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Dietary overlap of birds, bats and dragonflies disadvantageous in insect decline


University of Turku

According to a new Finnish study, different groups of insectivores compete for the same type of food. Researchers of the University of Turku, Finland, and the Finnish Museum of Natural History made a discovery by comparing birds, bats and dragonflies that forage in the same area in Southwest Finland. These very distantly related predators consumed the same insect groups, such as flies, mosquitoes, and other dipterans. The results shed new light on the decline in insect populations, because a remarkable portion of insectivores may actually be in greater danger than previously believed.

According to the study, one common source of food for birds, bats and dragonflies is chironomids. These mosquito-lookalikes do not consume anything as adults and can be found in great masses on the surfaces of lakes and other water systems. In Finland alone, there are up to 800 species of chironomids. Chironomids are a very substantial and diverse family, and many insectivores have taken to their flavour. If an important group of insects like this dies out, the cascading effect on the nature and humans may be considerable.

- This is exactly what causes deeper concern. If many predators consume roughly the same food, the decline of chironomids, for example, could lead to an unprecedented ecocatastrophe, explains University Lecturer Eero Vesterinen from the Department of Biology at the University of Turku.

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