Questions surrounding a predatory ground beetle moves Biology instructor to conduct further research

By Marie Del Cid-Luque, Marketing and Communications

Studying insects is a unique interest that perhaps most of us don’t share. But for Douglas College Biology instructor Robert McGregor, a passion for insects has led him to dig up more information on an invasive ground beetle. Unusual to the West Coast, this predatory beetle has sparked questions as to how it got it here, why it’s here and the impact it could have on local ecosystems.

Bug-in’ around

During the 2018 Fall Semester, McGregor and his students came upon Nebria brevicollis at the Coquitlam Campus. This beetle is a newer species in Western Canada with no prior history on this coast, except for one recent recording of this specimen found at the University of British Columbia in 2015.

“This species is a very recent introduction to Western Canada” said McGregor. “I had trap catches from Coquitlam and now have confirmed three sites where the beetle occurs. We found about 40 of the new species, many from a site just south of the Coquitlam Campus.”

Nebria brevicollis.
Photo credit: Jim LaBonte, Oregon Department of Agriculture

A bug’s life

The beetle’s origins are European and until recently, it’s been found outside of Canada near Salem, Ore. and in Seattle, Wash. McGregor thinks the beetle may have moved north on its own, as it can fly. He said the beetle is invasive, as it can live in different habitats, but that it’s also beneficial.

“This is an insect that fulfills an important ecosystem function, in that it eats various small invertebrate organisms. It’s not a potential pest, but a predator.”

But from an ecological standpoint, Nebria brevicollis could interfere with native species. Potentially threatening their existence which is concerning, noted McGregor.

“My suspicion is if we sample in more disturbed places, we will find more of them. My interest right now is to find out how extensive this thing is.”

Taking over the west

McGregor explains that a group of beetles found at UBC were collected in 2015 and sent to Ottawa to the Canadian National Collection of Insects, for identification. The IDs were not done until now (four years later) and only one Nebria brevicollis beetle was found.

Biology instructor Robert McGregor onsite at the Coquitlam Campus checking for beetles

“What we have done here at Douglas is a more extensive sampling program showing that populations are in Coquitlam at several locations. Our work is proceeding to determine where the beetle is established in B.C.”

However, the UBC beetle is significant because it predates the first collection from Douglas College by three years. This means that the Nebria beetle has been here in B.C. longer than suspected.

Don’t belittle the beetle!

Studying ground beetle communities has been an ongoing project for McGregor and the Douglas College Institute of Urban Ecology because of their relation to human disturbance and climate change.

“Our research can be used by city staff to see long-term trends and changes resulting from introduced species, human disturbance and climate change,” said McGregor. “They are really interesting organisms because they are biological indicators. You can use them to look at environmental disturbance of various kinds, for example, in agriculture or in urbanization.”

The discovery of this beetle shows how important research is in order to better understand unusual animal behaviour.

“To most people, a beetle is just a beetle, but finding a specimen like this Nebria can have significant implications for insect biologists. This find highlights not only the importance of Rob’s research, but also the involvement of our students in research projects,” says Brian Chapell, Dean of Science and Technology at Douglas. “The discovery of this beetle in southwestern B.C. is an interesting and important find.”

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