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August 22, 2019

Insects are dying en masse — putting Earth’s ecosystems at risk of collapse: study

February 11, 2019
According to a study published in the journal Biological Conservation, over 40% of insect species on the planet are “threatened with extinction.” (AOosthuizen / Getty Images/iStockphoto)

This butterfly effect could have devastating consequences.

Insects are dying en masse, and the massive population decline could put Earth’s ecosystems at risk of collapse, a new study forewarns.


According to the study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, more than 40% of insect species on the planet are “threatened with extinction.”

The most threatened species include Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Hymenoptera (which includes ants, bees, sawflies and wasps) and dung beetles.

Four different aquatic species, including Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), Plecoptera (stoneflies), Trichoptera (caddisfly) and Ephemeroptera (mayfly) are the most affected species.

“Intensive agriculture” was listed as the primary cause for decline in insect population numbers. Agriculture wipes out insects’ natural habitats, causing their populations to be negatively impacted when their homes are taken away.

“Invasive species,” chemical pollutants from agriculture and climate change were listed as causes that also harm the insects and put them at risk.

Climate change primarily impacts insects in tropical regions, but can also “affect a minority of species” in colder climates and other regions.

According to the study, the “dramatic rates of decline” could potentially lead to 40% of insect species on Earth to go extinct over the course of the next few decades.

In an interview with National Geographic, David MacNeal, science journalist and author of “Bugged: The Insects Who Rule the World and the People Obsessed with Them,” highlighted the “catastrophic” effects it would have on the planet if insect species were to become extinct.

MacNeal described insects as “the invisible force working throughout the world to keep it running.”

Insects do all kinds of tasks and serve purposes that may not be directly visible or thought about by humans — like returning nutrients to the earth, serving as the base of the food chain for other animals and some humans, MacNeal said.

“We don’t notice these services because insects are so small and we often see them as this nuisance. But they are the lever pullers of the world,” MacNeal told National Geographic.

Insects are not the only species with declining populations, however.

In October, the World Wildlife Fund released a study stating the world’s vertebrate animal population has declined 60% since 1970 — with efforts to halt the deteriorating numbers a “managed decline” at best.

The study from Biological Conservation highlighted the urgency to protect the ecosystems of insects — and pushed for the use of technology to “clean polluted waters in both agricultural and urban environments.”


“A rethinking of current agricultural practices, in particular a serious reduction in pesticide usage and its substitution with more sustainable, ecologically-based practices, is urgently needed to slow or reverse current trends, allow the recovery of declining insect populations and safeguard the vital ecosystem services they provide,” the study said.

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