Scientific News That Should Bug, and Frighten, You and Your Children

Insects are disappearing…….and, no this isn’t a plot for the latest disaster movie.   For those who viewed the election of Trump and the passage of Brexit to be signs of impending Armageddon, you want to take note of yet another bad sign on the road to ruin.  A Dutch scientific team attempted to quantify the number of flying insects in nature preserves, e.g. places where conservationists would hope insects could survive, if not thrive.   Their findings are sobering.  The team found that flying insect biomass declined by 76 percent on average in just 27 years and by up to 82% in midsummer. The dramatic decline took place everywhere, regardless of the habitat type. Land use or changes in weather could not alone explain the steep drop in insect biomass. These depressing figures underscore how the entire flying insect community has been decimated over the last few decades, as reported previously by papers which found declines in vulnerable species such as butterflies, wild bees, and moths.

A similar pattern of population decline is happening all over the world. Rodolfo Dirzo, an ecologist at Stanford University, developed a global index for invertebrate abundance that showed a 45 percent decline over the last four decades. 

While it is well documented that butterflies and bees have been disappearing in Europe and North America, the German study is the first to document that flying insects in general have decreased by more than three-quarters across Germany since 1989.  What made this research particularly remarkable was the size of the drop in flying  insects. Other estimates have put rates of global insect biomass loss at 50 percent or less — disturbing, but not as dismaying as the results from the German fieldwork.

Researchers are concerned because insects are important pollinators and also a key part of the food chain, serving as meals for birds and other small creatures.“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “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.

Sadly, there’s little that individuals can do to combat the stunning decline of insects in other countries.  But there are some things you can do in your backyard.  You can help save insects by planting a garden with “beneficial” plants that flower throughout the year. Unlike mammals, insects don’t require vast tracts of land to be satisfied — a back yard blooming with native flowers will do.   You can join the thousands of people who have begun planting milkweed throughout the U.S. and Canada in order to restore the monarch butterfly.   Or you can simply limit the use of pesticides so that bugs are given a chance to survive and thrive again.

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