The Tinbergen Shortfall: Developments on Aquatic Insect Behavior that Are Critical for Freshwater Conservation

  • Fabio de Oliveira Roque
  • Francisco Valente-Neto
  • Marciel Elio Rodrigues
  • Francine Novais Souza
  • Davidson Gomes Nogueira
  • Ana Cláudia Piovezan-Borges
  • Alan P. Covich
  • Michael J. Samways


Humans have altered biodiversity worldwide, including accelerating species extinctions and loss of ecosystem services. Loss of many species is occurring even before they are collected for study, and researchers have recognized seven knowledge shortfalls that affect biodiversity and its use in conservation. This loss is especially true in aquatic ecosystems highly threatened by human pressures, including habitat transformation and degradation, and water extraction. Here, we propose the “Tinbergen shortfall” in honor of Nikolaas Tinbergen, related to limited knowledge of aquatic insect behavior in tropical regions, and how this shortfall highlights the need to have more knowledge on aquatic insect behavior for improving applied ecology, specifically biomonitoring, as it is the field where aquatic insect behavior information is most often used in measuring water quality, ecological integrity, and conservation. Through a systematized literature search in Web of Knowledge database, we showed the limitation of our current knowledge on aquatic insects, behavior, and its use in conservation. We demonstrate a bias toward temperate countries, orders (e.g., Lepidoptera, Orthoptera, and Heteroptera), behavioral topic (feeding behavior), and limited use of aquatic insect behavioral knowledge in conservation science. Although aquatic insects having a long-established history in biomonitoring protocols worldwide, the use of behavior knowledge, such as oviposition and dispersal, is still limited. We emphasize the behavior that proxies can be used in biomonitoring and conservation studies in cases where information is unavailable, and how behavior information can improve recent approaches such as simulation modelling. Aquatic insect behavior can better inform conservation strategies based on scientific evidence, and we use some examples, including the creation and maintenance of protected areas, the reduction of anthropogenic impacts on animal behavior, and the development of specific agendas for animal species or groups of species that are particularly relevant for their value and changes in human behavior. The challenges ahead for biodiversity conservation will require addressing Tinbergen shortfall for aquatic insects and the increase of our understanding about the behavior of our own species in relation to the others.


Biomonitoring Insect-human interactions Anthropogenic impacts Biodiversity loss Bioindicators 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fabio de Oliveira Roque
    • 1
    • 2
  • Francisco Valente-Neto
    • 1
  • Marciel Elio Rodrigues
    • 3
  • Francine Novais Souza
    • 3
  • Davidson Gomes Nogueira
    • 1
  • Ana Cláudia Piovezan-Borges
    • 1
  • Alan P. Covich
    • 4
  • Michael J. Samways
    • 5
  1. 1.Instituto de BiociênciasUniversidade Federal de Mato Grosso do SulCampo GrandeBrazil
  2. 2.Centre for Tropical Environmental and Sustainability Science (TESS) and College of Science and EngineeringJames Cook UniversityCairnsAustralia
  3. 3.Departamento de Ciências BiológicasUniversidade Estadual de Santa Cruz (UESC)IlhéusBrazil
  4. 4.Odum School of EcologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  5. 5.Department of Conservation Ecology and EntomologyStellenbosch UniversityMatielandSouth Africa

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