By Lambert Strether of Corrente
Recently, Francisco Sánchez-Bayo (The University of Sydney) and Kris A.G. Wyckhuys (University of Queensland) published an enormous review article, “Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers,” in Biological Conservation. (I’ve uploaded a PDF version of the study in the Appendix. I encourage you to read it, or at least skim it. It’s very lucid, and written to be understandable by lay people like ourselves.) From the abstract:
Here, we present a comprehensive review of 73 historical reports of insect declines from across the globe, and systematically assess the underlying drivers.
Before delving into the Bayo-Wyckhuys (BW) article — and by “delve,” I mean take a brief and superficial view of an enormous topic — I’ll summarize the reactions to it (which are perhaps a bit more highly colored than the study itself, alarming though it is). Then I’ll summarize the reports and drivers, commenting on both. Finally, I’ll look at things that you or I could do to contribute to a solution, prior to (and perhaps, through action, encouraging) intervention by larger entities, like the Federal government).
Reactions to Insect Population Decline
Those of us who were alive in the 50s remember bug splats on car windshields, which no longer happen. This is constant trope. Here’s a cartoon about it, in reaction to an earlier study in 2017:
The 'ecological apocalypse' that bug-people told Scene & Heard and @PrivateEyeNews back in November 2017 is in the news again.#insects #ecology pic.twitter.com/yyNVXV0qka
— Scene & Heard (@SaHreports) February 10, 2019
Not sure why British bug splats are on the registation plate instead of the windscreen, but it’s the same phenomenon. And from The Onion, in direct response to BW:
Here are the headlines for more reactions to BW. In no particular order:
Global insect collapse ‘catastrophic for the survival of mankind’ Think Progress
Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’ The Guardian
Insects are dying at an alarming rate – and this is terrible news for life on Earth World Economic Forum
Insects Are Dying En Masse, Risking ‘Catastrophic’ Collapse Of Earth’s Ecosystems HuffPo
Huge global extinction risk for insects could be worse than we thought New Scientist
Why insect populations are plummeting—and why it matters National Geographic
We have a new global tally of the insect apocalypse. It’s alarming. Vox
Is the Insect Apocalypse Really Upon Us? The Atlantic
I’m not going to go through these articles one by one, because I don’t think they add much value to the report itself, which, again, is quite readable. (The Atlantic article is a critique, hence more useful.) A few comments on the headlines, however. In general, all of them evoke fear, yet none of them make the fear concrete. As far as inducing action, that seems to be to be about as bad as bad can be. First, we already have a media environment that’s saturated with fear; and when the herd is being simultaneously spooked from so many directions, who knows if it will move it all? For a long time, I’ve been skipping any articles on the Trump administration with words like “terrifying” in the headline. Second, if you want to induce fear successfully, be concrete! For good or ill, you can’t mobilize people with purely abstract terms like “mankind,” “life on Earth,” “ecosystems,” “huge risk,” or even “apocalypse” (the Christians already know what the real Apocalypse is, and for the rest of us, it’s just a metaphor). The environmental movement has been doing this for forty years, it hasn’t worked, and it still isn’t working. I argue again that the most serious moral commitment most people make, in the aggregate, is to their families and especially to their children. And yet the collapse of the biosphere, though it will very obviously harm those who are children today, and even more their children, is never framed in those terms. These headlines certainly don’t. It’s very odd. Now let’s turn to the report.
Reports and Drivers of Insect Population Decline
First, the methodology. From the BW PDF (p 9):
We aimed at compiling all long-term insect surveys conducted over the past 40 years that are available through global peer-reviewed lit- erature databases. To that effect we performed a search on the online Web of Science database using the keywords [insect*] AND [declin*] AND [survey], which resulted in a total of 653 publications.
(We will return to this in a moment.) Now from the discussion of insect population decline (pp 15-17):
Biodiversity loss has become a major global issue, and the current rates of species decline – which could progress into extinction – are unprecedented (Barnosky et al., 2011; Pimm and Raven, 2000). Yet, until recently, most scientific and public attention has focused on charismatic vertebrates, particularly on mammals and birds (Ceballos and Ehrlich, 2002; Manne et al., 1999), whereas insects were routinely underrepresented in biodiversity and conservation studies in spite of their paramount importance to the overall functioning and stability of ecosystems worldwide (Fox, 2013; McKinney, 1999; Thomas et al., 2004).
