animals around us, the more ways we can revolutionize conservation efforts among these species. Moreover, by researching on the different species of this order, we are able to identify those that can be used as reliable bioindicators!
There are many factors that leave the Philippines at risk, yet climate change is not the only problem that needs to be addressed. Land pollution or soil contamination is steadily worsening due to the lack of rehabilitation efforts. For instance, lead has been found in the soils around Cavite due to a closed sanitary landfill .
By making use of bioindicators, we are able to catch the earliest signs of contamination within the ecosystem. While they will not necessarily prevent pollution from occurring, at the very least, they will be able to serve as signals for when there is a change in the environment. There are already an abundance of beetles in the Philippines. Because of its diversity, we cannot say for sure that each species is a perfect fit as a bioindicator. However, we need only to learn how to properly utilize the species that are most sensitive to the environment.
Undeniably, there are already prominent aspects of environmental research such as energy and resource conservation, but there must be a way to check the health of the environment using the very animals that inhabit it.
Based on the One Health Framework, we must have a holistic view on universal health—such that animals, humans and the environment can live in harmony. Insects, while always forgotten, are able to serve as the backbones for most terrestrial ecosystems. By taking advantage of their sensitivities to stimuli, we may be able to prevent any further damage to the world around us.
All in all, I would like to impart one final question for you.
Do you still find insects as inconsequential parts of our ecosystem?
- Parmar KT, Rawtani D, Agrawal YK. Bioindicators: the natural indicator of environmental pollution. Frontiers in Life Science [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2021 November 5];9(2):110-118. Available from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21553769.2016.1162753
- Schudder GE. Insect Biodiversity: Science and Society [Internet]. USA: Wiley Online Library; 2017. Chapter 2, The Importance of Insects[cited 2021 November 5]. 9-43. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781118945568.ch2
- Parikh G, Rawtani D, Khatri. Insects as an Indicator for Environmental Pollution. Environmental Claims Journal [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2021 November 7];33(2):161-181. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10406026.2020.1780698?journalCode=becj20
- Ghannem S, Touaylia S, Boumaiza M. Beetles (Insecta: Coleoptera) as bioindicators of the assessment of environmental pollution. Human and Ecological Risk Assessment [Internet]. 2017 October [cited 2021 November 5];24(1). Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/320259994_Beetles_Insecta_Coleoptera_as_bioindicators_of_the_assessment_of_environmental_pollution doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10807039.2017.1385387
- Freitag H. (2A Mega-Diverse Water Beetle Genus (Coleoptera: Hydraenidae: Hydraena Kugelann) Commonly Overlooked in Southeast Asia and its Potential Use for Environmental Biomonitoring. 201 Entomol Ornithol Herpetol [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2021 November 5];3:125. Available from doi:10.4172/2161-0983.1000125
- Altarez RDD, Sedigo NA. Existing land use and extent of lead (Pb) contamination in the grazing food chain of the closed Carmona sanitary landfill in the Philippines (used). Heliyon [Internet]. 2019 May [cited 2021 November 5];5(5):e01680. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6522692/#__ffn_sectitle
- Ateneo de Manila University, Department of Biology. More than 40 new species published by the Ateneo Biodiversity Laboratory in the year of the pandemic [Internet]. 2020 December [cited 2021 December 15]. Available from: https://www.ateneo.edu/ls/sose/biology/news/more-40-new-species-published-ateneo-biodiversity-laboratory-year-pandemic