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A Reason To Worry

Insects are declining rapidly – here’s why that needs to change.

What’s causing the sharp decline in Insects? Insect populations are declining dramatically in most parts of the world and recent studies show human behavior is to blame. Researchers say various factors including monoculture farming, deforestation, habitat loss, and illegal use of insecticides are to blame for the plight of insects that are essential to agriculture,  ecosystems, and human life on this planet.

Declines in insect populations are worldwide. A study back in 2014 in Science Magazine documented a steep drop in insect and invertebrate populations in nearly every country. The situation has not improved over the last six years. Combining data from the few comprehensive studies that exist on insect life worldwide, lead author Rodolfo Dirzo, an ecologist at Stanford University, developed a global index for the invertebrate abundance that indicated a forty-five percent decline over the last four decades. Dirzo points out that of 3,623 terrestrial invertebrate species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] Red List, 42 percent are classified as threatened with extinction.

The dominant cause is global climate change, which is complex in its effects on global insect populations and its cause and effect on the other global perils. Global warming is associated with extreme weather events. One of the major results is more intense and frequent fires that reduce insect populations. It also causes pest prevalence, therefore making their control more difficult. In addition to this is habitat loss that means insects cannot move so easily across the terrain to find the conditions that suit their continued existence. Not all insects are affected equally. Individual species responses depend on genetic disposition, crafted by past events, often long before human impact on the landscape.

Some species survive well in human-modified circumstances, whether manufactured forestry or in city parks. Others have the capability of surviving well in certain ecosystems and even in city parks. But there are insects that require particular circumstances or particular host species in order to live. These species are the ones being lost at an alarming rate, especially in tropical forests where there is unchecked deforestation. Their habitats are being greatly depleted, reducing their opportunity for survival. When this shrinking space reaches a critically low level, they have nowhere else to go.

In contrast, some insects adapt genetic modifications to enable them to adapt to the changing human environment. The Small Ermine Moth, for example, is becoming less responsive to artificial light, improving its chances of survival in an urban environment. Others can benefit enormously from human-created environments. In the case of artificial ponds, research has found they provide many more opportunities for the survival of numerous insect species. As more human-created insect-friendly options become available, especially when natural ponds are under drought stress, the odds for survival for our insect friends improve.

The future is not at all hopeless. Strategies are being put in place in various parts of the world that when scaled up, will benefit insects (and humans) globally.

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Written by Michael Trigg

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