"Environmental Armageddon", "Insectageddon", are some of the titles under which the world media published the results of a study of a group of scientists from the Netherlands, Germany and Great Britain, according to which the world is entering into a new unknown area, defined by a dramatic fall of the presence of insects.Hallmann and the other authors of the research are calling for urgent action to stop the falling numbers of insects and for population to be rebuilt
The fall in insect biomass, which is calculated based on the analysis of the recorded data for the last 27 years, is at a very alarming rate of 76 percent seasonally, up to 82 percent in the middle of summer - it has been published in the scientific journal Plos One. The role of insects in the ecosystem is indispensable, if we lose them everything else is going to collapse, scientists have warned.
"Insects play a crucial role in our ecosystem. They ensure for pollination of plants, to the extent that many plants will go extinct without insects. This has even an effect directly on us, the humans, because many parts of our food production rely on pollination. Secondly, they provide the food source for many species higher up the food chain, such as birds, mammals, amphibians, freshwater fish, and reptiles. Collapse of those, implies collapses higher up the food chain too, and eventually us. Furthermore, insects are responsible for a large part of nutrient cycling, such a litter and dung decomposition, to be made available to plants again", said the lead author of the research Caspar A. Hallmann from Radboud University in The Netherlands for H-Alter.While we have been very slow to act on the climate change issue, it has at least been debated in the context of urgency, while the other planetary boundary which includes the loss of insects – loss of biodiversity, is often not even mentioned
The estimation is that 80 percent of wild plants depend on insects for pollination, while 60 percent of birds rely on insects as a food source. We know since before that populations of European grassland butterflies have declined by 50 percent in abundance between 1990 and 2011, the researchers remind us.
Similar trends have been recorded for other species such as bees and moths. Although the data about the loss of individual species of insects is available, this research is one of the first that estimates the decline of insects in general, and it was possible because amateur entomologists collected the data for decades in Germany.
"There is broadly a tremendous lack of data on insects, and part of this may well be that they are, from a human point of view, a rather unattractive subject. Luckily, our German colleagues, who had an almost visionary idea 30 years ago, have collected insect samples on an incredibly standardized and reproducible way. I believe scientists are restricted by time and money to be able to monitor and investigate all parts of the insect world, so naturally only few species have been monitored for a long term. Such species are usually bees, butterflies and some moths", epmhasized Hallmann.
The fact that is even more concerning is that the data that warns about huge decline in insect biomass has been collected in protected areas in Germany, and not in degraded or urban areas.Hallmann: "Insects play a crucial role in our ecosystem. They ensure for pollination of plants, to the extent that many plants will go extinct without insects"
"The decline taking place in nature reserves makes this issue all the more alarming, because the reserves have been set in place to protect and maintain biodiversity, and ensure ecosystem services we all rely on", explained Hallmann.
The researchers analyzed data from 96 location in 63 protected areas, and the decline has been apparent everywhere. The decline is recorded regardless of habitat type, while changes in weather, land use, and habitat characteristics cannot explain this overall decline, it has been stated. Elements that contributed to this alarming situation today are climate change, habitat loss and fragmentation, and deterioration of habitat quality.
While we have been very slow to act on the climate change issue, it has at least been debated in the context of urgency, while the other planetary boundary which includes the loss of insects – loss of biodiversity, is often not even mentioned. "Climate change is obviously a very significant problem, but one that has effect on the long run. Losing over three quarters of insects in just less than 30 years, implies we have an imminent problem, one we cannot wait much to solve", says Hallmann.The estimation is that 80 percent of wild plants depend on insects for pollination, while 60 percent of birds rely on insects as a food source
Hallmann and the other authors of the research are calling for urgent action to stop the falling numbers of insects and for population to be rebuilt. Considering that a key factor for the design of the landscape is a way in which we produce our own food today - industrial agriculture, "it cannot be overlooked when designing mitigation measures".
"With agricultural influences being the prime suspects for insect decline at this point, and given the precautionary principle that we ought to follow, I believe actions should be taken to minimize negative impacts of agriculture on our natural world, and this includes minimizing effects of pesticides", comments Hallmann.
But, what gives hope for insects is a fact that they are highly resilient, they already survived five worldwide mass extinction events. "The good news is that they can recover, once the cause(s) of decline is/are removed. I am optimistic in this sense, but we will need to take action now", concludes Hallmann.