Counting Dead Bugs on Dutch License Plates

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Here's an interesting way that citizen scientists can conduct a survey or census of various flying insects. This inventive program was launched last summer by Wageningen University in the Netherlands:

It may seem small-scale, but a citizens' science project launched by Wageningen University in June 2011 has had quite an impact. People were asked to count the dead bugs on their number plates after driving and share that information with biologist Arnold Van Vliet via a website, Splashteller.nl. Since the initial call-out, more than 600 people have taken part.

"I am absolutely fond of citizen science projects," Van Vliet told DW.

"Without these people we were not able to have such a good overview on such a large scale - because I can't pay researchers to drive around the Netherlands and measure the number of dead insects on their license plate. That would be far too costly," said Van Vliet.

With seven million cars in the Netherlands, driving more than 200 billion kilometers every year, Van Vliets says he saw an ideal opportunity to ask citizens for their help.

Participants are asked to provide the approximate size of their car, the distance of their journey, the time of day of the journey, and the start and end locations. And, of course, the number of dead bugs they found on the car number plate after the drive.

This is enough for Van Vliet to analyze insect density in the Netherlands and any changes in its biodiversity. Van Vliet says he still needs at least one or two more years to draw definitive conclusions, but claims to have already made some interesting discoveries.

"Since June 2011 we have found an average of two dead insects per ten kilometers," Van Vliet explained. "That doesn't sound like very much, but if you start calculating, then you come up with numbers like 133 billion insects killed by cars in June alone in the Netherlands. And that's an enormous amount of insects of course."

 

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