Mass seasonal bioflows of high-flying insect migrants

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Science  23 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6319, pp. 1584-1587
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah4379

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Mass movement of “invisibles”

We know a lot about vertebrate migrations globally. However, the majority of animals that live on this planet are invertebrates, and we know very little about their movements. Hu et al. monitored the migration of large and small insects over the southern United Kingdom for a decade. They found that more than a trillion insects move across this region annually. The movement of such a large biomass has considerable impacts on the ecosystems between which the insects migrate.

Science, this issue p. 1584


Migrating animals have an impact on ecosystems directly via influxes of predators, prey, and competitors and indirectly by vectoring nutrients, energy, and pathogens. Although linkages between vertebrate movements and ecosystem processes have been established, the effects of mass insect “bioflows” have not been described. We quantified biomass flux over the southern United Kingdom for high-flying (>150 meters) insects and show that ~3.5 trillion insects (3200 tons of biomass) migrate above the region annually. These flows are not randomly directed in insects larger than 10 milligrams, which exploit seasonally beneficial tailwinds. Large seasonal differences in the southward versus northward transfer of biomass occur in some years, although flows were balanced over the 10-year period. Our long-term study reveals a major transport process with implications for ecosystem services, processes, and biogeochemistry.

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