Flies uncovered

Tuesday, 10 August, 2004

Australia will have a much greater capacity to understand its fly biodiversity with a generous endowment from an American benefactor.

Most Australians probably think of flies as nuisances. CSIRO entomologist David Yeates says, "Even though some flies are pests, Australia's flies play crucial ecological roles as nutrient recyclers, flower pollinators and natural pest controllers."

"We have used flies for the biological control of weeds, forensic pathology and even tourism. A few bad apples spoil our perceptions, but on balance we are much better off with flies than without them."

The endowment for CSIRO Entomology from the Californian-based Schlinger Foundation will increase Australia's capacity to understand its heritage of biological diversity.

"It is important that we know more about our insects because they are so important in ecosystems," Dr Yeates said. "Our knowledge of fly and other insect biodiversity in this country is rudimentary, and the job is very large."

"Flies and other insects are the most diverse organisms, and we have hundreds of thousands of species here. We have only a meagre understanding of the groups we have, where they occur and how they are related. We know even less about what ecological functions they perform, and what impact the different groups have in ecosystems."

"There is a great opportunity for Australia to plan its sustainable future as our knowledge of biodiversity grows. This information can be used in conservation planning, managing agricultural landscapes, and even help in such areas as drug discovery. There may be important lessons for all Australians as we learn more about how our animals and plants have evolved to cope with our harsh but fragile environment."

CSIRO Chief of Entomology Dr Joanne Daly says the Schlinger Foundation's Principal, Evert I. Schlinger, has endowed a perpetual fellow in Diptera (fly) systematics in CSIRO Entomology.

"The endowment, to be associated with Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC), continues the generous support the Schlinger Foundation has given the ANIC over many years," Dr Daly says.

"I am also pleased to announce that Dr David Yeates will be the first appointee to the position. Dr Yeates is one of our research leaders. He is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of the University of Queensland and the Australian National University as well as being a Research Associate of the American Museum of Natural History."

Dr Daly believes that the endowment is a great boost for the study of insect taxonomy and biodiversity in Australia. It also underlines the important role that the ANIC plays in developing a global understanding of insect biodiversity.

Dr Schlinger had a distinguished career as an entomologist, culminating in his appointment to the Chair of the Department of Entomology at the University of California. He is currently an Emeritus Professor, University of California, Berkeley where he continues his studies on flies which parasitises spiders, and insect biodiversity in Madagascar, New Caledonia and Fiji. He is above all an explorer, dedicated to science.

CSIRO endowment is the first that the Schlinger Foundation has made outside of the USA although it has a history of endowing positions in insect and spider biodiversity and systematics at Universities and Museums in California. CSIRO Entomology's link with the Schlinger Foundation was established by the late Dr Ebbe Nielsen in the 1990s.

While in Australia, Professor Schlinger will attend the XXII International Congress of Entomology in Brisbane at the end of August.

Item provided courtesy of CSIRO

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