In southern Ontario we are living amongst the fragments of one of the rarest ecosystems remaining in eastern North America. Remnants of oak savanna, a habitat dominated by several species of oak trees and open grassy understorey, persist in tiny pockets throughout southern Ontario and adjacent states. The largest remaining fragments of this habitat in Canada occur in the Regional Municipality of Haldimand-Norfolk (particularly in the area around St. Williams), and in Lambton County (in pockets along the lakeshore from Grand Bend to Sarnia, and areas around Windsor). This ecosystem first gained public prominence in the late 1980's with the plight of the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly. Dr. Dale Schweitzer played one of the most important roles in early studies of Lepidoptera in this habitat in Ontario and alerted others to the Karner Blue situation. Despite protection of the butterfly and some areas of suitable habitat, the species is now extirpated in Ontario. Fortunately, other populations of this species persist in savanna sites in the NE USA.
However, the legacy of this species in Ontario lives on and the Karner Blue has served to illustrate how important insects are to monitoring the health of fragmented ecosystems like oak savanna. On the heels of the Karner Blue's demise in Ontario came one of the first attempts to survey the insect fauna of North Lambton County. From May 1991 to September 1994, primarily Jeff Skevington, Gord Vogg, Don Tyerman, Ken Stead, and Ian and Neva Carmichael collected insects at Pinery Provincial Park. Survey work continued less intensively in 1995 and 1996. This work involved hand collecting and Malaise trapping in all available habitats throughout the summer. Spring and fall were sampled less intensively. Approximately 600 hours were spent hand collecting in Pinery.
At the same time as these informal surveys were being conducted, Dr. Laurence Packer of York University began collecting insects in oak savannas in Ontario in 1994. He obtained the assistance of Steven Bright of Lambton Wildlife Incorporated (LWI) who erected Malaise insect traps in the Karner Blue Sanctuary (KBS) that year.
In 1995, Jeff Skevington proposed that LWI coordinate a formal survey using the data collected since 1990 plus specimens that could be captured during the 1996 season. Plans were formulated and the Port Franks Properties Management Committee of LWI became the official managers of the Lambton Insect Inventory. Numerous LWI members contributed to this project, both in the field and in administration and fundraising. Pete Banks and Joe Connop formed the administrative backbone of the project and Jeff Skevington conceived and carried out the project.
Over $31,000 was raised to pay for collection, identification and publication of data containing close to 3,000 confirmed species. Special mention should be given to Ken Stead (an LWI member from Brantford), who, since 1993, has provided Lepidoptera data that have been confirmed by professional entomologists. This contribution forms an integral part of our inventory.
With the support of LWI and financial backing, survey work was expanded in 1996 to include the Karner Blue Sanctuary and Port Franks Forested Dunes (PFD), which had received only cursory study in previous years. Collections were made by hand and by six Malaise traps in a variety of habitats from 1 June to 30 September (primarily by Jeff Skevington). Three hundred and forty-three hours were spent in the field collecting by hand. Jeff and Angela Skevington then sorted, pinned, and labelled much of the material and started the process of identification. With the help of twenty-one amateur and professional entomologists (see acknowledgements) the list was built. Dave Caloren took over from Jeff as the project scientist from April to December 1997 and Jeff has continued to be involved with the project until the present. If you have any questions about the project please contact Jeff <email@example.com>.
Data accumulated from this
inventory will be used as a baseline to judge changes to North Lambton
ecosystems made over time. This includes changes brought about by direct
habitat management. Oak savanna is maintained naturally via fires and mammal
grazing (ie. deer numbers). Both fire and deer numbers are now under direct
human management in North Lambton reserves and parks. The floral assemblage
of these preserves are relatively easy to monitor but do not provide the
best overview of ecosystem health. Our goal is not to create beautiful
botanical gardens devoid of much of the original animal life. Over time,
insects will provide us with the fine resolution needed to successfully
manage these ecosystems. They form the bulk of the animal diversity on
the sites and dozens of species may follow
in the Karner Blue's footsteps if we do not quickly come to understand the intricate balance that exists in these areas that we treasure. Hopefully, this insect inventory and publications that result from it will identify potential indicator species that can be used to monitor the health of these sites well into the future.
This project has been heartily
endorsed by Dr. John Morton of the University of Waterloo, Dr. Steve Marshall
of the University of Guelph and Dr. Dale Schweitzer, a consultant to the
Ministry of Natural Resources and the US Nature Conservancy. Twenty-one
amateur and professional entomologists have contributed data and time to
the taxonomy of the project and a virtual army of volunteers have helped
with fieldwork and administration. See acknowledgements below.
The History and the Future of Entomology in Lambton County
Several scientists have recognized
the importance of North Lambton County over the years and helped to build
the backbone of data for the region. George E. Shewell was the first to
collect heavily in the savanna areas around Grand Bend before it was a
park (in the 1930's). Specimens that he collected are in the Canadian National
Collection in Ottawa and provided the best long term comparative data for
our work. More recently (in the 1980's), Dr. Kevin Barber spent a great
deal of time collecting Diptera in and around Pinery. Kevin is a remarkable
collector and accumulated a considerable diversity of flies during his
time working in North Lambton. Specimens that he collected are in the University
of Guelph collection and formed the base of our Diptera list. Ever since
Kevin's work, Guelph has
been the focal point for research on the diversity of Lambton insects. The collection at Guelph has become the best source of data for insects of this region and was the site of deposition for all of our material. Steve Marshall and his staff have always been very supportive of our inventory project. Unidentified material from the survey continues to be identified by University of Guelph insect collection staff; however, in the absence of funding these additions cannot be incorporated into the list and the overall list cannot be databased. Hopefully this situation can be corrected in the future. In the meantime the material continues to be used and progress continues to be made with identifications.