Biologist Wouter Dekoninck has been the curator of the entomological collections since 2012. It's his dream job: "I started collecting insects when I was just a child, and I've never stopped since." He initially studied botany, but during his specialist studies in environmental science he investigated animal species that can be used as indicators of water quality. These include insects and insect larvae, and so it was that Wouter went back to his first love, insects.
 

Portrait of Wouter Dekoninck, conservator of the entomology collections (© RBINS, Thierry Hubin)
King of the Ants

In 1999 he became a scientific fellow at the Department of Entomology at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Science. In that period his involvement grew in a quite a few Belgian inventory projects. "Back then ants were still unexplored territory. They are amazing little creatures. Every species has its favourite habitat: give me a list of the ant species in a place and I'll tell you exactly what the vegetation is." In 2012, after twenty years of field work, the Belgische Mierenatlas [Belgian Ant Atlas] was published. This book details the distribution and biology of 76 ant species in Belgium. Using the RBINS collections, Wouter and his colleagues also made a distribution atlas for ground beetles and a Red List for Flanders: a description of every ground beetle species in Flanders and an assessment of how endangered it is. 

Female of the mosquito Anopheles plumbeus
Mosquito Monitoring

Mosquitoes (Culicidae) are another of Wouter's specialist subjects. He and his fellow entomologists have sampled mosquitoes at 1,000 locations in Belgium and compared the data against figures drawn from the historical collections. Wouter states: ‘Our mosquito fauna is undergoing profound changes. We have noted that there are now many more species of the type that reproduce near settlements of human beings, and whose larvae often grow in flower pots and water butts. Some of these mosquito species are potential carriers of pathogens, such as the Dengue virus and West Nile virus." Worldwide transport and global warming could drastically alter the distribution of our endemic mosquitoes and these viruses. "This why we are monitoring the distribution of a few of the culprits."

Entomologist Wouter Dekoninck collecting ants at Galápagos
Fire Ant Versus the Giant Tortoise

Wouter also travels regularly to the Galápagos islands to study endemic and invasive insect species. "Invasive species can sometimes entirely displace endemic populations. Take the fire ant, for example. It is present in such huge numbers in some areas that it threatens not only endemic spiders and insects, but large animals too, such as the giant tortoise. To take appropriate measures, we need to know how many of them there are, and where they are. This is also the case with the invasive insect species, such as beetles, damselflies and mosquitoes, that are migrating into our region because of climate change."

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