[permaculture] Insects Are Dying Off at an Alarming Rate | Smart News | Smithsonian

Lawrence London lfljvenaura at gmail.com
Sun Feb 17 19:25:45 EST 2019

Insects Are Dying Off at an Alarming Rate | Smart News | Smithsonian

Ecosystems can’t function without the millions of insects that make up the
base of the food chain, and a new review in the journal *Biological
suggests human activity and climate change are chiseling away at those

The new study shows 41 percent of insect species have seen steep declines
in the past decade, with similar drops forecast for the near future. It’s
estimated that 40 percent of the 30 million or so insect species on earth
are now threatened with extinction.

Previous studies have looked at smaller areas, with a 2017 study
showing 76 percent of flying insects had disappeared from German nature
preserves and a study last fall that showed insect populations in pristine
rainforest in Puerto Rico
have also seen precipitous declines, dropping a factor of 60. This new
study, however, looks at 73 studies about insect decline from around the
globe. Though most focus on North America and Europe, and it is the first
attempt at quantifying the global impact.

Brian Resnick at Vox
reports that the individual numbers are sobering. *Lepidoptera*, the order
of insects that includes butterflies, which are often the canary in the
coalmine for ecosystem problems, have declined by 53 percent. *Orthoptera*,
which include grasshoppers and crickets, are down about 50 percent, and
about 40 percent of bee species are now vulnerable to extinction. Many
other orders of insects have seen similar drops.

“We estimate the current proportion of insect species in decline ... to be
twice as high as that of vertebrates, and the pace of local species
extinction ... eight times higher,” the review states. “It is evident that
we are witnessing the largest [insect] extinction event on Earth since the
late Permian and Cretaceous periods.”

Marlowe Hood at AFP
reports that the impacts on the ecosystem are already being felt. In
Europe, over the past 30 years bird populations have declined by 400
million, likely a casualty of the huge decline in flying insects. But
birds, lizards, bats and plants aren't the only species that will suffer if
insects continue to decline. Hood reports that 75 of the top 115 global
food crops depend on insect pollination.

“There are hardly any insects left—that's the number one problem,” Vincent
Bretagnolle, an ecologist at French National Centre for Scientific Research

The causes are not surprising, and have all been on the radar for decades.
Deforestation, agricultural expansion and human sprawl top the list. The
wide use of pesticides and fertilizer as well as industrial pollution are
also taking massive tolls. Invasive species, pathogens and climate change
are also getting punches in.

“It is becoming increasingly obvious our planet's ecology is breaking and
there is a need for an intense and global effort to halt and reverse these
dreadful trends” Matt Shardlow of the U.K. advocacy group Buglife tells
Matt McGrath at the BBC
<https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-47198576>. "Allowing the slow
eradication of insect life to continue is not a rational option.”

In an editorial, *The Guardian*
points the finger squarely at us:

“The chief driver of this catastrophe is unchecked human greed. For all our
individual and even collective cleverness, we behave as a species with as
little foresight as a colony of nematode worms that will consume everything
it can reach until all is gone and it dies off naturally,” they write. “The
challenge of behaving more intelligently than creatures that have no brain
at all will not be easy.”

Perhaps counterintuitively, the report states that before the insect
apocalypse is complete, some areas may see insects flourish. While climate
change is making the tropics much hotter and pushing insects to extinction,
warming in more temperate zones are making theses areas more hospitable for
certain insect species, including flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches and
agricultural pests.

“Fast-breeding pest insects will probably thrive because of the warmer
conditions, because many of their natural enemies, which breed more slowly,
will disappear,” Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex, not involved
in the study, tells the BBC’s McGrath. “It’s quite plausible that we might
end up with plagues of small numbers of pest insects, but we will lose all
the wonderful ones that we want, like bees and hoverflies and butterflies
and dung beetles that do a great job of disposing of animal waste.”

So what can be done to stop the global arthropod apocalypse? The solutions
sound familiar for anyone following the various environmental catastrophes
unfolding across the globe. Reduce habitat destruction and begin a program
of intensive ecological restoration. Face climate change head on.
Drastically reduce pesticide use and redesign agricultural systems to make
them more insect-friendly.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food,” the authors write, “insects
as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades.”

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