Once winter ends and we throw our coats back into the deep depths of our closets we know what comes next, an era of sunscreen and bug repellent. But in recent years it’s been a bit different. As a kid I remember fighting off swarms of flies and other bugs while playing outside in the summer, now I’m left eerily undisturbed throughout my path. Where have the bugs gone? Why aren’t I cheering about it?
The Importance of Insects
Well insects, besides being pests to us, are incredibly essential to the ecosystem. Not only do they make up about 2/3 of all life on earth, they are also responsible for pollinating a majority of the crops we eat. About 80% of all flowering plants rely on pollinators to reproduce. Although some of these pollinators include mammals and other vertebrates, the main pollinators are insects. Butterflies, bees, beetles, flies, wasps, etc., have all grown sparse and it’s not just in the States. It’s happening all over the world.
The UK is also facing declines, with a recent study suggesting that the numbers of 3/4 of all butterfly species have plummeted over the past 20 years, with those decreases becoming more sharp recently. Beetles and bees are close behind. Monarch butterflies, specifically in the U.S., have dropped by over 90% in the last 30 years.
The decline in insects isn’t just about our crops but it’s about the birds too. Birds rely on insects as a food source and without them hundreds of species can face starvation. It has been reported that 421 million birds have been lost across Europe. France alone, in less than two decades, has reportedly lost 1/3 of all birds from the countryside.
The most notable of research on the subject of insect loss lies with a study done by German researchers at the Entomological Society Krefeld of which discovered that flying insect biomass has decreased by more than 75% in Germany’s nature reserves and protected areas. These are areas in which the population should be highest as it has the environment in its most optimal state. Imagining what statistics lie in other less optimal regions, such as suburban areas and fields, may be disheartening.
What is the Problem?
What’s causing this? Well, apparently it isn’t as simple as one answer; we have pollution, pesticides, deforestation, habitat fragmentation and artificial light at night (ALAN) all to blame. ALAN specifically is one of the most recently identified causes, as flying insects are attracted to the artificial light. This results in them falling easy prey to predators or becoming trapped/injured by the light itself, among other disruptions in their circadian rhythms.
Our planet is built on these delicate interactions between insects and plants; you take out one component of that and we have biological Armageddon. The EU has already banned the use of neonicotinoid-containing pesticides in April of this year, which has been linked the decline of honeybees. Addressing and acknowledging these problems are essential actions before they develop further. Efforts such as planting wildflowers at the ends of fields/farmlands would be a small and simple way to aid in to making a homogenous environment more diverse and in turn help support local insect populations. In order to have the fruits, crops, and other benefits we enjoy, steps towards conserving our pollinators becomes indispensable.
For More Information:
- Hallmann CA, Sorg M, Jongejans E, Siepel H, Hofland N, Schwan H, et al. (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0185809.
Economic Value Of Insect Pollination Worldwide Estimated At U.S. $217 Billion (Science Daily, 2008)
EU agrees total ban on bee-harming pesticides. (The Guardian, April 2018)
The German Amateurs Who Discovered ‘Insect Armageddon’ (NY Times, Dec 2017)
Article by Tatiana Eaves
- Monarch butterfly: Thomas Bresson [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- Bee: By Jean-Raphaël Guillaumin from Lausanne, Suisse (Abeille) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons