Nov. 15 2018 10:52 AM

Researchers who study bugs aren’t sure exactly why this is happening, but they have their suspicions.


Insect populations are declining all over the world, and scientists aren’t quite sure why, according to an article in Ensia. The article by Mary Hoff says that there are increasing reports of troubling changes in the numbers of not just bees, butterflies and other pollinators, but of insects and arthropods in general.

The story states that a research team from the U.S. and Mexico recently reported a steep decline between the years 1976 and 2013 in the weight of insects and other arthropods collected at certain areas in Puerto Rico. That’s just one of the studies from different parts of the world that Hoff's article cites.Needless to say, this doesn’t bode well for the animals who depend on insects as their primary sources of food.

Scientists can’t point to one overarching reason as to why this is happening, but there are a lot of suspects besides the usual ones; insecticides and habitat loss. Decreases in the numbers of plants and animals that insects use for food and shelter, displacement by nonnative species, pollution (including light pollution), diseases that affect insects, climate change and nitrification from burning fossil fuels could all be contributing factors, the article says.

This is going on while some insect populations have been increasing, such as the mountain pine beetle in North America, whose birth rate has been spurred by drought. A tree-planting campaign in the United Kingdom has caused growth in the numbers of certain types of moths.

Conservationists, according to the article, say that education is the key to preserving these multi-legged creatures. They are urging increased efforts to educate the public about the vital role insects play in the ecosystem in order to counter our human tendency to view them only as biting, stinging crop-eaters. People need to understand that without bugs, there are no birds, no frogs and no lizards.

“But the neat thing about insects is, anybody can help them,” as Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society, a nonprofit organization devoted to invertebrate conservation, told the story’s author. “If you have a little yard, if you’re a farmer, if you’re a natural area manager, if you work at a department of transportation, you can work to manage plants for pollinators. We can do this across the landscape and we need to.”

Landscape contractors can play a role in this, too, by encouraging their clients to plant flower gardens and turn their yards into mini insect habitats. We can strive to minimize or eliminate the use of pesticides, switching to integrated pest management strategies instead.

The article ends on a positive note. “This can be doom and gloom,” Black is quoted as saying. “But if we can start to curb climate change, do everything possible to maintain biodiversity, get out there and plant flowers, stop using pesticides, talk to your parks department and get them to change their practices and plant habitat — if we all work together, I’m hopeful that we can make a real, substantial difference.”