Meet the sci­en­tist

Prin­ci­pal En­to­mol­o­gist at the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents - S Find­ing a web­spin­ner colony in a glasshouse at RHS Garden Wis­ley was ab­so­lutely amaz­ing. T

En­to­mol­o­gist An­drew Sal­is­bury on dis­cov­er­ing a web­spin­ner colony at the RHS Garden Wis­ley

When An­drew Sal­is­bury first joined the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety (RHS) as a re­search as­sis­tant in 1998, lit­tle did he know that he would come across an ex­cit­ing dis­cov­ery 20 years later.

A school ad­vi­sor once told An­drew Sal­is­bury that entomology ca­reers didn’t ex­ist and sug­gested he go and work in a fac­tory. Thank­fully, he wasn’t dis­suaded. Even as a young boy, the RHS’s prin­ci­pal en­to­mol­o­gist kept cater­pil­lars and cock­roaches and was al­ways the child that took an­i­mals home from school to look after.

Aged 12 he started record­ing in­sects while vol­un­teer­ing at the Her­bert Art Gallery and Mu­seum, Coven­try. His pas­sion for in­ver­te­brates even­tu­ally led to a PhD at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don on the host range and chem­i­cal ecology of the lily bee­tle. Sal­is­bury cur­rently works as part of the RHS Plant Health team, un­der­tak­ing re­search and pro­vid­ing ad­vice on pests and bio­di­ver­sity.

Last sum­mer, an un­ex­pected dis­cov­ery came across his desk: “It was a real first for me,” he says. “Find­ing a web­spin­ner colony in a glasshouse at RHS Garden Wis­ley was ab­so­lutely amaz­ing.” Sal­is­bury was look­ing at Apostho­nia cey­lonica – proof of the first new in­sect or­der in Bri­tain for 100 years.

Web­spin­ners live in tun­nels con­structed from silk web­bing, largely feed on de­cay­ing plant ma­te­rial and live in colonies. Apostho­nia cey­lonica is a trop­i­cal species that mea­sures about 1cm long and feeds within the hanging roots of plants such as orchids and bromeli­ads. Gen­er­ally found in Thai­land, it is likely to have been im­ported via the plant trade.

“The con­fir­ma­tion of a new group­ing is ev­i­dence of the role that glob­al­i­sa­tion has, and will con­tinue to play, on what is found in our gar­dens,” says the en­to­mol­o­gist. But this Em­bioptera or­der isn’t the only new dis­cov­ery that has been made dur­ing Sal­is­bury’s re­search.

He has re­cently com­pleted a four-year Plants for Bugs field ex­per­i­ment to in­ves­ti­gate whether the ge­o­graph­i­cal ori­gin of garden plants af­fected the abun­dance and diversity of in­ver­te­brates they sup­ported. Dur­ing this study, he col­lected a par­a­sitic wasp, new to Bri­tain, known as Heterospil­us hemipterus.

Us­ing 36 plots, each 3x3m, con­tain­ing hardy plants na­tive to the UK, the rest of the north­ern hemi­sphere (ex­clud­ing the UK) and the south­ern hemi­sphere, Sal­is­bury and his col­leagues recorded tens of thou­sands of in­ver­te­brates.

All the plant groups sup­ported large num­bers of in­ver­te­brates, but the na­tive plants were the most suc­cess­ful. The study also found that if plants were densely planted or al­lowed to grow, they sup­ported a greater abun­dance of in­ver­te­brates.

“We ex­pected more dif­fer­ences than there were,” says Sal­is­bury. “The ex­otic plants did sup­port re­ally good num­bers of in­sects, and al­most as many as na­tive.” He sug­gests plant­ing mixed gar­dens: “What­ever you plant will sup­port a range of species, but the more plants in flower, the bet­ter.” Jo Price

Sal­is­bury uses a spe­cial Vor­tis suc­tion sampler to col­lect in­ver­te­brates. Below: the trop­i­cal Apostho­nia cey­lonica.

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