The insect apocalypse is not here but there are reasons for concern

Mar 21, 2019

“WE WERE SHOCKED,” says Brad Lister, of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. “We couldn’t believe the first results. I remember [in the 1970s] butterflies everywhere after rain. On the first day back [in 2012], I saw hardly any.” Dr Lister is describing the Luquillo forest of Puerto Rico, where he recently carried out a census of insect life and found it had been almost wiped out in 40 years. But he could be talking about many other places. Over the past few years, scores of scientific studies have found declines in different measures of insect life and health, all of the order of 50-80%, in areas as far apart as Germany, California and Borneo.

The findings have triggered alarm, almost panic. Animals, mostly insects, pollinate 87% of flowering plants, according to a recent study by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Without insects, most plants could not reproduce. They break down and recycle the nutrients that plants need for photosynthesis. They decompose organic waste and feed a large proportion of all birds and bats. E.O. Wilson, an American biologist, calls insects “the heart of life on Earth.”

The studies suggest that such life is in peril. One talks of “the dreadful state of insect biodiversity”. Its authors give warning of “the extinction of 40% of the world’s insect species over...

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