Insects at Risk of Extinction in the Next Century

Blanche Robertson
February 13, 2019

An overhaul of the agricultural industry is "urgently needed" to "allow the recovery of declining insect populations and safeguard the vital ecosystem services they provide", wrote co-authors from Sydney and Queensland universities. But we have to keep in mind that insects are essential to the proper functioning of our ecosystems, regardless of how much we may dislike them.

The warning was issued in a global review of insect declines, in which the authors called for a dramatic rethinking of agricultural practices and better strategies for cleaning polluted waters.

Shocking research has revealed that 40 percent of the world's insect species are now threatened with extinction, which could lead to a collapse of nature's ecosystem.

"Fast-breeding pest insects will probably thrive because of the warmer conditions, because many of their natural enemies, which breed more slowly, will disappear", Dave Goulson from the University of Sussex, not involved in the study, tells the BBC's McGrath. The researchers found the main driver for insect losses was the use of " intensive agriculture", a method of farming that is cost and labor intensive- using large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides for crops, and medication for animal stocks.

They found evidence for decline in all insect groups reviewed, but said it was most pronounced for butterflies and moths, native bees, beetles and aquatic insects such as dragonflies.

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So, which insects are most in danger of disappearing first?

The researchers found that declines in nearly all regions may lead to the extinction of 40% of insects over the next few decades.

'Second is the increasing use of fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture worldwide and contamination with chemical pollutants of all kinds.

The researchers Francisco Sanchez-Bayo and Kris Wyckhuys said: "The conclusion is clear: unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades". Lepidoptera, the order of insects that includes butterflies, which are often the canary in the coalmine for ecosystem problems, have declined by 53 percent.

Insects are also being hit by biological factors, such as pathogens and introduced species, and by climate change, where rising temperatures could affect the range of places where they can live. He added that many species of animals that rely on insects as their main food source could be wiped out, which would only increase pest numbers.

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