Is this the end for insects?

Insects play a crucial role on our planet, not only are they essential for the pollination of plants, but they also aerate the soil which they grow in and recycle the nutrients needed for growth. Therefore recent reports, published in the journal of science, that the global insect population is decreasing are alarming. 

In the last 30 years, there has been a 25% loss in the numbers of these essential ecosystem maintainers. The reduction in their abundance has been driven by habitat destruction, pesticide usage and pollution. If current forecasts are correct, it could have a devastating effect on the human race and food production.  

More up to date research, published this year, suggests the decline is more complicated than scientists thought. The new larger study, which consists of findings from 1,676 sites which indicate the current state of insect populations worldwide, highlights that the reduction in numbers is confined to land-dwelling bugs. 

Insects which are found in freshwater, like mayflies and midges, are growing in numbers at approximately 1% per year. It is believed that this is due to the tighter regulations around waterways in terms of pollution control and habitat protection. This increase is promising but will not make up for the loss of land-based bugs.  

Insects that occupy the land, such as butterflies, ants and grasshoppers have numbers that are falling at a rate of 9% per decade. Lead author Dr Roel Van Klink from the Integrative Biodiversity Research Centre in Germany said: “That is extremely serious, over 30 years it means a quarter less insects”. The greatest losses were seen in the US, but recent trends in Europe are starting to match those found in America.  

It is clear something needs to be done to stop this crisis, which has been termed the ‘Insect Apocalypse’. The researchers point to the fact that legislation around waterways has had a positive effect on ecosystems. It makes Dr Van Klink “hopeful that if we put in the right types of legislation for land insects, we can also make them recover”. The large numbers of offspring from insect species means a relatively quick recovery of their population. Although due to the number of years it takes to research animal populations, there will be no clear indicators of any successes for quite some time.

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Lucy Clark

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July 2021
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