No! I’m not urging Westerners to start eating insects! Far from it….Several months ago, I happened across an article in which scientists “reported a decline of more than 75 percent in insect biomass across 63 nature areas in Germany between 1989 and 2016”. Did you happen to see this? Sounds apocalyptic, right?
The Wide-Lens View
So last week, I finally got around to looking a little further into it and can report to you some useful details. Lots of groups are active in this work. As you might guess, the issue is complex, so it will be easiest for you if I give you some bulleted lists with links.
- In 2006, scientists reported “dramatic declines in counts of moths attracted to light traps in Great Britain.”
- In 2010, an international gathering of entomologists reported “unsettling downward trends” in firefly populations. https://www.massaudubon.org/get-involved/citizen-science/firefly-watch/programs-events
- Worldwide, “a 2014 summary of global declines in biodiversity…estimated a 45 percent drop in the abundance of invertebrates, most of which are insects.” https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/as-insect-populations-decline-scientists-are-trying-to-understand-why/?redirect=1
So, what could be causing the decline? The issues are as complex as the numbers of insect species. Scientists estimate that only about 1 million insect species are identified—compared to the actual number, which could be as high as 30X that number. Compare that to the number of mammal species, which are only 5,416—and you realize that insects are the largest number of living creatures on the planet.
Overuse of pesticides is of course on the list as one cause. But there are plenty of other factors at work also: habitat loss; air, water, and light pollution; declines or disappearance of plants or animals that insects depend on for food or shelter; the global spread of insect diseases, among other causes.
But I Hate Mosquitoes!
So why should this be our concern? Haven’t we all been in a place where the mosquitos were outrageously aggravating? I was camping along Lake Superior one year when the black biting flies were downright frightening!
Well, consider this: Birders contribute $33 billion dollars annually to our economy. And what do birds eat? Seeds and insects!
Small game hunters contribute $2.5 billion annually to the economy. Game bird chicks rely mostly on insects for food. Also, sport and commercial fishing industries contribute $27.9 billion annually to the economy. Of course, fish eat insects.
If you’re interested, there are complex calculations done that show how the reduction in dung beetle populations has severely hurt the cattle industry. https://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/economic_value_insects.pdf
Of course, the threat to our produce and floral industries because of the loss of bees and butterflies is well known.
Boots on the Ground
One of the biggest barriers to reversing this decline is finding out the cause for each specific species. As you might guess, the sheer numbers of species far outpaces the boots-on-the-ground scientists who are doing research. If you go to this link, you will get an opportunity to sign up to be part of their citizen scientist projects. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230669514_Cardoso_P_Erwin_TL_Borges_PAV_and_New_TR_The_seven_impediments_in_invertebrate_conservation_and_how_to_overcome_them_Biol_Conserv
That’s where we come in.
Citizen scientists are needed. Several groups are looking for help in tracking insect populations. Some of these groups are inviting scientists to set up a research plan and invite citizen scientists under the group’s auspices.
I have a list of links here. Look up any you like and volunteer wherever possible. Then tell us about your experiences below!