This review brings to the fore the demise of major insect taxa (albeit no studies are available for most Diptera, Orthoptera and Hemiptera), which started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s–1960s, and attained alarming proportions globally over the last two decades…..
(Dirzo et al., 2014). At present, about a third of all insect species are threatened with extinction in the countries studied (Table 1). Moreover, every year about 1% of all insect species are added to the list, with such biodiversity declines resulting in an annual 2.5% loss of biomass worldwide (Fig. 2).
The pace of modern insect extinctions surpasses that of vertebrates by a large margin, although the extent of losses cannot be accurately quantified…. Since the declines affect the majority of species in all taxa, it is evident that we are witnessing the largest extinction event on Earth since the late Permian and Cretaceous periods (Ceballos et al., 2017; Raup and Sepkoski Jr, 1986). (May, 2010).
Most worrying is the fact that the declining terrestrial insect fauna comprise not only specialists with narrow ecological requirements, such as dependence on particular host plants (e.g., Coenonympha oedippus in bogs), ecological niches (e.g., roller dung-beetles) or restricted habitats (e.g., Bombus terricola in the USA), but also generalist species that were once common in many countries (e.g., Aglais io in the Netherlands or Macaria wauaria in the U.K.). This suggests that the causes of insect declines are not tied to particular habitats, but instead affect common traits shared among all insects.
(The part about “generalist species” is interesting; assuming, perhaps wrongly, that the cockroach is one such, “Do you want your children to grow up in a world where the only insects are cockroaches? If so, proceed along your present course.)
And now to the drivers. From the BW PDF (p 12), in rank order:
A large proportion of studies (49.7%) point to as the main driver of insect declines, a factor equally implicated in global bird and mammal declines (Chamberlain and Fuller, 2000; Diamond, 1989). Next on the list is
pollution(25.8%) followed by a variety of (17.6%), whereas few studies (6.9%) indicate as triggering the losses
(Note that “climate change” is not a primary driver; the issue really is with the biosphere as such, with climate a subsystem thereof).
And from the Conclusion (p 22):
Habitat change and pollution are the main drivers of such declines. In particular, the intensification of agriculture over the past six decades stands as the root cause of the problem, and within it the widespread, relentless use of synthetic pesticides is a major driver of insect losses in recent times (Dudley and Alexander, 2017). Given that these factors apply to all countries in the world, insects are not expected to fare differently in tropical and developing countries. The conclusion is clear: unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades (Dudley et al., 2017; Fischer et al., 2008; Gomiero et al., 2011). The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least, as insects are at the structural and functional base of many of the world’s ecosystems since their rise at the end of the Devonian period, almost 400 million years ago.
With a conclusion like that, some relief might be welcome; The Atlantic provides it, in two ways. First, reputable scientists disagree. From “Is the Insect Apocalypse Really Upon Us?“:
First, some good news: The claim that insects will all be annihilated within the century is absurd. Almost everyone I spoke with says that it’s not even plausible, let alone probable. “Not going to happen,” says Elsa Youngsteadt from North Carolina State University. “They’re the most diverse group of organisms on the planet. Some of them will make it.” Indeed, insects of some sort are likely to be the last ones standing. Any event sufficiently catastrophic to scour the world of insects would also render it inhospitable to other animal life. “If it happened, humans would no longer be on the planet,” says Corrie Moreau from Cornell University.
(Note that BW write “go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” not “be annihilated within the century,” although their popularizers are far less measured.) Although “Any event sufficiently catastrophic to scour the world of insects would also render it inhospitable to other animal life”…. That’s a bit of a self-own, isn’t it? If you assume that the bourgeiosposcence (hat tip, Interfluidity) is, precisely, that event sufficiently catastrophic.
