Wasps deserve to be just as appreciated as other insects, like bees, because of their roles as predators, pollinators and more, according to a new discussion paper led by researchers at UCL and the ‘University of East Anglia.
The study, published in Biological examinations, compiles evidence from more than 500 academic papers to examine how approximately 33,000 species of stinging (acular) wasps contribute to their ecosystems and how this can benefit the economy, human health, and society.
Lead author Professor Seirian Sumner (UCL Biodiversity and Environmental Research Center, UCL Biosciences) said, “Wasps are one of those insects that we love to hate – and yet Bees, which also sting, are prized for pollinating our crops and making honey. In a previous study, we found that wasp hatred is largely due to widespread ignorance of the role of wasps in ecosystems and how they can benefit humans.
“Wasps are under-studied compared to other insects like bees, so we are only now beginning to fully understand the value and importance of their ecosystem services. Here we have looked at the best evidence that exists and found that wasps could be just as valuable as other beloved insects like bees, if only we gave them luck. “
Wasps are the main predators of other insects. Insect predation – as a biological control to protect crops – is worth at least US $ 416 billion annually worldwide. Yet this figure almost completely overlooks the contributions of hunting wasp predation. The review highlights how wasps’ role as predators makes them useful for agriculture. Wasps regulate populations of arthropods, such as aphids and caterpillars that damage crops. Solitary wasp species tend to be specialists, which may be adapted to the management of a specific pest, while social wasps are generalist predators and can be particularly useful as a local source of control for a range. herbivorous pests.
Researchers say wasps could be used as sustainable forms of pest control in developing countries, especially tropical countries, where farmers could bring populations of a local wasp species with minimal risk to the environment. natural. Professor Sumner and his colleagues recently published a study concluding that common wasp species are effective predators capable of controlling pests of two high-value crops, corn and sugarcane, in Brazil.
The review also highlights the pollination services provided by wasps. Insect pollination is vital to agriculture, and its economic importance has been estimated at over US $ 250 billion annually worldwide.
Researchers have found evidence of the presence of wasps visiting 960 plant species. This included 164 species that are completely dependent on wasps for pollination, such as certain species of orchids that have evolved to attract the wasps they rely on, like an appearance that mimics the back of a female wasp. Many wasps are also generalist pollinators that visit a wide variety of plants, so researchers say they could serve as “ rescue pollinators ” if a plant loses its local primary pollinator.
The review also describes other uses for wasps such as drugs derived from wasps, as their venom and saliva have antibiotic properties, while yellow wasp venom has shown promise in treating cancer. Wasps can even be a valuable food source, as their larvae are already harvested in some tropical countries for food.
Co-author Dr Alessandro Cini (UCL Biodiversity and Environmental Research Center, UCL Bioscience and University of Florence) said: “The value of wasps in sustaining our crops remains poorly understood; we hope that by rehabilitating their bad reputation, we can collectively get the greatest value from these fascinating creatures. “
The first author of the article, Ryan Brock (University of East Anglia), said: “Along with other insects, many species of wasps are in decline due to factors such as climate change and loss of life. ‘habitats. As such, there is an urgent need to tackle their conservation and ensure that habitats continue to benefit from the far-reaching ecosystem services provided by wasps. “
The research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council and a Marie Curie grant from the European Commission.