Disappearing Insects

Teresa Madaleno

There has been widespread discussion around the declining wild bee population over the last few years, but what many scientists are now realizing is that insects are also disappearing.

Insects are an important part of our ecosystem. They help pollinate some of our favourite foods, including apples, avocados, cucumbers and onions. The flowers of many crops need pollen from another plant of the same crop in order to produce seeds or fruits, and bees and other insects transfer pollen from one plant to another as they drink flower nectar.

In a recent statement to news reporters, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, Achim Steiner said, “The growing threat to insects, which play an important role in food security, provides another compelling example of how connected people are to our environment, and how deeply entwined our fate is with that of the natural world.”

Less insects means less food to feed the world. While this may sound dramatic, it is a simple fact.

Just a few years ago a study published in the journal Science indicted that of 41 major crops on six continents, wild insects pollinate “more effectively” than honeybees that are in the care of humans. Another study showed that the insect population has significantly decreased over the last 100 years. When it came to bees, the research indicated, of 109 species observed visiting woodland plants, only 54 remained by 2010. At the time of the study the authors said that it seemed as if rising temperatures caused a disruption in peak bee activity.

So why are we just learning about this now? One reason is that there are millions of insect species and a limited number of insect specialists. Right now the relationship between insects and plants is not fully understood.

At this point experts can’t point the finger at one single cause for the insect decline, but they do believe the problem is man-made. They say it could be a combination of changes in land use, pesticide use, pest diseases, invasive species, and climate change.

Scientists say we can’t afford to wait – we have to do something now to deal with the decline. Reducing chemical use, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and returning to more natural farming methods that promote biodiversity, are some of the suggestions from experts.