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Calculating Flying Insect Biodiversity Using Simpson's Diversity Index

By Beth Van Fleet
Product Manager, Environmental, Ecology, AP® Biology, AP® Environmental

Content standards

National Science Education Standards:

  • Grades 5–8 and 9–12: Science as Inquiry, Abilities Necessary to Do Scientific Inquiry
  • Grades 5–8: Life Science, Populations and Ecosystems
  • Grades 9–12: Life Science, Interdependence of Organisms

AP® Environmental Science course topics:
A. Ecosystem Structure (biological populations and communities, ecological niches, species diversity)
C. Ecosystem Diversity (biodiversity, natural selection, ecosystem services)

Biodiversity is a hot topic. In the wild, habitats are shrinking and species are becoming extinct—lost forever—some without humans even discovering them. Biodiversity is also an issue closer to home. Planting large fields of a single genotype crop (e.g., corn or wheat) can make food sources vulnerable if that genotype becomes susceptible to a new pest or drought. An entire crop can be lost. In contrast, wild populations are more genetically diverse, so some individuals usually survive adverse conditions.

When studying the biodiversity of a community, a simple survey of the number of different species (species richness) in an area seemingly would give a clear picture of the diversity. As the following example illustrates, a calculation of the species richness alone doesn’t give that clear picture. It’s not until the distribution of those species (also called species evenness) is added to the calculation that the biodiversity of a community is more accurately portrayed.

Species richness and species diversity

Looking at the 2 communities below, compare the species richness and the species diversity using the Simpson’s Diversity Index. Note: For the purpose of this activity, we will assume that each different morphotype of insect collected represents a species.

Community A Community B
Morphotype 1 1,000 Morphotype 1 400
Morphotype 2 100 Morphotype 2 400
Morphotype 3 100 Morphotype 3 400

Species richness (R) is based solely on the number of species (or morphotypes) found in a given area and does not reflect the relative dominance of any species. The formula for species richness is:
R = s
Where s = the number of morphotypes

So for the example of the communities above, species richness is
RA = 3
RB = 3

Simpson’s Diversity Index

Simpson’s Index is one of the simplest calculations that takes into account species evenness within a community. Simpson’s Index (D) is dependent on the number of species and their relative dominance. It indicates the probability that both organisms in a randomly drawn pair are from different species. The formula is:

s = the number of species (morphotypes)
i = a given morphotype
ni = the number of individuals of morphotype i
N = the total number of individuals collected (for all morphotypes)

D will equal 0 for a community with a single taxon (with no possibility of individuals being from different species) and will approach 1 as diversity is maximized.

For Community A For Community B
s = 3 s = 3
n1 = 1000 n1 = 400
n2 = 100 n2 = 400
n3 = 100 n3 = 400
DA = 1 – [(1,000/1,200)2 + (100/1,200)2+ (100/1,200)2] DB = 1 – [(400/1,200)2 + (400/1,200)2+ (400/1,200)2]
DA = 0.292 DB = 0.667


  • Calculate diversity values for sampled habitats, using 2 indices—species richness and Simpson’s Index
  • Understand the differences between various ways of measuring and defining biodiversity


This activity is appropriate for a class of 32 students working in groups of 8.

Time requirement

Sticky trap preparation and installation      30 min
Insect trapping                                        At least 1 hr (can leave traps in place overnight)
Insect collection                                      30 min
Analysis of data                                      30 min


  • 100 Sticky Traps
  • 4 Hole Punches
  • 4 Permanent Markers
  • 100 Paper Clips
  • 4 Rolls of String
  • 8 to 16 Hand Lenses


Use caution when collecting living samples since they can include harmful organisms.

Preparation (teacher)

  1. Prepare 4 sets of material that each include 25 sticky traps, a hole punch, a permanent marker, 25 paper clips, and a roll of string.
  2. Examine your campus and identify areas that seem appropriate for collecting flying insects, e.g., along a chain link fence, off a tree branch, or between 2 fixed objects (where it’s possible to tie string tightly to each object). Compile a list of areas suitable for collection. Ultimately, allow groups to pick their locations from the list.
  3. Divide your class into 4 groups and assign each group a letter.

Note: This activity is best done when there isn’t a lot of air moving. Wind can dislodge sticky traps.

Procedure (students)

  1. Punch a hole in the top of each sticky trap.
  2. Using a permanent marker, label each trap with your group letter and number traps from 1 to 25.
  3. Go outside.
  4. As a group, decide which designated flying insect habitat to study. Consider how you will use the paper clips and string to ensure that all 25 sticky traps are in a single habitat. Secure the traps to branches, fences, or between 2 immovable objects (using tightly tied string). Best results occur 3 to 5 ft off the ground. Note: Be sure the traps are in a single habitat and are set at the same general height and in the same general conditions. Setting traps in multiple conditions will skew the results.
  5. After setting each trap, remove the wax paper from the sticky trap.
  6. Return to the classroom.
    Note: Wait at least 1 hour or, if necessary, until the next class period.
  7. Go outside, collect the sticky traps, and return to class.
  8. Place your group’s sticky traps in numerical order and use a hand lens to examine the specimens.
  9. As a class, decide on consistent morphotype name designations (e.g., black spotted, red dotted, small black, big brown, or large round) for samples. Then enter the chosen names for morphotypes into the table (see Figure 1 for an example). This allows for combining data accurately later in the activity.

  10. Figure 1 Example Data Table of Morphotypes (using class-designated names)

    # of Morphotypes (s) Morphotypes (i) ni (ni/N) (ni/N)2
    1 Red spotted      
    2 Black speckled      
    3 Green lacy winged      
    4 Tiny black      
    s=4 Totals ( ): N=   Simpson=1 –  

  11. Divide the 4 groups of students into pairs. Then divide the sticky traps evenly among the pairs of students. One of the student pair identifies the insects and, using the agreed-upon names for morphotypes, the other student counts and records the number of each morphotype in the Sample Data Table (see Figure 2).
  12. After all of the data from each student pair is entered into the data table, calculate the species richness and Simpson’s Diversity Index for each habitat.

  13. Figure 2 Sample Data Table

    # of Morphotypes (s) Morphotypes (i) ni (ni/N) (ni/N)2
    1 Red spotted 3 0.333 0.111
    2 Black speckled 4 0.444 0.198
    3 Green lacy winged 1 0.111 0.012
    4 Tiny black 1 0.111 0.012
    s=4 Totals ( ): N= 9 Simpson=1 – 0.333
          Simpson= 0.667


  1. Compare the species richness and diversities of the 4 different habitats studied.
  2. What possible factors could have led to the difference between the habitats?
  3. Which of the following habitats is more diverse: A habitat including 10 species, each represented by 2 individuals? Or a habitat including 10 species, 1 of which is represented by 85 individuals and the remaining 9 species represented by 1 individual each? Explain your answer.
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