Friday, 15 February, 2019

Global 'catastrophic collapse' of insects threatening pollination and food chains

Insects could become extinct in 100 years scientists have warned. /COURTESY Insects could become extinct in 100 years scientists have warned. /COURTESY
Melinda Barton | 13 February, 2019, 16:36

Urbanisation and climate change are also having an impact on the world's insect population, the report said.

"Even if the plants grow successfully, we still need them to be pollinated in most cases by insects".

The warning was issued in a global review of insect declines, in which the authors called for a dramatic rethinking of agricultural practices and better strategies for cleaning polluted waters.

It says more than 40 per cent of insect species could become extinct in the next few decades, naming habitat loss and pollution as the main driving factors.

"Because insects constitute the world's most abundant and (species-diverse) animal group and provide critical services within ecosystems, such events can not be ignored and should prompt decisive action to avert a catastrophic collapse of nature's ecosystems", they wrote.

"In 10 years, you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left, and in 100 years you will have none", Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, one of the study's co-authors, told The Guardian.

The projections are based on the downward trajectory of the world's insect mass, which is thought to be falling by 2.5% per year. The researchers found the main driver for insect losses was the use of " intensive agriculture", a method of farming that is cost and labor intensive- using large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides for crops, and medication for animal stocks.

It reviewed 73 existing studies published around the world in the last 13 years. Other factors such as pathogens, introduced species, and climate change are also some of the key factors that threaten insect populations.

Of the insects most depleted, butterflies and moths are said to be among the worst hit, while bees and beetles have been reported to be on a rapid decline as well.

The researchers found that declines in nearly all regions may lead to the extinction of 40% of insects over the next few decades.

If you took fourth grade science you know why insects are important, but just as a refresher: Insects are one of the very first links in the food chain, providing sustenance for countless species of birds, rodents, reptiles, fish, and other animal groups.

"The essential role that insects play as food items of many vertebrates is often forgotten", the researchers said.

He added that while the overall message was alarming, there were things that people could do, such as making their gardens more insect friendly, not using pesticides and buying organic food.