Second, the methodology:
n their review, Sánchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys found 73 studies showing insect declines. But that’s what they went looking for! They searched a database using the keywords insect and decline, and so wouldn’t have considered research showing stability or increases. The studies they found aren’t representative either: Most were done in Europe and North America, and the majority of insects live in the tropics. This spotty geographical spread makes it hard to know if insects are disappearing from some areas but recovering or surging in others.
Well, yes. I suppose there could be “insect” + “increase” studies (and no doubt the biosphere’s equivalent of the American Tobacco Institute is aggregating them right now). But that’s a bit of a debater’s point (not that there’s anything wrong with that. I go back to the disappearance of bug splats. When you think about it, that’s an enormous event. And everybody knows about it! Poke holes in the studies as you will, clearly something is very, very wrong.
Things We Can Do to Ameliorate Insect Population Decline
For the number one driver,
Big Ag the “intensification of agriculture,” BW offer suggestions:
Habitat restoration, coupled with a drastic reduction in agro-che- mical inputs and agricultural ‘redesign’, is probably the most effective way to stop further declines, particularly in areas under intensive agriculture. For example, flower and grassland strips established at the field edge enhance the abundance of wild pollinators (Blaauw and Isaacs, 2014; Hopwood, 2008), and rotation of crops with clover boosts the abundance and diversity of bumblebees (Ekroos et al., 2014; Haaland and Bersier, 2011), which in turn boost crop yield and farm profitability. These ‘ecological engineering’ tactics not only favour pollinators but also conserve insect natural enemies that are essential for keeping at bay the herbivorous pest species of many crops (Dover et al., 2011; Gurr et al., 2012; Lu et al., 2015). However, for these measures to be effective, it is imperative that current pesticide usage patterns, mainly insecticides and fungicides, are reduced to a minimum as to permit a recovery of insect numbers and their associated ‘biolo- gical control’ services (Heong et al., 2015; Way and Heong, 1994). There is no danger in reducing synthetic insecticides drastically, as they do not contribute significantly to crop yields, but trigger pest resistance, negatively affect food safety and sometimes lower farm revenue (Bredeson and Lundgren, 2018; Lechenet et al., 2017)…. For aquatic insects, rehabilitation of marshlands and improved water quality are a must for the recovery of biodiversity (van Strien et al., 2016). This may require the implementation of effective re- mediation technologies to clean the existing polluted waters (Arzate et al., 2017; Pascal-Lorber and Laurent, 2011). However, priority should be given to reducing the contamination by runoff and leaching of toxic chemicals, particularly pesticides.
It’s worth noting that HR 109 includes the following project:
(G) working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including—
(i) by supporting family farming;
(ii) by investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health; and
(iii) by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food;
I think all of BW’s recommendations for habitat restoration would fit or could be made to fit under this rubric. (I remember being taught in grade school about the New Deal, which also included changes in agricultural practice to reduce topsoil loss, which had, IIRC, led to “The Dust Bowl.”) Readers will also recall a recent link to regenerative agriculture.
And so to things you or I might do in our sphere of influence, below the Federal level, to end or mitigate insect population decline. Off the top of my head:
(1) Get involved in local zoning and permitting. The zoning and permitting process should be a powerful process to eliminate or mitigate both habitat loss and the use of pesticides. Make an issue of your town’s program to spray insecticides! Make an issue of your town’s program to cut back habitat along the roadside and along median strips!
(2) Get involved or create efforts in citizen science. BW write:
The above literature records use accurate scientific data on species distribution from museum specimens (56%), which are compared with long-term survey data obtained decades later (72%), and sometimes rely upon citizen science data (8%)
Surely 8% is much too low? Let’s increase it! Once more from HR 109:
(K) restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency;
I would imagine public libraries would be a very good place to publicize such events and hold meetings.
(3) Abolish your lawn (if you have one). You have the power to create a pollinator- and insect-friendly habitat, so do so! (You will be amazed.)
(4) Check that your local extension agent is up on the issue and has appropriate solutions to recommend.
(5) Make insect population decline a political issue through the usual channels: Calling your legislators, getting letters to the editor printed, and so on. (Just remember that if you use fear as a tool, make the fear concrete and not abstract!)
Readers, other ideas?
