“We are trading time for space”
Finally, Suz Everingham herself carries out BugNet field work at a site in Münchenbuchsee. The areas she’s studying are typical of Swiss Plateau grasslands, with species such as meadow brome, tufted grass and field scabious. On the plots surveyed on the outskirts of Bern, 1,053 insects have been found, including many spiders, grasshoppers, beetles, flies, and ants. Other Swiss test sites are located in the Jura and in Davos.
The Swiss sites illustrate the strategy of the entire project: BugNet represents different geographical regions, altitudes, and vegetation types because it’s the only way to glean data about the consequences of climate change without relying on decades’ worth of observations. “We are trading time for space,” explains Suz Everingham. In other words, looking at conditions in southern Europe, for example, shows what conditions plants and pests will be facing north of the Alps in a few decades. “In this way we can predict how attacks on plants will change alongside climate change.”
Among other things, the comparative study aims to find out how important the direct effects of climate change are compared to the indirect effects of changes in the plant community. In addition, BugNet wants to explore when insects, fungi and snails have the strongest impacts on plant communities – be it on productivity, community composition or diversity. And finally, the researchers also want to know how pests differ in their effects on plant communities. The first results are expected to be published in 2023.
Suz Everingham’s personal plans are less clear. Her postdoc position in Bern is limited to three years, and after that she would like to remain in research. “In academia I like having the freedom to ask questions,” she says, “but where that will be possible in the future, I don’t know yet.” Suz Everingham is still just at the beginning of her exciting journey into the wide world of science.