Camera-based automated monitoring of flying insects in the wild (Camfi). II. flight behaviour and long-term population monitoring of migratory Bogong moths in Alpine Australia

Jesse Wallace, David Dreyer, Therese Reber, Lana Khaldy, Benjamin Mathews-Hunter, Ken Green, Joachim Zeil, Eric Warrant

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    Introduction: The Bogong moth Agrotis infusa is well known for its remarkable annual round-trip migration from its breeding grounds across eastern and southern Australia to its aestivation sites in the Australian Alps, to which it provides an important annual influx of nutrients. Over recent years, we have benefited from a growing understanding of the navigational abilities of the Bogong moth. Meanwhile, the population of Bogong moths has been shrinking. Recently, the ecologically and culturally important Bogong moth was listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List, and the establishment of a program for long-term monitoring of its population has been identified as critical for its conservation. Methods: Here, we present the results of two years of monitoring of the Bogong moth population in the Australian Alps using recently developed methods for automated wildlife-camera monitoring of flying insects, named Camfi. While in the Alps, some moths emerge from the caves in the evening to undertake seemingly random flights, filling the air with densities in the dozens per cubic metre. The purpose of these flights is unknown, but they may serve an important role in Bogong moth navigation. Results: We found that these evening flights occur throughout summer and are modulated by daily weather factors. We present a simple heuristic model of the arrival to and departure from aestivation sites by Bogong moths, and confirm results obtained from fox-scat surveys which found that aestivating Bogong moths occupy higher elevations as the summer progresses. Moreover, by placing cameras along two elevational transects below the summit of Mt. Kosciuszko, we found that evening flights were not random, but were systematically oriented in directions relative to the azimuth of the summit of the mountain. Finally, we present the first recorded observations of the impact of bushfire smoke on aestivating Bogong moths – a dramatic reduction in the size of a cluster of aestivating Bogong moths during the fire, and evidence of a large departure from the fire-affected area the day after the fire. Discussion: Our results highlight the challenges of monitoring Bogong moths in the wild and support the continued use of automated camera-based methods for that purpose.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalFrontiers in Insect Science
    Publication statusPublished - 2023

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