Published: Wed, February 13, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Insect population faces 'catastrophic' collapse: Sydney research

Insect population faces 'catastrophic' collapse: Sydney research

Sánchez-Bayo and co-author Kris Wyckhuys of the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing traced the beginning of the decline to the dawn of the 20th century, noting that it subsequently gathered pace in the 1950s and 1960s.

But insects comprise about two-thirds of all terrestrial species, and have been the foundation of key ecosystems since emerging nearly 400 million years ago.

Last year, one study found that flying insect populations in German nature reserves declined by more than 75% over the duration of a 27-year study, meaning that the die-off is happening even beyond areas affected by human activity.

It goes without saying that insects are essential for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, with respect to their roles as pollinators, recyclers of nutrients, as well as being the main source of food for other species, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

The analysis, the primary global assessment of its type, checked out 73 historic reviews on insect declines around the globe and located that the whole mass of all bugs on the planets is lowering by 2.5% per year.

One of its authors, Francisco Sanchez-Bayo, from the University of Sydney, described the 2.5 per cent rate of annual loss over the past 25-30 years as "shocking".

Conservation and biodiversity groups have called on the more careful use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers in agriculture to address the problem. "It's quite plausible that we might end up with plagues of small numbers of pest insects, but we will lose all the wonderful ones that we want, like bees and hoverflies and butterflies and dung beetles that do a great job of disposing of animal waste".

According to the new scientific review, habitat loss because of intensive agriculture is the top driver of insect population declines.

Researchers say the world must change the way it produces food, noting that organic crops had more insects, and refrain from overusing pesticides.

Professor Goulson encouraged people to make more insect-friendly gardens and to stop using pesticides and buy organic food.

That would have "catastrophic" effects on the environment as a whole, researchers told The Guardian, with many ecosystems reliant on insects. 'If you look at what happened in the major extinctions of the past, they spawned massive adaptive radiations where the few species that made it through adapted and occupied all the available niches and evolved into new species, ' he said.

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