Mongabay investigative series helps confirm global insect decline

first_imgIn a newly published four-part series, Mongabay takes a deep dive into the science behind the so-called “Insect Apocalypse,” recently reported in the mainstream media.To create the series, Mongabay interviewed 24 entomologists and other scientists on six continents and working in 12 nations, producing what is possibly the most in-depth reporting published to date by any news media outlet on the looming insect abundance crisis.While major peer-reviewed studies are few (with evidence resting primarily so far on findings in Germany and Puerto Rico), there is near consensus among the two dozen researchers surveyed: Insects are likely in serious global decline.The series is in four parts: an introduction and critical review of existing peer-reviewed data; a look at temperate insect declines; a survey of tropical declines; and solutions to the problem. Researchers agree: Conserving insects — imperative to preserving the world’s ecosystem services — is vital to humanity. Read the entire series by Mongabay senior contributor Jeremy Hance hereAs night falls, numerous insects still fly to the artificial lights of homes in the Kenyan bush. But entomologist Dino Joseph Martins vividly recalls a time when the numbers swarming nightly above his outdoor table were staggering.“You would struggle … to eat your supper because you would have endless beetles and [flying] things falling in your … soup,” he recalls. Today, “that happens far less,” making outdoor dining more pleasant, but far more disquieting.Now Mongabay, in an exclusive four-part series, “The Great Insect Dying,” takes a deep dive into the so-called “Insect Apocalypse.” Interviews with 24 researchers on six continents, and working in 12 nations, are at the heart of the report — likely the most in-depth published on the looming insect abundance crisis by any news media outlet to date.Answers, so far, rest on the hard evidence found in a mere handful of studies, and on the anecdotal, though expert, observations by scientists. Despite limited peer-reviewed research, the scientists interviewed are in near consensus, agreeing that insects are very likely in significant decline globally.Part One of the series, an introduction to the issue, looks at the hard evidence. First news of a possible “Insect Apocalypse” broke in 2017 with groundbreaking research in temperate Europe, where researchers were stunned to learn that flying insect abundance fell by 75 percent in just 27 years in Germany’s nature reserves.Then, in 2018, tropical researchers reported that total arthropod biomass had plunged by 10 to 60 times in just 40 years in a Puerto Rican rainforest (arthropods include insects, arachnids and similar invertebrates).The rush to find evidence was on: A recent, but controversial, meta-study points to a serious decline, with insect abundance possibly falling at a rate of 2.5 percent annually. While most entomologists debate this finding, the majority interviewed believe a large-scale decline is underway.The big question: how bad is it?Ant drama unfolding on the ground beneath one of the caterpillar rearing barns run by Daniel Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs’ team of parataxonomists in Santa Rosa National Park, Costa Rica. Shortly after this photo was taken, the small ants brought the larger one down into their colony. Image by Timothy Treuer.Part Two of the series looks at declines in the temperate zones of Europe and North America, regions where we know the most about insects, but have little data on abundance trends.However, as each new data point is added to the picture, the news isn’t good: In a Scottish study, moth abundance dropped by 46 percent in just 25 years; in the Netherlands, an 84 percent decline in butterflies was detected between 1890 and 2017. Still-unpublished U.S. research in Ohio may tell a similar story, with butterflies there declining by about 2 percent per year.Part Three offers a survey of the tropics, where insects have the greatest diversity of any animal group on Earth. But studies are scant there, with the Puerto Rico research and a Mexico study providing the only major data points on abundance.Tropical researchers have, however, anecdotally observed big declines, and say they expect large-scale population decreases driven by climate change, wholesale habitat loss and deforestation (especially due to the meteoric growth of industrial agribusiness in the tropics), along with excessive pesticide use.This doesn’t mean all insect groups in every region are, or will be, in free fall. Declines will likely be uneven and family-specific. Some insects may even benefit, especially those able to live in highly degraded habitats — but most won’t, say the experts. Survey projects like the Arthropod Initiative and the Global Malaise Trap Program could soon begin offering much-needed data on tropical insect trends.In Part Four, the researchers offer solutions. Despite the lack of data, they say, we know enough already to start taking aggressive global action to save insects — and ourselves — now.last_img

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