The importance of insects within ecology and ecosystems is often overlooked, possibly because there is so much focus on the larger endangered species, but also – and probably on the most part – because they are not the most-liked of animals. I mean, I’m sure you’ve run around with your arms flailing when a load of insects has come near you, right?
Insects are known for their importance as a food source, particularly for some birds. What is less known is that they are equally important to plants. Insects help to sustain plant populations both through detrivory (recycling dead waste and other matter back into the ecosystem) and pollination. However, now that the decline of flying insects has become so drastic, measures must be taken to analyse the potentially catastrophic effects.
Caspar Hallmann and his colleagues in Germany have conducted research in protected areas, finding a greater than 75% decline in flying insect biomass over 27 years (Hallmann, C et al., 2017). Malaise traps were used to find the total biomass of flying insects. These traps are similar to tents in structure, but once the insects fly into a hole they are funnelled into an 80% ethanol solution. It could be argued that this is a counterproductive method – you’d expect the biomass to reduce even more – but it is an essential step in the process of in finding out the figures so that the issue can be addressed.
Although the research was conducted in Germany, it is likely that there are similar results worldwide. This is because the main culprit in this decline is thought to be increased agricultural intensity. Despite this, the effects of climate change could not be completely quantified due to the large number of variables. Due to this, there is an urgent need for the effect of climate change to be identified so that we can get insect numbers on the rise again.
As students, we know that using a lot of energy or cars is expensive – both in terms of cost and the environment – so I’d expect us to be less of an issue. However, I believe that addressing climate change has an even greater demand than before. I find it a little saddening how urgent this matter has become, and it can only be hoped that this catastrophe is not reflected on the other populations that rely so much on these insects.