Recent Work

ACCT conducts research on a range of issues related to threatened water beetles and their habitats.  Recent projects include:

New Royal Entomological Society HandbookVolume 2 of the British and Irish water beetle handbooks is now published, covering the Hydrophiloidea, and so including the terrestrial Helophorus and Sphaeridiinae as well as those beetles actually found in the water.  Work on the remaining water beetles for volume 3 is underway.

Hydroporus necopinatus  – Exploration of mitochondrial DNA variation in this species and its relatives has revealed a complex pattern of population history and hybridization, which has resulted in morphologically distinct populations such as H. necopinatus roni, which is restricted to the Dorset heaths.  Recently found in Ringwood Forest, outside the formerly known distribution.

Hydroporus rufifrons – Work on this species has revealed its current restriction to the south of the English Lake District, southern Scotland, and two areas of West Wales.  H. rufifrons is rarely found on protected sites, and is a key species of high-quality temporary and fluctuating ponds in the wider countryside, particularly on river floodplains, where it often occurs with the UK-BAP mud snail, Omphiscola glabra.  It appears to be particularly sensitive to the effects of fertilisers and other forms of agricultural ‘improvement’.  Recent research in Wales revealed some of the largest populations in the UK, but also showed that it is now restricted to small pockets of unimproved floodplain, sometimes on organic farms, and that adjacent areas with structurally similar habitats subject to fertilizer application do not support the species.

Graphoderus zonatus– Work at Woolmer Forest, the only UK site for this species, continues to monitor its pool occupancy, and the effects of invasive Crassula helmsii.

 Joint Nature Conservation Committee Review of the scarce and threatened water beetles of Great Britain is completed and can now be downloaded from the JNCC website.

SSSI Site Condition Monitoring – All Scottish wetland SSSIs with known water beetle interest have been surveyed as part of the Scottish Natural Heritage programme of site condition monitoring. The dataset is available on the NBN Gateway.

Norfolk Water Beetles – Norfolk is one of the most important areas in the UK for rare water beetles, associated particularly with well conserved areas of broadland, and the pingo fen systems of west Norfolk.  Surveys have been conducted in a number of sites, including East Walton Common and Hills and Holes in 2010. This is part of the ongoing programme to examine all known important water beetles sites in this key area of Britain.

 Two rarities of the Southeast: Haliplus varius & Limnebius crinifer – These rare species are restricted to the far SE of England, and have rarely been found since they were first recognised in the later 20th Century.  Surveys of all known sites in 2009, revealed the continued presence of H. varius, but L. crinifer  could not be re-located.

Beavers and Water Beetles – Little is known about the impacts beavers have on water beetle communities, and what we do know comes from North America, in systems very different from those of western Europe. Current UK beaver introductions provide an opportunity for us to learn more.  Two privately owned sites where beavers are already established have been surveyed as well as the sites in Knapdale surveyed in advance of beavers being introduced in May 2009. Sites will be resurveyed in a few years’ time to assess the impact of beavers of loch structure and water beetle diversity.  On a different note, Duff et al. (2013) recently reported the presence of the beaver beetle, Platypsyllus castoris in the UK, on wild Scottish beavers.

Ochthebius poweri – a coastal species restricted to seepages on sea cliffs.  Recent work has vastly improved our understanding of the ecology and status of this species, and shown it to be widespread in SW England, Wales and the south coast of Ireland, on a wide range of rock types, and resulted in its discovery in similar habitats in France and Portugal.  Work currently in progress is examining the status of inland populations of ‘poweri‘ which occur along rivers in southern Spain, which may represent a separate species.  A combination of DNA sequence data and morphological analysis is being used to assess the status of these animals, which have a very different ecology to coastal populations.

David Sharp – A Biography of one of the world’s most prolific Coleopterists – David Sharp (1840-1922) has been claimed as the founder of modern entomology, and made major contributions to the study of water beetles worldwide, including writing a monograph (1882) on the Dytiscidae which is still invaluable today. A recent Royal Society grant has facilitated a reappraisal of Sharp’s work, including the production of a full list of his publications and new taxa.  Fery (2013) lists all of Sharp’s publications, and a further work on his life will appear shortly.