Collapse in flying insect numbers points to 'ecological Armageddon'

Leslie Hanson
October 19, 2017

Flying insects, an annoying but necessary part of life, are disappearing, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One. When you stop your vehicle after a drive, there seem to be far fewer squashed insects than there used to be. Flying insects were trapped in malaise traps and the total biomass was then weighed and compared.

While no corresponding data over the same study period is available for non-flying insects, "we can just hope they are faring better, but we have no reason to believe that is the case", Hallman said.

The data includes thousands of different insects, such as bees, butterflies and moths.

The scientists 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 study out of Germany is not the first to show a decline in airborne bugs.

Mr Goulsen said a possible explanation would be insects dying when they fly out of nature reserves into farmland "with very little to offer for any wild creature".

"In the modern agricultural landscape, for insects it's a hostile environment, it's a desert, if not worse, " said Dr de Kroon. "The big surprise is that it is also happening in adjacent nature reserves".

"If the biomass of insects is already declining so dramatically in protected areas, the development in unprotected ecosystems must be at least as serious", Steidle told SZ. This decrease has always been suspected but has turned out to be more severe than previously thought.

'As entire ecosystems are dependent on insects for food and as pollinators, it places the decline of insect eating birds and mammals in a new context, ' states Hans de Kroon.

Dr Lynn Dicks, from the University of East Anglia, UK, who is not connected with the study, said the paper provides new evidence for "an alarming decline" that many entomologists have suspected for some time.

At 82 percent, the decline of insects biomass during midsummer, when insects populations tend to peak, proved more severe than the annual average decline.

"Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot".

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