Declining insect numbers will lead to a ‘collapse of nature’


Last year we shared the shocking report from WWF about the declining Living Planet Index (LPI) and now there is more bad news for biodiversity. A new study shows over 40% of insect species are threatened with extinction over the next few decades. This and other alarming findings were recently published in the journal Biological Conservation, which reviewed 73 long-term surveys of insects published over the past 40 years.

Researchers found that insects’ rate of extinction at 2.5 percent per year is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles; and that butterflies, bees and dung beetles were the most affected.

The main cause for this decline is habitat loss due to the conversion of land for agriculture and urbanization. Pollution from insecticides, pesticides and fertilisers, emissions from factories and cities, and parasites, diseases, and climate change, also contribute to the threat.

Insects are a vital part of the ecosystem as food for other creatures, as pollinators, and recyclers of nutrients. They are also the most varied and abundant organisms on our planet. Numerous birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that rely on insects for food could starve and be the next to disappear.

According to the study, the extinction of insects will lead to a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems,” and without healthy ecosystems we lose out on clean air and water.

Some worrying findings:

Butterfly species fell by 58% on farmland in England between 2000 and 2009

Bumblebee population was reduced to half in Oklahoma, USA between 1949 and 2013

Honeybee colonies were reduced from 6 million in 1947 to 2.5 million currently in the US

Very little is known about certain types of flies, ants, aphids, crickets, etc., and it is likely that they are no better off than the species studied by researchers. Although it is presented as a global study, almost all of the 73 surveys were conducted in Europe and the US, with just one each from other continents – Brazil for South America and South Africa for Africa. Due to climate change, it is possible that insects in tropical regions are worse off due to lower tolerance for temperature changes.

The experts believe that the best way to slow or reverse current trends is to rethink how we produce our food, reduce pollution and replace harmful chemicals and fertilisers. Organic farming would not only be a boost for human health but would go a long way in reducing pollutants that destroy insects and other organisms.

Written by: Zarir De Vitre. Zarir is a Mumbai based sustainability consultant. He enjoys drinking tea, playing with Lego, and football and basketball.

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