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Researchers in Germany report a stunning decline in the insect population over the past quarter century. Loss of insects could be lead to what one scientist calls an "ecological Armageddon."

Agriculture

Decline In Insect Population Could Lead To “Ecological Armageddon”

Researchers in Germany report a stunning decline in the insect population over the past quarter century. Loss of insects could be lead to what one scientist calls an “ecological Armageddon.”

Insects are vile, disgusting things. So if there were fewer of them, that would be a good thing, right? Not necessarily, Insects are an important part of the ecosystem. A new report from researchers in Germany says the insect population has decreased by 75% over the past 27 years. “The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” says Hans de Kroon of Radboud University in the Netherlands a leader of the new research.

InsectsDave Goulson of Sussex University was also involved in the research. “Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” he says. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse.”

What’s all the fuss about? Lynn Dicks, a professor at the University of East Anglia explains the role of insects. “Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot. They pollinate flowers: flies, moths and butterflies are as important as bees for many flowering plants, including some crops. They provide food for many animals — birds, bats, some mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and decomposers, controlling pests and cleaning up the place generally. If total flying insect biomass is genuinely declining at this rate — about 6% per year — it is extremely concerning.”

The data for the study was collected by volunteer researchers in Germany.  The entomologists followed strictly standardized procedures for collecting insects, procedures that have been in place since 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.

When the insects in each sample were weighed, the annual average fell by 76% over the 27-year period but the decline was even higher — 82% — in summer when insect numbers reach their peak. The cause of the decrease, however, is unknown.  “The weather might explain many of the fluctuations within the season and between the years, but it doesn’t explain the rapid downward trend,” says Martin Sorg from the Krefeld Entomological Society in Germany, who led the amateur entomologist teams.

One likely culprit is widespread use of pesticides, which are designed specifically to do what their name suggests — kill pests. A recent report from the United Nations has denounced using pesticides on such a massive scale, claiming they kill 200,000 people annually.

“Farmland has very little to offer for any wild creature,” says Dave Goulson. “But exactly what is causing their death is open to debate. It could be simply that there is no food for them or it could be, more specifically, exposure to chemical pesticides, or a combination of the two.” While more research is needed to establish the cause of the decline in insect populations, some recommend taking sensible and prudent steps might be a good idea. Hans de Kroon is one such person. “We need to do less of the things that we know have a negative impact, such as the use of pesticides and the disappearance of farmland borders full of flowers.”

Sensible and prudent steps are not, however, in the best interest of pesticide manufacturers who will kick and scream at any suggestion that inundating crops with massive amounts of chemicals — many or which are derived from oil — is the best idea since sliced bread. Pesticides are a $50 billion a year business and a lot of that money gets spread around to various governments and elected officials to protect the industry from scrutiny.

Source: The  Guardian    Photo credit: Verein Krefeld

 
 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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