According to a recent report from the Somerset Wildlife Trust in the UK, more than 50% of insects have disappeared since 1970, and 400,000 of the known 1 million insect species are in decline.
While the death of bugs may not seem cause for alarm, the “insect apocalypse” has a significant impact on our ability to produce food. Almost three-quarters of the world’s crops are pollinated by insects, and their extinction could critically harm food production.
“We can’t be sure, but in terms of numbers, we may have lost 50% or more of our insects since 1970 – it could be much more,” ecologist Dave Goulson, the author of the new report, wrote. “We just don’t know, which is scary … Perhaps more frightening, most of us have not noticed that anything has changed.”
The massive die-offs seem to have been caused by insects losing their habitats to urbanization and farmland, as well as farmers’ extensive use of pesticides. The insects’ extinction rate is eight times faster than that found in mammals, reptiles, and birds. Their loss could trigger a “catastrophic collapse of Earth’s ecosystems,” the authors wrote.
An insect apocalypse could significantly affect the entire ecosystem as insects are the food sources for countless fish, bird, and mammal species. They also help break down dead carcasses into animal waste and recycle nutrients into the soil, critical for farming. In addition, insects like hoverflies and bees are crucial pollinators necessary for vegetable, fruit, and nut production. Their demise would have a profoundly negative impact of the lives of all of us. Ecologists warn that if the trend continues without intervention, our planet may not have any insects at all by 2119.
Here are some of the most significant losses in the insect world:
- 41% of the known inspect species in the world are in decline
- 31% of insects globally are threatened and 10% are going extinct
- 23 bee and wasp species have gone extinct in the UK within the last century
- Butterflies in the UK have shrunk by 77% since the 1970s
- Honeybee colonies have dropped from 6 million in 1947 to only 2.5 million in 2014 in the U.S. From October 201 to April 2019, 40% of U.S. honeybee colonies died, the greatest winter bee loss in 13 years.
- Flying insects have declined by more than 75% in Germany over the last three decades
- Puerto Rico found that 98% of the island’s ground insects have vanished since the 1970s
Michelle Trautwein, an entomologist from the California Academy of Sciences, told the Atlantic: “I don’t see real danger in overstating the possible severity of insect decline, but there is real danger in underestimating how bad things really are.”