The world’s vital insect kingdom is experiencing “death by a thousand cuts,” said the world’s top insect experts.
Climate change, insecticides, herbicides, light pollution, invasive species, and changes in agriculture and land use mean the earth is likely to lose 1% to 2% of its insects every year, said University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, lead author of the special package 12 studies in last week’s Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences written by 56 scientists from around the world.
The problem, sometimes called the insect apocalypse, is like a puzzle. And scientists say they still don’t have all of the parts, so they struggle to grasp their size and complexity, and get the world to notice and do something.
Wagner said scientists need to find out if the rate of insect loss is greater than other species. “There’s a reason to be more concerned,” he added, “because they’re the target of an attack” with insecticides, herbicides and light pollution.
University of Illinois co-author and entomologist May Berenbaum, a National Medal of Science winner, said, “The decline in insects is akin to climate change 30 years ago because the methods of assessing its extent and rate of loss have been difficult . ”
To make matters worse, in many cases people hate insects, despite the fact that they pollinate the world’s food, are vital to the food chain and eliminate waste, she said.
Insects “are absolutely the stuff that Mother Nature and the Tree of Life are built of,” said Wagner.
Two well-known ones – honeybees and monarch butterflies – best illustrate insect problems and declines, he said. Honey bees have declined dramatically due to disease, parasites, insecticides, herbicides, and lack of food.
Drier weather in the American West due to climate change means less milkweed for butterflies, Wagner said. And changes in American agriculture are removing the weeds and flowers they need for nectar.
“We’re creating a huge biological desert with the exception of soybeans and corn in a huge area of the Midwest,” he said.
Last week’s scientific work does not provide any new data, but it does paint a large but incomplete picture of a problem that is beginning to attract attention. Scientists have identified 1 million species of insects while there are likely 4 million still to be discovered, Berenbaum said.
University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy, who was not involved in the studies, said they highlight how the world has “spent billions of dollars over the last 30 years trying to find new ways to kill insects, and only pennies to protect them “.
“The good news is that, with the exception of climate change, there is much that individuals can do to reverse the decline in insects,” Tallamy said in an email. “This is a global problem with a basic solution.”
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in any way without permission.