When they're scurrying across your picnic blanket, stinging a crying child, or sucking your blood, insects may not be your favorite animal. But insects are extremely important to ecosystems worldwide, and according to a new report, more than 40 percent of insect species are on the path to extinction. Here's what you need to know about this alarming new report, and what you can do to help preserve insect populations.
The report, published by Elsevier's journal Biological Conservation and circulated by ScienceDirect.com, asserts that the "biodiversity of insects is threatened worldwide." To conduct the study, researchers from The University of Sydney, the University of Queensland, and the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences reviewed 73 reports chronicling the decline of insect populations all over the world, and analyzed the data.
According to The Guardian, insects overall are decreasing in population by 2.5 percent a year, which means they could completely disappear within 100 years. And as Business Insider noted, the report estimates that the insects are declining eight times as fast as mammals, birds, and reptiles. Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, one of the report's co-authors, told The Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”
Additionally, the authors of the study called this "the largest extinction event on Earth since the late Permian and Cretaceous periods," as per Phys.org. All that being said, why is a declining insect population quite so detrimental? As Phys.org explained, insects are responsible for pollinating 75 percent of the 115 most important food crops worldwide. Additionally, when insects die, they return nutrients to the earth; insects are at the bottom of the food chain, with many small animals relying on insects as food; and some insects help with pest control, according to a National Geographic interview with author David MacNeal.
So, we've established that insects are important and that many are endangered — but what exactly is causing this significant decline? As the report's authors suggest, there are four central factors in play: "i) habitat loss and conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanisation; ii) pollution, mainly that by synthetic pesticides and fertilisers; iii) biological factors, including pathogens and introduced species; and iv) climate change."
The authors also explained what humans need to do to curtail this alarming extinction rate. For one thing, humans need to rethink "current agricultural practices, in particular a serious reduction in pesticide usage and its substitution with more sustainable, ecologically-based practices." In a video interview with CNN, Francisco Sánchez-Bayo echoed that sentiment, stressing that "we have to go back to the way we did agriculture before 1980, which means that we use insecticides ... only when there is a pest outbreak, and we only use them in the areas that they are needed."
Additionally, the authors wrote that "effective remediation technologies should be applied to clean polluted waters in both agricultural and urban environments." Basically, mass agriculture and urbanization has killed insects and taken away their habitats. Plus, because climate change is one of the four things affecting the insect decline, humans need to continue to do their part in reducing their environmental impact — for example, things like eating more plant-based meals, finding alternatives to single-use plastic, and supporting politicians who are fighting climate change can all make a difference.