Silence of the insects

By Steven Allain

You may have seen in the news recently that conservationists gave a stark warning about the decline of insects worldwide. A recent global review highlighted that more than 40% of insect species are declining and that a third are endangered. This pretty much puts them on par with amphibians which are also declining at an unprecedented rate - perhaps the two are linked.

This isn't the first time scientists have given the global community upsetting news about the decline of insects. Last year another study revealed that the abundance of flying insects in Germany had plunged by 75% over the past 25 years.

Insects are an integral part of ecosystems, with some of their most important roles being pollinators for plants and prey for other wildlife. With a loss of such crucial animals within the food web, life as we know it on Earth may be at risk.

The causes of such rapid declines in insects are very clear, their decline is linked to the way we manage the landscape for both agriculture and human dwellings. The authors advise that unless we change the way we produce food, certain insect groups may be extinct in a few decades - that's a sobering thought, given the global picture it is uncomfortably unlikely to spur any change unless it is quickly adopted into legislation by as many countries as possible.

Aside from threatening the continued existence of humankind, one of the biggest impacts of insect extinctions is on the wildlife that depends on them. The removal of this food source could lead these animals to starve to death.

Such cascading effects have already been seen in puerto Rico, where another recent stidy revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years. With such a decline in insects, the local wildlife has also declined. Not surprisingly, butterflies and moths are among the worst hit with the number of widespread butterfly species in England falling by 58% between 2000 and 2009.

Our overuse of pesticides has tipped the balance of the natural processes on which we depend. Unless alternatives are used, it won't be nuclear war you need to worry about but the collapse of the global biosphere.