Scientists have expressed concerns that insect populations are plummeting, with around 40% of insect species now in decline, according to new research.
While insects are viewed as a nuisance by many people who possibly won’t care whether there are less “creepy-crawlies” about, their decline is of great significance to the future of our planet. Without insects, entire ecosystems will collapse, with damaging repercussions for the human race.
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Published in the scientific journal, Biological Conservation Research by the University of Sydney in Australia has alarmed scientists and conservationists. News that 40% of the planet’s insect species are in decline has serious effects on other species and our earth as a whole.
University of Sydney researcher Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, lead author of the study, warns that if we don’t stop the decline, it will cause the collapse of many ecosystems across the planet. This is the first global survey on the current state of insect populations worldwide – it makes for a sobering read!
Insects are everywhere. In fact, there are more than 1.5 million species of insects and they are the most common living creature on our planet. They have evolved this way for very good reason – as they play a crucial role in our ecosystem.
The latest study is the first global research carried out on the subject, although other more localised studies have been completed in the past. In 2017, European researchers revealed insects in 63 protected areas in Germany had declined by more than 75% in 27 years.
Research by scientists at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2018 revealed that insects and arthropods, such as spiders, had declined by up to 60% since the 1970s in the rainforests of Puerto Rico.
Why are numbers in decline?
Many factors have caused the decline, with the main one being habitat changes brought about by the human race. The conversion of natural habitats into farmland, increasing deforestation and the draining of wetlands and swamps are mainly to blame.
In North America and Europe, small family farms used to play their part in supporting insects, thanks to their open pastures, hedgerows and places where wildflowers could grow. Now, the widescale agriculture sector uses more chemicals, such as pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.
Insecticides can poison and kill even the species that aren’t being targeted. The insecticide, neonicotinoid, has been blamed in particular for the widespread decline in the number of bees.
In addition, climate change plays its role, especially weather extremes, such as droughts. Other factors, such as parasites and invasive species, are also to blame. Insects are being attacked from all angles and it’s no surprise their numbers are decreasing.
Which species are threatened most?
Some groups of insects are worse-hit by the decline than others. Those under serious threat include butterflies, moths, bees and other pollinators, dung beetles and other insects that carry out the important task of helping to decompose waste matter, such as faeces.
Around 50% of moths and butterflies are declining and one-third are under threat of extinction. The same goes for beetles, ants and bees, with half of the species in decline.
One insect currently under severe threat, according to research, is the caddisfly. Of the many different species, 63% of them are in danger. Scientists say this is at least partly due to the way they lay their eggs in water, as this makes them vulnerable to pollution.
In July 2016, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature compiled a round-up of the insects at risk. It listed 58 species as being recently extinct and 46 species possibly being extinct. Those that were extinct included two species of mayflies, the Saint Helena earwig, Ridley’s stick insect and species of grasshopper and locust.
Why are insects important?
Even though we may not like them, insects are of vital importance to the future of our planet. Bees and similar creatures are responsible for pollinating more than one-third of our food crops, so a significant decline in their numbers could affect global agriculture.
All species of insects serve as the bottom of the food chain, as they are eaten by fish, small mammals and birds. If the number of insects declines, there will be no food supply for many other creatures, so their numbers will decline too. Over the years, this will continue up the food chain.
Scientists paint a bleak picture of a future with no insects – no insects means no food, which means no people. We would also lose some of the useful products that insects supply, such as honey, silk and beeswax.
Other insects are society’s natural waste disposal and nutrient cycling “machines”. Without species such as dung beetles and other decomposers breaking down animal and plant waste, there would be “unpleasant” results, say scientists.
They are calling for more research to be funded into the disappearance of our insects, pointing out that even species that seem abundant can vanish quickly. However, unless we are aware and take action to prevent this, it may be too late when we eventually notice.
How can we prevent this from happening?
There are many ways of protecting insects in our own garden. First, put the chemicals away. Insecticides and pesticides are a definite “no” when it comes to having an insect-friendly garden. You can attract pollinators by planting colourful annual plants, such as cornflowers.
Join a group that promotes environmentally-friendly gardens, such as the charity Garden Organic. This will provide you with information on how to support organic gardening. You could also sign up for Buglife’s Get Britain Buzzing campaign, which educates people on how to save our insects.
The charity is aiming to reverse the decline in bees and pollinators by restoring rural and urban areas with rich wildflowers and reducing the use of pesticides.
Outside the garden, you could ask retailers whether their plants have been treated with chemicals, request organic pesticides and ask for clearer labelling on products.
Keep your lawn neat and tidy with the amazing Husqvarna Automower – a robotic mower. A healthy lawn encourages earthworms, butterflies, ladybugs and other insects that thrive on garden pests.
If everyone did their bit by starting small in their own garden, our combined efforts could help reverse the trend of declining insect populations.
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