The California Insect Survey was formally initiated as a project in the Agricultural Experiment Station in 1940. It arose out a growing realization among entomologists that our knowledge of the most basic aspects of insect biology was far below the level required for effective application to agricultural and other practical problems. The strong systematic community in the San Francisco Bay area made an excellent point of genesis for such a program.
The following are the objectives of the CIS:
- To discover and illustrate the diversity and composition of the terrestrial arthropod fauna of California, with emphasis on native species and natural communities. Desired information includes geographical and seasonal distributions, ecological ranges and biological relationships.
- To develop and maintain research collections in the Essig Museum of Entomology that reflect the composition and affinities of the California fauna and provide the basis for systematic studies and biogeograpical and faunal analyses.
- To make the resultant data available in published form and in databases, through cooperative efforts of our staff and systematists of other academic, State, and Federal agencies.
Insects and other terrestrial arthropods vastly outnumber all other animals combined in species numbers. Arthropods are involved in many complex ecological interrelationships as detritivores, herbivores, pollinators, vertebrate prey, predators and parasites of other insects, and vectors of diseases to plants and vertebrates. They comprise the most diverse and important organisms in the fabric of communities. They are of primary importance to agriculture, forestry, human health, livestock, and wildlife. We are only just beginning to understand the roles of many arthropod species, both destructive and beneficial, in these systems. Public and scientific awareness of biodiversity and its decline is increasing. That no censuses for any major order of California insects exist is a serious impediment to the implementation of programs designed to conserve biodiversity. An essential first step in establishing the conservation and management needs of various insects is a knowledge of their basic biology. That this information is in extremely short supply is foremost in the minds of CIS researchers.
Since the inception of the project, CIS collections have focused on various areas of the state, a given area generally receiving attention for several years running. The areas thus sampled therefore are represented by a relatively thorough sample of their respective faunas. This is best exemplified by the “Spring Field Trip” which was conducted annually by members of the Department of Entomology from 1948 through the 1980s. During 1948-1958 these trips concentrated on desert and semidesert areas in southern California. Between 1959 and 1968 the emphasis shifted to primarily the foothill areas of the coast ranges and southern Sierra Nevada. Collecting expedidtions by the CIS since 1969 have been conducted all over California in areas such as the Owens Valley, the California Channel Islands, the Northern Coast Ranges, and Sequoia National Forest, among others. The CIS has also sponsored extensive fieldwork in areas outside of California, particularly in the northern Neotropical region. Beginning in 1951 when P. D. Hurd travelled in Mexico with the support of the Associates for Tropical Biogeography, annual expeditions to various areas in Mexico and Central America have provided the Essig Museum with one of North America’s richest collections of Mesoamerican insects.
More recent activities of the Survey focused on intensive, year-round biodiversity inventories at selected localities, rather than the geographically more extensive but seasonally sporadic surveys that were emphasized during early decades of the project. Database capture of both local faunal census data and catalogs of the described species known from California were initiated in the 1990s and continue with the assistance of the Berkeley Museum Informatics Project (MIP).
In 2001, the California Insect Survey was transferred to the University of California at Davis. However, the work started at Berkeley will continue and will be developed in conjunction with online capabilities to provide the research community with maximum access to data on California’s insects. Through publications in the Bulletin of the California Insect Survey, the CIS has treated approximately 12% of the state’s insect fauna. Many other publications in various media are founded largely on CIS collections and resources.
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