What is the difference between an insect and a raindrop?
Weather radars are constantly collecting information about rain, but in doing so a lot of other data is collected too - including data relating to insects. Evidence concerning worldwide insect declines is growing, and weather radar data represents a new way of monitoring what insects are doing over large spatial scales. This is what we at the BioDAR project are interested in - creating an openly accessible “weather map” of aerial insect activity across the UK.
The BioDAR Project was conceived by a group of biologists and radar scientists at the University of Leeds. The project was designed to use a mixture of machine learning, field observations, and 3D modelling to determine the extent of the ecological information that can be extracted from weather radar data. Like many of us, the pandemic disrupted our lives and workflow; it put our fieldwork and in-situ data collection on hold and we had to think of different ways to help validate some of our research questions, so we turned to mass swarming events and citizen science.
Each year in the UK we witness “flying ant day” - several days across each summer where males and new queens from species like the black garden ant (Lasius niger) take to the air to mate and disperse in search of new nesting sites. We are using these swarming events to see if this massive increase in insect activity can be detected by our weather radar.
But to do this we need your help!
We have created a quick and easy web survey that you can fill in to help us track flying ant swarms across the UK. So if you see flying ants this year, please report your sightings - we’d really appreciate it! The survey be found here: https://forms.gle/P3Tof3os6idBCYMA6, or by scanning the QR code below, and takes less than a minute to fill in.
If we are able to reliably detect flying ant swarm activity using weather radars, this will allow us to explore in-depth the environmental conditions that trigger swarming; not only at ground level, but also at higher altitudes. It will also give us a peek into how spatially restricted (or not) their dispersal is, and whether this differs across different landscapes. And finally, it will enable us to map this phenomenon over time, and investigate how environmental change affects flying ant activity.
If you have any questions concerning BioDAR or our flying ant project, please contact Prof. Elizabeth Duncan at email@example.com or Tom Dally at firstname.lastname@example.org