Huge Drop In Insect Populations Might Spell Catastrophe For People As Nicely

Macleay's Swallowtail one of the butterflies found around Canberra

The recent decline in bugs that fly, crawl, burrow and skitter across still water is part of a gathering "mass extinction", only the sixth in the last half-billion years.

It's been dubbed "the largest extinction event on Earth".

The Permian end-game 252 million years ago snuffed out more than 90 per cent of the planet's life forms, while the abrupt finale of the Cretaceous 66 million years ago saw the demise of land dinosaurs.

Furthermore, scientist Francisco Sánchez-Bayo states that "if insect species losses can not be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet's ecosystems and for the survival of mankind", while adding that the 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is "shocking". Insect biomass - sheer collective weight - is declining annually by about 2.5 per cent worldwide.

And that result, scientists say, could be catastrophic for our planet.

The general insect decline is being caused by intensive agriculture, pesticides and climate change.

The collapse of insect populations has recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the researchers say the problem is global. However, insects are the most varied creatures we have, and they outweigh humanity by 17 times.

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They suggested overhauling existing agricultural methods, "in particular a serious reduction in pesticide usage and its substitution with more sustainable, ecologically-based practices".

Their numbers are plummeting so precipitously nearly all insects could vanish within a century, the study found.

While researches have also noted Urbanisation and climate change are significant factors.

Up to now, rising concern about biodiversity loss has mostly focused on big mammals, birds and amphibians. As for pollinators, we have already documented the decline in butterflies and bees, so essential to our agricultural needs.

They do everything from providing food for small animals, pollinating 75 percent of the world's crops and replenishing soil, to limiting pest numbers. Orthoptera, which include grasshoppers and crickets, are down about 50 percent, and about 40 percent of bee species are now vulnerable to extinction.

Common species such as butterflies and dung beetles are among the most affected. Additionally, when insects die, they return nutrients to the earth; insects are at the bottom of the food chain, with many small animals relying on insects as food; and some insects help with pest control, according to a National Geographicinterview with author David MacNeal.

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