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The Gap Year Blog

Why Are Many Insects Approaching Extinction?

11 Apr 2019 16:40 PM
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Photo Credit: Flickr | Aleandre Dulaunoy

Edited with Permission by Frontier

 

Bees are necessary for life on earth. They pollinate flowers by carrying the pollen from one flower to another, creating seeds that allow flowers to flourish again the following season. These flowers are what keep us humans alive. They release oxygen for us to breath, and we, in return, turn that oxygen into CO2 that plants need. And so, the cycle of life goes on. Every part of it serves a purpose and absence of even the smallest part can bring down the whole system.

The buzz around the possible extinction of bees, and the devastating consequences of that, have overshadowed a bigger problem. The world’s whole insect population is heading towards extinction and fast.

 

Why would I care if the world loses few of its beetles or bees, you may ask?

 

First of all, it is not just few insects. According to a recent study, more than 40 per cent of insect species are declining as we speak, and a third are already endangered. What makes this fast approaching extinction even alarming is that this rate is 8 times faster than the one of mammals.

Currently, the biomass of insects outnumbers the one of humans by a fair amount. Half of the biomass of all animals is combined of insects whereas humans only count three per cent of the overall animal biomass. This amounts to a huge part of biodiversity, and it is estimated that there could be up to 30 million different insect species helping to uphold the ecosystem.

The part insects play in the ecosystem is crucial. They maintain the natural structure of nature by aiding with plant propagation through pollination and dispersal of seeds. Bees, the most common example of pollinators, are not the only insects pollinating flowers as other insects contribute to this too. Butterflies, for instance, are known to pollinate flowers in the colour of pink and purple.

In addition to pollinating, insects participate in the other end of the ecosystem; degrading. They consume wood, plants and carrion and degrade them. From this process insects, insects collect nutrients that make them nourishing fuel for other animals, like birds, which again are nutrition for bigger mammals, thus keeping the food chain functioning. If the number of insects keeps decreasing, the number of other animals will decline too, setting motion to a mass extinction. 

 

Photo Credit: Flickr | nkanner1

 

In Costa Rica, temperatures have risen by 2C degrees just in the past 30 years which had led to a sharp decline in number of insects. A study shows that the number of ground insects has dropped 98 per cent in 35 years which by any standards is an alarming rate. This drastic drop has also had a negative impact on other aspects of the famous Costa Rican biodiversity, most notably on birds and lizards whose diet mainly consists of insects. The same study revealed Puerto Rican Tody, a small, bright green bird species reliant on insects for nutrition, had experienced a 90-per cent decline most likely due to lack of food in few decades. 

Costa Rica is just one of the examples where declines in insect populations have disrupted the whole ecosystem, leaving it vulnerable for domination of stronger species that are easily adjustable for changes.  Insects are used to certain conditions and they don’t know how to adjust to high temperatures caused by climate change. These kind of changes in ecosystem will have wide-spread consequences that are difficult to evaluate because research in the field is still limited.

A study from Germany shows similar results. In past 25 years, the number of flying insects has come down by three-quarters. Nevertheless, high tropical temperatures don’t explain the decline of insects in Germany. 

Extensive farming has long reduced habitants of different species, making vast areas unhabitable. This is what is happening to most insect populations in the world. Agricultural intensification with elimination of vegetation and strong pesticides has made it impossible for many insect species to survive.

Both intensive agriculture and climate change are steering insects towards extinction, and both of them are human-caused. The only way to stop the insects from plummeting is to reshape the structure of industrial agriculture. Smaller surface areas and less-frequent use of pesticides are the first steps to the right direction. Like with climate change, the agricultural changes ought to come from the top to achieve faster, more comprehensive results. This doesn’t mean individuals should feel discouraged to take action on their own. Small actions and choices matter too.

By Tiia Kärkkäinen - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!