Flying Insect Populations Have Dramatically Declined, New Study Says

Bryan Strickland
October 20, 2017

Insects comprise approximately two-thirds of all life on Earth, and ecosystems depend on them to pollinate plants and provide food for many animals. "This decrease has always been suspected but has turned out to be more severe than previously thought", Hallmann said in a statement.

"Since 1989, in 63 nature reserves in Germany the total biomass of flying insects has decreased by more than 75 percent", says lead author Caspar Hallmann from Radboud University in the Netherlands.

The study set Malaise traps, a specialized net that captures insects, up in 63 German nature protection areas for the 27-year long study.

A fresh call by the Christian conservation charity for more to consider joining their "eco churches" initiative was prompted after a new study concluded flying insect populations have been "decimated" in Germany.

They found that the average flying insect biomass declined 76% (up to 82% in midsummer) in just 27 years in these locations. "The research areas are mostly small and enclosed by agricultural areas". Researchers measured the weight, also known as the biomass, of the insect catch from every Malaise trap to draw conclusions about the drop in insect numbers.

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The researchers found that this dramatic decline was apparent regardless of habitat type, and changes in weather, land use, and habitat characteristics were not able to explain the overall decline. The fact that habitat did not matter worries the researchers as they believe these declines could be happening "everywhere".

The study did not pinpoint a reason for the precipitous drop, but Goulson notes that many nature preserves are surrounded by agricultural lands.

While no single cause was identified, the widespread destruction of wild areas for agriculture and the use of pesticides are considered likely factors. These surrounding areas inflict flying insects and they can not survive there.

Some 80% of wild plants rely on insects for pollination; 60% of birds rely on insects as a food source, according to the study. "They're even crucial in waste control - most of the waste in urban areas is taken care of by ants and cockroaches".

"Although lower numbers of some pest insects might be welcome news, the loss of pollinators, beneficial insects and of food for insect-eaters such as birds and bats will have ecosystem-wide consequences", said David Inouye, an ecologist who wasn't involved in the study.

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