Living With Animals: World Without Bugs

By Hope Bidegainberry on February 15, 2019
Colorful butterflies in lavender field.

I’ve used this bully pulpit before to inform (and rage) about the terrifying worldwide decline in insect population. A new report published in the journal Biological Conservation is catching more of the general media’s attention (and, hopefully, therefore more of the general public’s attention) than earlier studies so I’m hoping this is not the only place you are reading about this. That report describes a coming “catastrophic” event, a word which means a whole lot when used by the typically understated authors published in such journals; from one technical dictionary, catastrophic means “natural or man-made incident, including terrorism, which results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, and/or government functions.”

The authors analyzed and synthesized into a coherent whole 73 earlier reports on insect population decline and, after peer review, published an article which documents that a third of all insect species are at risk of extinction, more than 40 percent of insect species’ populations are dwindling, that the total mass (i.e., the combined space of all insects of all species worldwide) is falling by 2.5% annually, and if that decline rate remains unchanged (with current practices and human’s “head in the sand” approach” it’s more likely to increase than decrease) all insects could be extinct within a century. “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left, and in 100 years you will have none” says one of the co-authors, adding “If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind.” To bring this home, don’t think buzzing mosquitos in this context; rather, think pollinators and those actions which reduce dead stuff to soil.

 The New York Times recently asked leading scientists to explain a world without insects. Such an insect apocalypse, wrote one, creates “a flowerless world with silent forests, a world of dung and old leaves and rotting carcasses accumulating in cities and roadsides, a world of collapse or decay and erosion and loss.” Intensive agricultural practices, including the mass use of pesticides, coupled with habitat destruction, climate change and invasive species are all among the causes.

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