Bug splats alone show the problem of insect population decline is real and serious. BW have created a masterful aggregation and serious that shows how serious at the species level, and gives the drivers. Readers will be aware, at this point, that I’m a meliorist. So let’s go ameliorate! The science is there — enough.
 I mean, I lived through the Bush administration; Bush got us into an actual shooting war with a disinformation campaign, slaughtered a few hundred thousand people, and destroyed the Fourth Amendment — all with Democrat help, mind you. Now that was a terrifying administration! (OK, OK, “you were lucky.”)
 The studies aggregated by BW are from the global north, so I would like very much to hear from any NC travelers or expatriates about equally powerful studies in other parts of the world.
Here is a PDF of the study:1-s2.0-S0006320718313636-main
it’s not necessarily all pesticides that affect bees, research is pointing to neonicotinoids, especially when used on blossoming plants.
For example, if your town/state is battling emerald ash borers, it’s probably using imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid—-and brought to you by Bayer (now Bayer-Monsanto)
Forgot to add. Another reason to kill the (in my opinion, insane!) ethanol mandate—corn is the biggest user of neonicotinoids in the US.
corn is a wimp,too. i rarely bother to plant any except obscure heirlooms(like those neat blue navaho popcorns)
bt has lost its effectiveness against the varios ear worms, imo. and the usual organic methods of surveillance are difficult eith corn,due to its hiddeness: csnt tell whats goin on inside the ear until its too late.
goto organic trend, which i come by haphazardly, is to inject each ear with bt using a frelling syringe. talk about a disadvantage vs “conventional” practice.
thing is, corn isnt all that nutricious…and its heavily subsidised ubiquity leads directly to numerous societal ills(hfcs=>obesity,diabetes,etc)
The homogenization of corn is a crime against humanity. Corn is actually a nutritious vegetable (maybe not on the grand spectrum of vegetable/fruit), just not the current mass-scale, patented ones.
Old-world corn doesn’t cause the diabetes like the new-world patented ones.
I planted Maiz Morado corn last year. Animals decimated my small planting to get the nutrients because they don’t see that stuff anymore. I’d also bet, beyond the insect issue in the gmo cornfields, that you don’t see as many birds/ground animals as well that would be more than willing to eat some good corn.
Curiously, my son is experimenting with growing tobacco hornworms as a future animal protein source. He reports that the only vegetable matter they will not eat is corn. Is all our corn sprayed or engineered so that insects won’t eat it?
Yes, I wonder how many studies of the safety of GM crops for humans investigated the effects of these crops on insect life.
My cynical side would estimate pretty close to sweet FA.
I have read that part of the agreement which every farmer who buys any GMO seed is required to sign . . . includes forbiddment from giving any sample of the seed to any third party for any research purposes whatsoever.
The GMO companies are working very hard to prevent any scientific studies from being done on their patented GMO seeds and etc. Whenever a scientist manages to study one or another GMO seedmass or plantmass for animal safety effects, that scientist is heavily persecuted and a load of boiling hot corporate tar is poured over the research itself. Arpad Pusztai could tell you about that.
A little story about corn. In 2010 I was fortunate enough to visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru. One of my favourite street foods was the local corn ,which came on very short, stocky cobs and the corn kernals were as big as your thumbnail and a creamy offwhite colour. One cob, typically decorated with a small rectangle of rather tasteless local cheese, was enough for lunch and quite filling.
A few weeks later back home in Australia I read a book I had bought about the Incas in Ollantaytambo, Peru.
And there it was, the same corn variety, named Imperial White, developed by the Incas many centuries ago.
Interestingly, Ollantaytambo is laid out exactly in the pattern of said corn cob, with the individual house blocks of the town corresponding to the individual corn cob Kernels.
In Peru there are supposedly over two thousand varieties of potato, mostly natural species. They are eaten as a vegetable rather than a source of starch per se.
How many varieties of corn and potato have we coopted from their original South American sources? Not Many.
