A world without insects is a world without humans
A world without insects is a world without humans. (Credit: GrrlScientist)
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
Animal Farm, by George Orwell (1903 – 1950)
Global insect extinctions have been the subject of growing public concern for the past few decades. But until recently, most people were unaware that many insect populations could actually be in trouble, nor did most people consider the consequences of insect extinctions for human welfare.
Fortunately, things are changing. An international group of conservation biologists recently published a report detailing the global decline of insects (ref), which builds on the earlier manifesto, “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity”, issued by the Alliance of World Scientists in 1992, followed by a Second Notice in 2017 (PDF). In this latest report, the authors review what is known about impending insect extinctions, their potential consequences and also how insect extinctions can harm people.
Basically, humanity is collectively driving extinctions of many insect populations through our daily actions: the destruction, degradation and fragmentation of habitats; harmful agricultural practices; the widespread use of polluting and toxic substances; climate change; introduction of alien invasive species; overexploitation and by driving the extinction of species that vitally depend upon others for their very survival (figure 1).
Drivers (in red) and consequences (in blue) of insect extinctions. Note that drivers often act … [+]
Pedro Cardoso / doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108426
Why should people care about conserving insects?
Every extinction is a loss of more than just one species.
“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”, said the lead author of the study, Pedro Cardoso, who is curator of arachnids, myriapods and terrestrial molluscs at the Finnish Museum of Natural History and Adjunct Professor of Ecology at the University of Helsinki.
Professor Cardoso also noted that, as humanity continues to urbanize and to homogenize habitats around the world, the destruction of insects is a loss of critically important biodiversity. As we lose large portions of the Tree of Life, we miss out on these lost insects’ unique ecological functions and traits, and this loss weakens the intricate web of biotic interactions. From pollination and decomposition, to providing resources to create new medicines, insects provide essential and irreplaceable services.
“Global economy is fully dependent on ecosystems, as natural resources are the basis of everything. Insects are the major part of ecosystems and without them nothing works. It is no coincidence that ecology and economy have the same origin ‘eco’, meaning ‘home’”, said Dr. Cardoso in email.
“There is no economy without ecology.”
A nesting pure green sweat bee (Augochlora pura). (Credit: Katja Schulz / Creative Commons 2.0)
Katja Schulz via a Creative Commons license
Yes, we all CAN help insects
All of us can do something to help conserve dwindling insect populations. Here is a partial list of some of the actions we can take to protect our six-legged friends (ref):
- Avoid mowing your lawn frequently; instead allow a meadow to grow and feed insects
- Gardeners and property owners should make every effort to sow plants that are native to the area; local insects rely on these to thrive
- Avoid pesticides and other environmental toxins; go organic, at least on your own property
- Leave old trees, stumps and dead leaves alone; they are home to countless species
- Do not import or release live insects, animals or plants into the wild that could harm native species
- Build an insect hotel from scrap materials and drill small round or horizontal (not vertical) holes into wood that they can use for nests
- Reduce your carbon footprint by walking, riding your bike, or taking the bus to your destination whenever possible instead of jumping into your car
- Support and volunteer in local, state, national and international conservation organizations
A home-made insect hotel is not only beneficial for insects, but it can be attractive (Credit: … [+]
Guilhem Vellut via a Creative Commons license
Pedro Cardoso, Philip S. Barton, Klaus Birkhofer, Filipe Chichorro, Charl Deacon, Thomas Fartmann, Caroline S. Fukushima, René Gaigher, Jan C. Habel, Caspar A. Hallmann, Matthew J. Hill, Axel Hochkirch, Mackenzie L. Kwak, Stefano Mammola, Jorge Ari Noriega, Alexander B. Orfinger, Fernando Pedraza, James S. Pryke, Fabio O. Roque, Josef Settele, John P. Simaika, Nigel E. Stork, Frank Suhling, Carlien Vorster, and Michael J. Samways (2020). Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions, Biological Conservation, published online on 9 February 2020 ahead of print | doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108426
Michael J. Samways, Philip S. Barton, Klaus Birkhofer, Filipe Chichorro, Charl Deacon, Thomas Fartmann, Caroline S. Fukushima, René Gaigher, Jan C. Habel, Caspar A. Hallmann, Matthew J. Hill, Axel Hochkirch, Lauri Kaila, Mackenzie L. Kwak, Dirk Maes, Stefano Mammola, Jorge A. Noriega, Alexander B. Orfinger, Fernando Pedraza, James S. Pryke, Fabio O. Roque, Josef Settele, John P. Simaika, Nigel E. Stork, Frank Suhling, Carlien Vorster, and Pedro Cardoso (2020). Review: Solutions for humanity on how to conserve insects, Biological Conservation, published online on 9 February 2020 ahead of print | doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108427