Scientists warn humanity about worldwide insect decline, and suggest ways to recognise and avert

Insect declines and extinctions are accelerating in many parts of the world. With this comes the disappearance of irreplaceable services to humans, the consequences of which are unpredictable. A group of scientists from across the globe has united to warn humanity of such dangers.

Engaging civil society and policy makers is essential for the future and mutual well-being both of people and insects. In addition to mitigating climate change, an important aspect of the solution involves setting aside high-quality and manageable portions of land for conservation, and transforming global agricultural practices to promote species co-existence.

Humanity is pushing many ecosystems beyond recovery. As a consequence, unquantified and unquantifiable insect extinctions are happening every day. Two scientific papers by 30 experts from around the world discuss both the perils and ways to avoid further extinctions, intending to contribute towards a necessary change of attitude for humanity’s own sake.

“It is surprising how little we know about biodiversity at a global level, when only about 10 to 20 per cent of insect and other invertebrate species have been described and named. And of those with a name, we know little more than a brief morphological description, maybe a part of the genetic code and a single site where it was seen some time ago,” says Pedro Cardoso, from the Finnish Museum of Natural History Luomus, University of Helsinki, Finland.

The results of recently published works make it clear that the situation is dire

Habitat loss, pollution – including harmful agricultural practices, invasive species that do not encounter borders, climate change, overexploitation and extinction of dependent species all variably contribute to documented insect population declines and species extinctions.

“With species loss, we lose not only another piece of the complex puzzle that is our living world, but also biomass, essential for example to feed other animals in the living chain, unique genes and substances that might one day contribute to cure diseases, and ecosystem functions on which humanity depends,” confirms Cardoso.

The ecosystem functions he mentions include pollination, as most crops depend on insects to survive. Additionally, decomposition, as they contribute to nutrient cycling, as well as many other functions for which we have no technological or other replacement.

Practical solutions to mitigate insect apocalypse

The researchers also suggest possible practical solutions based on existing evidence gathered from around the world, which would help to avoid further insect population loss and species extinctions. These include actions such as setting aside high-quality and manageable portions of land for conservation, transforming global agricultural practices to promote species co-existence, and mitigating climate change.

Above all, communicating and engaging with civil society and policy makers is essential for the future and mutual well-being both of people and insects.

“While small groups of people can impact insect conservation locally, collective consciousness and a globally coordinated effort for species inventorying, monitoring and conservation is required for large-scale recovery” says Michael Samways, Distinguished Professor at Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

Articles

  • Cardoso, P., Barton, P.S., Birkhofer, K., Chichorro, F., Deacon, C., Fartmann, T., Fukushima, C.S., Gaigher, R., Habel, J.C., Hallmann, C.A., Hill, M.J., Hochkirch, A., Kwak, M.L., Mammola, S., Ari Noriega, J., Orfinger, A.B., Pedraza, F., Pryke, J.S., Roque, F.O., Settele, J., Simaika, J.P., Stork, N.E., Suhling, F., Vorster, C., Samways, M.J. (2020) Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions. Biological Conservation. DOI https:/doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108426
  • Samways, M.J., Barton, P.S., Birkhofer, K., Chichorro, F., Deacon, C., Fartmann, T., Fukushima, C.S., Gaigher, R., Habel, J.C., Hallmann, C.A., Hill, M.J., Hochkirch, A., Kaila, L., Kwak, M.L., Maes, D., Mammola, S., Ari Noriega, J., Orfinger, A.B., Pedraza, F., Pryke, J.S., Roque, F.O., Settele, J., Simaika, J.P., Stork, N.E., Suhling, F., Vorster, C. & Cardoso, P. (2020) Solutions for humanity on how to conserve insects. Biological Conservation. DOI https:/doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108427

The studies are published open access and can be downloaded by following the DOI links above.

Pedro Cardoso

Curator at the Finnish Museum of Natural History Luomus, adjunct Professor in Ecology at the University of Helsinki. Cardoso works in global conservation science, as well as in policy and the development of new computational methods to track species extinctions. With a predilection for spiders, he quickly realized that global solutions are needed for all of biodiversity, including the small creatures that truly make the world work. He is leading the Laboratory for Integrative Biodiversity Research, which includes a team of 20 researchers who work in subjects as varied as artificial intelligence, tarantula traffic, and cave science.

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