Light for the Last Days

Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’

Written in January 2018

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a ‘catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems’, according to the first global scientific review.  More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global.  ‘Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,’ they write. ‘The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.’

The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.  One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. ‘If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death,’ he said.  Already there are reports from different places in the world of sudden deaths of birds falling from the sky and fish dying in the sea for no apparent reason.

Scientists agree that it is becoming clear that insect losses are now a serious global problem. The evidence all points in the same direction,’ said Prof Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex. ‘It should be of huge concern to all of us, for insects are at the heart of every food web, they pollinate the large majority of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recycle nutrients, control pests, and much more. Love them or loathe them, we humans cannot survive without insects.’

Tony Pearce