It’s Insect Week UK this week, and here at @RealScientists we’ll be celebrating with our new curator, Professor Simon Leather (@Entoprof), Professor of Entomology at Harper Adams University in the UK. Here’s Prof Leather’s story, in his own words.
I always wanted to be a scientist. I was interested in insects and spiders from a very early age and as both my parents were scientists, my mother was a biology teacher and my father a plant pathologist, I had two great mentors. I also had the privilege of living in Jamaica until I was ten years old which exposed me to some fantastic wild life and scenery and made me appreciate how exciting the small things are that run the world. My firs degree was in Agricultural Zoology at the University of Leeds (basically entomology and parasitology, with a year of vertebrate zoology; sadly this degree no longer exists) and my PhD was in aphid ecology at the University of East Anglia where I was supervised by Professor Tony Dixon. I then did a post-doc in Finland, at the Pest Investigation Department, just outside Helsinki, again working on aphids. After a brief second post-doc back at the University of East Anglia I became an entomologist for the Forestry Commission in Scotland, where I spent 10 years working on forest pests, mainly the pine beauty moth and the large pine weevil. In 1992 I became a Lecturer at Imperial College London at their Silwood Park campus until I was appointed as Professor of Entomology here at Harper Adams University.
Insects are fantastic, awesome and we know so little about them. We need entomologists to help feed the world and also of course as they are 75% of the animal kingdom, by understanding how they work we can hopefully understand how the world works. I really enjoy the teaching element of my job too and my mission in life is to try to make students realise that insects and their relatives are much more interesting and useful than the undeserving 3% (vertebrates). Unfortunately the funding bodies also need educating so I also spend a lot of time doing outreach (which I really enjoy) both to the general public and to the funding bodies and learned societies. In the UK and elsewhere there is a desperate shortage of entomologists and an over-supply of ecologists working/studying charismatic mega-fauna. Trying to change the balance is one of the main reasons why I have not yet retired 🙂
I work on a range of problems – from conservation to pest management in agricultural, horticultural and forest environments. I guess my ethos is something along the lines of ‘Insects are great and deserve to live, but if we must regulate their populations, then let’s do it in the greenest possible way’, so my research group does a lot of work on biological control methods and organic agriculture. A lot of my conservation work has been done in urban areas, hence the title of my blog Don’t Forget the Roundabouts. My research is based on a combination of laboratory and field based experiments and extensive field sampling. I have had projects in Malawi and Kenya, pine aphids and cabbage aphids respectively but made the decision in 2000 to give up flying, I am a meat eater so my contribution to reducing greenhouse gases is to travel wherever possible by train and ferry.
Without entomologists we would be a much greater risk of dying from disease and starvation. Without insects the world would be a very different place and we would not exist. If all the other mammals in the world were to become extinct we would not notice a very big difference. If the insects disappeared not only would we be knee deep in shit in no time, but the whole ecosystem as we know it would collapse.
I am a member of the oldest entomological society in the world, the Entomological Club . This has only 8 members at any one time. My role with the club is to run the annual Verrall Supper, which is held in London the first Wednesday in March. I am also Editor-in-Chief of Annals of Applied Biology and am a Senior Editor of Insect Conservation & Diversity.
I am an amateur genealogist, my wife and I run the Leather Family History Society and I write the occasional haiku.
Ideal Day Off? Sitting by the side of our pool at our house in the Languedoc-Roussillon in France, with a good book (science fiction or a historical mystery) with several cold bottles of beer next to me, and in easy reach of a good bottle of red wine 🙂
Please welcome Simon to Real Scientists!