Much has been made of the insect Armageddon news this month – that the massive decline in insect life is overwhelmingly terrible for the world. Conservationists and entomologists have been warning about this for years but perhaps the extent of the decline has been so far unknown. New research, however, has found that three quarters of flying insects on German nature reserves have vanished in 25 years.
This is an obvious problem for the food chain: fewer insects means birds don’t get as much food, therefore fewer birds; fewer birds for mammals to feed on. And it’s not just the loss of a direct food resource for birds – insects are our pollinators, and many birds and mammals feed on flowers and plants. Without insects the entire ecosystem will collapse.
So what might have caused this worrying trend?
- loss of wild habitats
- use of pesticides
- possibly climate change
The scientists involved were able to rule out weather and landscape changes as not having sufficient impact to explain the severe 75% decline.
The scientists have been using malaise traps since 1989 to trap and analyse insect numbers across 63 nature reserves in Germany; given that the landscape throughout the rest of Western Europe is pretty much the same, I think it’s safe to generalise these findings to Britain as well. Not only has the research captured a much larger range of insects than is normally studied in one research attempt, it was also carried out on nature reserves, which are protected areas.
Just to get your head around how catastrophic this decline is, bear in mind that insects have dominated and thrived on this earth for millennia – they are incredibly prolific and have been relentlessly successful. And human behaviour has caused a 75% decline in 25 years?!
The conclusion of this research – that declining insect numbers have and will have a devastating effect on ecosystems as a whole – has been demonstrated by other evidence. Spotted flycatchers, who feed primarily on flying insects, have declined by 95%. Grey partridges, which feed their chicks on insects, have all but vanished from the countryside. We know it’s true from last year’s State of Nature report, which found that in the past 50 years over 56% of species have declined and 15% are either extinct or nearly. We also know this instinctively through anecdote: see the windscreen phenomenon.
It’s not just agriculture, though I’m pretty convinced that the loss of hedgerows and flower borders means that farmland is virtually an ecological void. Yet everywhere you look, there is tidiness. What used to be front gardens are now paved over for cars. Grass is cut on road verges and around cities as soon as it reaches your ankles – I wrote a post about this.
What can we do about it?
- get over our cultural aversion to creepy insects
- consider the importance of the minutiae of ecology
- stop poisoning the land with pesticides on an industrial scale
- make our gardens mini nature reserves
- bang on and on about insects on your blog
- teach your kids to appreciate insects
- lobby your local council to stop mowing every patch of grass