Nearly half of all insect species worldwide are in rapid decline and a third could disappear altogether, according to a study warning of dire consequences for crop pollination and natural food chains.
“Unless we change our way of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” concluded the peer-reviewed study, which is set for publication in April.
The recent decline in bugs that fly, crawl, burrow and skitter across still water is part of a gathering “mass extinction,” only the sixth in the last half-billion years.
“We are witnessing the largest extinction event on Earth since the late Permian and Cretaceous periods,” the authors noted.
The Permian end-game 252 million years ago snuffed out more than 90 percent of the planet’s life forms, while the abrupt finale of the Cretaceous 66 million years ago saw the demise of land dinosaurs.
“We estimate the current proportion of insect species in decline — 41 percent — to be twice as high as that of vertebrates,” or animals with a backbone, Francisco Sanchez-Bayo of the University of Sydney and Kris Wyckhuys of the University of Queensland in Australia reported.
“At present, a third of all insect species are threatened with extinction.”
An additional one percent join their ranks every year, they estimated. Insect biomass — sheer collective weight — is declining annually by about 2.5 percent worldwide.
“Only decisive action can avert a catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems,” the authors cautioned.
Restoring wilderness areas and a drastic reduction in the use of pesticides and chemical fertiliser are likely the best way to slow the insect loss, they said.
– ‘Hardly any insects left’ –
The study, to be published in the journal Biological Conservation, pulled together data from more than 70 datasets from across the globe, some dating back more than a century.
By a large margin, habitat change — deforestation, urbanisation, conversion to farmland — emerged as the biggest cause of insect decline and extinction threat.
Next was pollution and the widespread use of pesticides in commercial agriculture.
The recent collapse, for example, of many bird species in France was traced to the use insecticides on industrial crops such as wheat, barley, corn and wine grapes.
“There are hardly any insects left — that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, an ecologist at Centre for Biological Studies.
Experts estimate that flying insects across Europe have declined 80 percent on average, causing bird populations to drop by more than 400 million in three decades.
Only a few species of insects — mainly in the tropics — are thought to have suffered due to climate change, while some in northern climes have expanded their range as temperatures warm.
In the long run, however, scientists fear that global warming could become another major driver of insect demise.
Up to now, rising concern about biodiversity loss has mostly focused on big mammals, birds and amphibians.
– Dung beetles in deep –
But insects comprise about two-thirds of all terrestrial species, and have been the foundation of key ecosystems since emerging almost 400 million years ago.
“The essential role that insects play as food items of many vertebrates is often forgotten,” the researchers said.
Moles, hedgehogs, anteaters, lizards, amphibians, most bats, many birds and fish all feed on insects or depend on them for rearing their offspring.
Other insects filling the void left by declining species probably cannot compensate for the sharp drop in biomass, the study said.
Insects are also the world’s top pollinators — 75 percent of 115 top global food crops depend on animal pollination, including cocoa, coffee, almonds and cherries.
One-in-six species of bees have gone regionally extinct somewhere in the world.
Dung beetles in the Mediterranean basin have also been hit particularly hard, with more than 60 percent of species fading in numbers.
The pace of insect decline appears to be the same in tropical and temperate climates, though there is far more data from North America and Europe than the rest of the world.
Britain has seen a measurable decline across 60 percent of its large insect groups, or taxa, followed by North America (51 percent) and Europe as a whole (44 percent).
Trump is facing massive criticism for his attacks on young women of color in Congress
US President Donald Trump came under fire from Democrats and even some members of his own Republican Party on Monday after launching an extraordinary xenophobic attack on four progressive Democratic congresswomen.
"All they do is complain," Trump told reporters at a White House event featuring products "Made in America."
"These are people that hate our country," he said of the four lawmakers. "If you're not happy here, you can leave."
Trump also accused the four first-term congresswomen -- who are of Hispanic, Arab, Somali and African American origin -- of having "love" for US "enemies like Al-Qaeda."
Trump’s campaign is spending massively at his own businesses — and even more on lawyers
President Donald Trump's 2020 re-election campaign filed their latest campaign finance reports on Monday.
Anna Massoglia, a researcher at the money in politics watchdog group Open Secrets, dissected the numbers and made two startling discoveries.
In the three months covered, from April through June, Trump's campaign and affiliated joint fundraising committees spent $326,094.24 at Trump businesses, including six figures at both Mar-a-Lago and Trump Hotel DC.
Trump's campaign also spent over $1.3 million on legal bills. He spent approximately $7 million on legal bills in 2018, Massoglia noted.
Trump is ‘one pointy white hat shy of a Klan rally’: GOP strategist Rick Wilson ripped Trump as a ‘flagrant racist’ on MSNBC
Republican strategy ripped President Donald Trump for being a "flagrant racist" during a Monday night appearance on MSNBC.
Lawrence O'Donnell interviewed Wilson about Trump's latest nativist attacks on young women of color in Congress.
"Rick Wilson, is this a campaign strategy? Is this Donald Trump and his campaign advisers thinking, well, our only hope is going for the voters we already have and energizing them and getting them to come and squeak out that electoral formula once again?" O'Donnell asked.
"Absolutely, Lawrence. As everyone else stated on the show, it’s been obvious for a long time from the long arc of his dad to redling to the Central Park Five to birtherism to this stuff today, this guy, he's racist adjacent in of the best day of his life," Wilson is explained.