Insects are facing extinction all over the world, at a rate that bodes disastrous ecological collapse, reports the first global scientific review published in the journal Biological Conservation. (FranciscoSánchez-Bayo, Kris A.G.Wyckhuys, Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers, Biological Conservation, Vol. 232, Apr. 2019)

More than 40% insect species are threatened with extinction and a third are endangered, according to the analysis. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, reptiles and birds. The total mass of insects is falling by 2.5% per year, that suggests with the best data available they could face total extinction within a century.

The planet is hurtling into the start of a sixth mass extinction with species losses reported in larger animals. Insects, difficult to study as they are, however are the most varied and abundant and outweigh humans by 17 times. They are a key component of all ecosystems as food for other animals, pollinators and nutrient recyclers.

While there have been reports on insect species loss in Germany and Puerto Rico, there had been no review on a global scale. The study, the first of its kind, strongly indicates that this is now a global crisis. The report asserts, “The trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting life forms on our planet… Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,”. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least”, the report warns.

The analysis says intensive agriculture is the main driver of declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. It also adds agro-chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change as driving factors of the extinction.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo said: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.” (“Plummeting insect numbers threaten collapse of nature”, The Guardian, 10 Feb 2019)

Sánchez in the same interview said, many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish eat insects and with this food source vanished they will starve to death.

Butterflies and moths have been the worst hit in this massacre. In England, the total abundance of butterfly species declined by 58% on farmed land between 2000 and 2009. (Andre S. Gilburn et. al., “Are neonicotinoid insecticides driving declines of widespread butterflies?”, 24 Nov. 2015). There have also been decline in bumble bees, honey bees and beetles. With the species loss the vacuum may be occupied by other adaptable species, but they are not enough to outweigh the lost numbers.

The report asserts that there must be changes to the ways of food production with less use of pesticides and chemicals. These detritus practices are more common in industrial agriculture that invariably produces food only for profit.

Loss of insect species will almost certainly invoke disastrous irrevocable repercussions on the global ecology, leading to more species extinction in larger animals, impeding pollination and thus leading flora and fauna species loss that will incur even more species loss. It will set off a chain reaction that will keep on aggravating and that too within a few decades.

Unless the current ways of production, that deliberately debilitates ecological integrity, is changed within a decade or so, there will be no going back from this impending disaster. The more the system depends on poisons to make food the more will it destroy all that binds nature together, insects being a key integral factor among those. This crisis is a distress call from the planet; and our survival may well depend on how fast we respond.

Omar Rashid Chowdhury is a practicing civil engineer. Hemajored in Environmental Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

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  1. Fair dinkum says:

    It appears that we’re ‘getting the bugs out of the system’
    Albeit in a nasty (and fatal for us) way.

  2. David Kennedy says:

    Is “survival” measured in terms of “successful” competition?
    Is this summed up in the expression, “survival of the fittest”?
    Does this mean that the least fit fail to survive?
    The human population is increasing.
    Its survival is “successful”.
    It appears to have won the competition against all other forms of life – plants, animals, insects and micro-organisms.
    Its rivals simply cannot match the brilliance of the human brain.
    Homo sapiens has proven itself SUPREME.
    But no race lasts forever. The Human Race is at the finishing post.
    It has WON. It can even carry news of its victory to other worlds.
    Well done humans! Bravo the human brain.
    Now is the time to enjoy the satisfaction of winning. And its consequences!

  3. David Kennedy says:

    Humans have hypnotised themselves with their own wizardry.

    Ever since the Industrial Revolution that ushered in the Machine Age, human imagination has gone from strength to strength, inventing more and more ways of utilising fossil fuels for things we don’t need and an economic system that keeps people locked into the system of infinite waste.

    The human brain is worshipped. People believe in intelligence and creative imagination. It separates us from other animals. Just look at the wonderful achievements: electronic gadgetry, radiation wizardry, chemical wonderment, medical miracles and, most of all, the magnificence of money. How clear that the human brain is made in the image of God! There is nothing quite like it on earth or anywhere else in the universe as far as we know. It is stupendous!

    The human brain is SO clever – yet it cannot perceive the obvious truth of existence.
    The planet does NOT belong to us!

    We are here under sufferance. The condition of our tenure is that we treat natural creation with respect, that is, we take what we NEED and try not to destroy life for others, be they of our species or not.

    If we abuse our presence by destroying the conditions for life to continue then our tenancy will cease. It is as simple as that.

    We can destroy conditions for life in lots of ways.

    We can simply devise means of exterminating those forms of life we don’t happen to like, wilfully ignoring the ‘web’ of life and its inter-dependence. For example, if we destroy the habitat required by bees there will be no pollination and all the gold in the world won’t save us.

    We can select those forms of life that are useful to us and make sure they increase. One way of doing this is by monoculture. This results in a lopsided, man-made creation, inimical to the natural balance.

    We can destroy those things that are useful to us that in our greed we blindly exterminate. This is happening to the EARTH’S forests – not OUR forests. Once again, we get lopsided, man-made creation, with atmospheric oxygen going down and carbon dioxide going up.

    It has happened and continues to happen to a variety of forms of terrestrial and marine life. The largest mammals ever have been hunted almost to extinction because of their oil. Ironically, whale oil – which COULD have been sustainable – has been replaced by rock oil (petroleum), which is finite and highly destructive to life on earth because of what it does to our atmosphere.

    We can destroy the conditions for life by polluting water supplies on which ALL life depends. The seas are becoming increasingly acid, thus becoming less congenial for marine life. Ultimately, this will lead to mass extinction.

    We can pollute the air that most living things require as an essential part of their energy metabolism. This too will lead to mass extinction. We do this by burning fossil fuels, returning hundreds of millions of years’ worth of sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere within a couple of hundred years.

    We can poison the land, rendering it infertile. We are well on the way to completing this task, thanks to the mass use of chemical fertilisers and over-cultivation. This will result in the earth being able to sustain less and less life until eventually life will cease.

    We can amuse and delude ourselves by playing with the structure of matter, releasing various kinds of radiation and leaving radioactive material that makes an uncongenial companion for life (as we know it). Life will cease long before the radioactivity decays to levels compatible with life.

    Yes, we like to think how clever we are, all of the wonderful things we can do, all of the wonderful things WE have created. In our conceit we fail to realise that, like Pandora, we have opened a box that contains the means – not of life lived to the full for all eternity – but of death and destruction within our own lifetimes that we are unable to control: just as we cannot control radioactive waste from our ‘playing’ with natural matter. We are here because matter WAS sufficiently inoffensive until WE began to play with it. We have turned it into something that is offensive and incompatible with life. That is how clever we are!

    ‘Evil’ is a human construct, just as ‘wisdom’ is a human construct. They each describe a form of human behaviour. They are part of human self-recognition. We have spent so much time trying to understand ourselves that we have lost sight of the importance of our relationship with the rest of creation. We imagine ourselves to be above nature rather than part of it. This arrogance is our downfall.

    Whether we can change our behaviour in time to save us from self-destruction remains to be seen. There are few signs that humans are aware of the evil they do to themselves and to the rest of life, and non-life, on earth. We are violating the terms of our tenancy with ever-increasing contempt. There will surely be a day of reckoning.