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Insect Populations

Insect populations are significantly declining, which could cause a major collapse in the ecosystem.

What Shrinking Insect Populations Mean for the Planet

October 22, 2020 - Chelsea Lee

A global insect populations study has revealed that 40% of the world’s insect species are in danger of extinction. This is worrying news as it spells an uncertain future and a major collapse in the ecosystem.

Insect Populations Decline

Insecticides and habitat loss are two major causes of declining insect populations around the world. Transformation or destruction of a habitat can completely displace the ecosystems that exist there, which is devastating for many organisms. Intensive farming has caused much of the current habitat loss, pointing towards the need for sustainable farming methods. 

Monoculture farming is a farming practice that creates large fields of singular crops.These fields take the place of previously flourishing lands, trees and rivers. Mosquitoes are less likely to exist and reproduce in areas without water. They experience four life cycle stages, three of which must occur in water sources. Aquatic insects such as dragonflies and caddisflies have also suffered great losses and will disappear completely. 

According to the study, the species most threatened are Lepidoptera, which includes insects like butterflies, and Hymenoptera, which includes bees and dung beetles.

There are very few studies on the decline of insects. It is difficult to gauge the types of insects that are disappearing as there is much more information that exists about bees and butterflies than ants, for example. However, there is no doubt that insect populations are declining significantly in numerous environments.

The Consequences of the Loss of Insect Populations

Insects do a lot to keep the world’s ecosystems afloat. Professor Dave Goulson of the University of Sussex says that insects ‘perform vital roles such as pollination, seed dispersal and nutrient recycling. They are also food for numerous larger animals, including birds, bats, fish, amphibians and lizards.’ If one section of the food chain disappears in an area, the entire system could collapse.

Flying insects in Germany have reduced by more than 75% in less than 30 years. Researchers used Malaise traps to record the biomass of flying insects in protected areas and found that both endangered and safe species such as wild bees and moths have experienced a large drop in numbers. Fewer bugs will cause a decline in the creatures that consume them, leading to major biodiversity loss.

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Flowers and plants will have lower pollination rates from a lack of pollinators, and invasive organisms will drive out native insects. In South Africa, aquatic predators like rainbow trout have crowded out a rare species of dragonfly, Ecchlorolestes peringueyi. The planting of exotic trees along riverbanks has further declined the diversity of dragonfly species. As foreign animals adapt to a new environment, they often bring a chain of negative effects for the native ones, shrinking their numbers and turning the ecosystem upside down.

What We Can Do

Insect-saving initiatives exist across the world for bees, butterflies and other affected creatures. Homes can be more insect-friendly by creating pollination gardens or establishing ponds for aquatic bugs. Pesticide and synthetic fertilisers should be avoided and parks should be advocated for.

In Germany, the government launched a €100 million project to help protect native insects. The money is used to protect insect habitats, decrease disruptive light pollution and phase out the use of a popular weedkiller that kills native plants that insects need for survival. The United Nations has also called on governments around the world to stop biodiversity loss by protecting critical habitats and restoring damaged ecosystems.

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