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The Insect Apocalypse Is Here
What does it mean for the rest of life on Earth?
When asked to imagine what would happen if insects were to disappear completely, scientists find words like chaos, collapse, Armageddon. Wagner, the University of Connecticut entomologist, describes a flowerless world with silent forests, a world of dung and old leaves and rotting carcasses accumulating in cities and roadsides, a world of “collapse or decay and erosion and loss that would spread through ecosystems” — spiraling from predators to plants. E.O. Wilson has written of an insect-free world, a place where most plants and land animals become extinct; where fungi explodes, for a while, thriving on death and rot; and where “the human species survives, able to fall back on wind-pollinated grains and marine fishing” despite mass starvation and resource wars. “Clinging to survival in a devastated world, and trapped in an ecological dark age,” he adds, “the survivors would offer prayers for the return of weeds and bugs.”
Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature'
Exclusive: Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline, says global review
The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.
More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.
Why are insects in decline, and can we do anything about it?
How bad is it?
Extremely. By some measures, the biodiversity crisis is even deeper than that of climate change. Since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals. In the last 50 years alone, the populations of all mammals, birds, reptiles and fish have fallen by an average of 60%.
How about insects?
The new global review says it’s even worse for bugs, with the proportion of insect species declining being double that for vertebrates. The insect decline is at least a century old, but seems to have accelerated in recent decades.
Does that matter?
Yes. There are more than a million species of insect, compared with just 5,400 mammals, and they are the cornerstone of all terrestrial ecosystems. Without them, you get what scientists call a “bottom-up trophic cascade”, in which the knock-on effects of the insect collapse surge up through the food chain, wiping out higher animals. And without healthy ecosystems, there is no clean air and water.
"… all the data shows that most people are not influenced by rational arguments. They're influenced by social pressure. … That's just the human condition, and we just have to acknowledge it and accept it." - Steven Novella