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New citizen science survey reveals how wasps spread across the UK

The Big Wasp Survey, a citizen science project co-founded by University of Gloucestershire’s Professor Adam Hart, has yielded important genetic insights into the Common Wasp.

Professor Hart (pictured) and researchers from University College London (UCL) used data and samples of a species of yellowjacket wasp known as the Common Wasp collected by thousands of amateur ‘citizen scientists’, to conduct the first large-scale genetic analysis of the insect across its native range.

The insights revealed a single population of the wasp across Britain, while the insect’s genetics were more differentiated across the Irish Sea in Northern Ireland.

The findings suggest that the wasp is effective at dispersing itself widely, which may be one reason for its success in human-modified environments, both in its native range in Europe and as an invasive species in Asia and elsewhere.

Professor Hart, Professor of Science Communication within the University’s School of Education and Applied Science, said: “Our study showcases the potentially immense value of citizen science projects. Even though the samples were simply and inexpertly preserved, we were still able to conduct advanced genetic analyses and yield very useful findings.

“We are very grateful to our citizen scientists, as this could not have been achieved without people willing to volunteer their time to contribute to scientific research.”

Professor Seirian Sumner, from the UCL Centre for Biodiversity and Environment research, said: “Wasps are incredibly important as natural pest controllers and pollinators, so it’s very exciting that we’re able to improve our understanding of this common and fascinating insect with the support of citizen scientists, while also giving them the opportunity to get better acquainted with wasps, and see this much maligned insect in a different light.”

The Big Wasp Survey, sponsored by the Royal Entomological Society, has been running annually since 2017 after being co-founded by Professor Hart. In its first five years, 3,389 people took part in the survey, collecting over 62,000 wasps.

The data have produced reliable species distribution maps that are comparable in quality to those generated from four decades worth of data collected by experts.

The survey may also help to detect the yellow legged Asian hornet (Vespa velutina), which is an invasive species across Europe and has occasionally been sighted in the UK. 

The Big Wasp Survey’s latest end-of-summer sampling week for citizen scientists began on Monday and finishes this Sunday: visit to find out more.