Insects headed for mass extinction, study warns
(Agence France-Presse) - February 14, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Nearly half of all insect species worldwide are in rapid decline and a third could disappear altogether, according to a study warning of dire consequences for crop pollination and natural food chains.

“Unless we change our way of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” concluded the peer-reviewed study, which is set for publication in April.

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.

“We are witnessing the largest extinction event on Earth since the late Permian and Cretaceous periods,” the authors noted.

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

“We estimate the current proportion of insect species in decline – 41 percent – to be twice as high as that of vertebrates,” or animals with a backbone, Francisco Sanchez-Bayo of the University of Sydney and Kris Wyckhuys of the University of Queensland in Australia reported.

“At present, a third of all insect species are threatened with extinction.”

An additional one percent join their ranks every year, they estimated. Insect biomass – sheer collective weight – is declining annually by about 2.5 percent worldwide.

“Only decisive action can avert a catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems,” the authors cautioned.

Restoring wilderness areas and a drastic reduction in the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizer are likely the best way to slow the insect loss, they said.

‘Hardly any insects left’

The study, to be published in the journal Biological Conservation, pulled together data from more than 70 datasets from across the globe, some dating back more than a century.

By a large margin, habitat change – deforestation, urbanization, conversion to farmland – emerged as the biggest cause of insect decline and extinction threat.

Next was pollution and the widespread use of pesticides in commercial agriculture.

The recent collapse, for example, of many bird species in France was traced to the use insecticides on industrial crops such as wheat, barley, corn and wine grapes.

“There are hardly any insects left – that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, an ecologist at Centre for Biological Studies.

Experts estimate that flying insects across Europe have declined 80 percent on average, causing bird populations to drop by more than 400 million in three decades.

Only a few species of insects – mainly in the tropics – are thought to have suffered due to climate change, while some in northern climes have expanded their range as temperatures warm.

In the long run, however, scientists fear that global warming could become another major driver of insect demise.

Up to now, rising concern about biodiversity loss has mostly focused on big mammals, birds and amphibians.      

INSECT SPECIES
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