Plenty tends to get written about in terms of harmful effects of climate change. But thanks to one of our readers who shared this brilliant graphics piece, we learn about the unnoticed damage to the large class of creatures in the animal kingdom – insects. Scientists apparently refer to this as the ‘Insect Apocalypse’. This Reuters article uses some amazing graphics to first show us how huge the insect class is – with over 1 million species, insects make up around two thirds of all animal species on Earth. And the population of insects is supposedly going down at an alarming rate of 2% p.a, thanks to us, humans and our activities on the planet – deforestation, pesticide use, artificial light pollution and climate change. It then talks about the importance of insects to the environment – most notably the foodchain.

““Insects are the food that make all the birds and make all the fish,” said Wagner, who works at the University of Connecticut. “They’re the fabric tethering together every freshwater and terrestrial ecosystem across the planet.”
…Their importance to the environment can’t be understated, scientists say. Insects are crucial to the food web, feeding birds, reptiles and mammals such as bats. For some animals, bugs are simply a treat. Plant-eating orangutans delight in slurping up termites from a teeming hill. Humans, too, see some 2,000 species of insects as food.

But insects are so much more than food. Farmers depend on these critters pollinating crops and churning soil to keep it healthy, among other activities.

  • Insects pollinate more than 75% of global crops, a service valued at up to $577 billion per year, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says.
  • In the United States, insects perform services valued in 2006 at an estimated $57 billion per year, according to a study in the journal BioScience.
  • Dung beetles alone are worth some $380 million per year to the U.S. cattle industry for their work breaking down manure and churning rangeland soil, the study found.

With fewer insects, “we’d have less food,” said ecologist Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex. “We’d see yields dropping of all of these crops.”
And in nature, about 80% of wild plants rely on insects for pollination. “If insects continue to decline,” Goulson said, “expect some pretty dire consequences for ecosystems generally — and for people.”

What are the predominant causes for the decline in insect population?
“The demise of insects can’t be attributed to any single cause. Populations are facing simultaneous threats, from habitat loss and industrial farming to climate change. Nitrogen overloading from sewage and fertilizers has turned wetlands into dead zones; artificial light is flooding out nighttime skies; and the growth of urban areas has led to concrete sprawl.

“Until recently, loss of land was the single greatest driver” of the decline, Wagner said. “But climate change is becoming a far more severe and ominous threat by drying out parts of the planet that were chronically wet. And that is absolutely catastrophic for a lot of insects.”

The introduction of non-native plants, which can dominate new environments, has also hurt insects. Because many insects have evolved to feed on or fertilize a single plant species, the disruption of the plant world can have an outsized effect. For example, the Tegeticula moth species pollinates California’s famed Joshua trees, with the succulent providing the only food source for the moth’s offspring. If Joshua trees were to disappear, so too could the moth. And vice versa.”

Ironically, not all species of insects are threatened, some are thriving:
““It’s generally the pest insects that are thriving because they’re the ones that breed faster and are favored by human conditions, like all the waste we produce for them to lay their eggs in,” said Sussex’s Goulson.

Climate change is also giving some nuisance species a boost. Rising temperatures are driving major outbreaks of mountain pine bark beetles, which in two decades have decimated roughly 100,000 square miles (260,000 square kilometers) of North American forest. And with warmer, wetter weather, two disease-spreading mosquitoes Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus are expected to expand in Asia, North America and Europe, putting an additional 2.3 billion people at risk from dengue fever by 2080, a June 2019 Nature Microbiology study estimated.”

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