An insect apocalypse is under way around the planet.
An insect apocalypse is under way with numerous species experiencing dramatic declines in their numbers. Insects like ants, bees and beetles are disappearing eight times faster than mammals, birds and reptiles. Unless the mass extinction of insects can be stopped or even reversed, not many species of creepy-crawlies will survive the century save for resilient (and much-loathed) species like houseflies and roaches.
This is the stark assessment by a team of researchers who have published a new study on the worldwide state of insect populations. “Our work reveals dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40% of the world’s insect species over the next few decades,” the researchers explain.
On land insects like dung beetles have particularly been badly affected while in aquatic ecosystems, too, numerous species have seen dramatic drops in their numbers. “Affected insect groups not only include specialists that occupy particular ecological niches, but also many common and generalist species,” the experts write.
Yet even as many species are going extinct, others are thriving. “Concurrently, the abundance of a small number of species is increasing; these are all adaptable, generalist species that are occupying the vacant niches left by the ones declining,” they add. “Among aquatic insects, habitat and dietary generalists, and pollutant-tolerant species are replacing the large biodiversity losses experienced in waters within agricultural and urban settings.”
Many insects have been losing out to habitat loss through the conversion of formerly natural environments into agricultural land where pesticides and insecticides are reducing their numbers. Numerous species are also suffering from endemic air and water pollution. The effects of climate change, too, are taking a toll. Climate change, the authors note, “is particularly important in tropical regions, but only affects a minority of species in colder climes and mountain settings of temperate zones.”
In order to save beleaguered insects, many of which provide invaluable ecological functions as pollinators, the experts recommend changing harmful agricultural practices, such as by phasing out pesticides and replacing them with more environmentally friendly substitutes. In addition, cleaning up polluted waterways in agricultural and urban environments could go a long way towards reducing environmental stressors on insect populations.
“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” warn the authors of the study, Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, an entomologist at the University of Sydney, and Kris Wyckhuys, an insect ecologist at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic, to say the least.”