The dumbing down and nutrient removal from good food sources by modern factory farming, all in the cause of mass production, shelf life and , of course, bigger profits
This can be an issue for those, at least in the US, that are planting flower/vegetable gardens as many seeds and plants obtained from big box stores contain neonicotinoids in sufficient quantity to sicken or kill the insects that land on the resulting flowers while pollinating them. (https://foe.org/news/2014-06-new-tests-find-bee-killing-pesticides-in-51-percent-of-bee-friendly-plants/) So please buy organic or at least spend some time researching your options.
Or grow from seed! Many pollinator-friendly plants can be grown from seed sown directly in the ground. Zinnias and bachelor buttons come to mind. The latter will seed themselves very effectively once started.
Longer term, learn to start perennials indoors. Your local nursery will have some simple supplies: starting trays; seed starter soil mix; maybe a plant light if you don’t have much light in your house in February and March. You’ll learn to recognize the seedlings of the plants you start, and you’ll be able to choose from the extraordinary variety of blooming perennials that’s out there rather than what Home Depot is pushing this year. Best of all, you’ll know the complete provenance of the plants you’re putting in your soil.
Finally, aim to identify every plant currently growing on your property. You
mightprobably have plants growing that you’ll want to keep and encourage.
I would recommend NOT pruning off any inflorescences … especially perennials … until the following Spring. The reasons are two-fold : 1.) To reduce the chances of frost or freeze damage to the plant crowns through winter (hardening-off to cold of what would otherwise be vulnerable plant tissues) .. and 2.) To allow any viable seed to stratify (cold-temperature conditioning) during the winter for improved germination when the soil finally warms up in Spring. The problem with many gardeners, is being too fastidious in their Fall clean-up, thus losing the possible advantage of new, and FREE plants to be had if they just waited out Old Man Winter !!
A lot of insects are also hiding in those stalks and under the leaf litter. Cleaning up destroys their winter habitat. If there is seed on stalks, birds will often look for that in the dead of winter.
I do very little yard cleanup until we are largely frost-free. If I rake leaves off the lawn areas, I just put them on the flower beds. Otherwise, I just go over the leaves with a mulching mover just before the first big snowfall. It provides habitat over the winter, mulch in the summer, and breaks down over the next growing season providing organic matter and nutrients.
While the right is obsessing over how AOC, the GND and socialism are going to change our culture, they are missing the very real revolution that Trump is pushing along right under their nose – making Technocracy global. It’s furthest advanced in China, which has been the testing ground for this technology. Now they’re ready to take the “social credit system” or “surveillance capitalism” worldwide.
Pay no attention to the hundreds of birds that fell from the sky recently in the Netherlands due to 5G radiation, or the mini cell towers popping up in 30 US cities RIGHT NOW, many close to school playgrounds, or the countless studies of insect collapse, IPD (insect population decline).
The GND does propose to install “smart” grids, which is a disastrous swap of fossil fuel pollution for cancerous electrosmog. This agenda is trying to piggy back onto a very good idea, to improve our social services with a strong fiscal policy investment. But green energy solutions need to be decoupled from the GND so that we can move forward quickly on fixing our healthcare and education crisis while seriously considering a total ban on 5G technology.
“Who really cares whether his 5G-connected refrigerator keeps track of the food items inside it and orders new items when the supply dwindles? Who has to have a 5G driverless car that takes him to work? Who must have a 5G stove that senses what is being cooked and sets the temperature for four minutes? Who lives and who dies if a washing machine doesn’t measure how much soap is stored inside and doesn’t order new soap? Who is demanding a hundred devices in his home that spy on him and record his actions?
With 5G, the ultimate goal is: every device in every home that uses energy will be “its own computer,” and the planetary grid will connect ALL these devices to a monitoring and regulating Energy Authority.” ~ Jon Rappoport
Elaine Chao, Trump’s Sec. of Transportation and wife of Mitch McConnell, was the keynote speaker at a recent tech event:
“Some 4,500 exhibitors will unveil life-changing technology across every major industry atCES 2019. CES provides executives, industry professionals and government leaders access to the very latest transformative tech including 5G/connectivity, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, smart home, smart cities, sports tech, machine learning and more.”
Technocracy originated in the 1930s and is an idea that belongs in the 20th century, along with the libertarian brainchild, neoliberalism.
“The technotronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.”
~ Zbigniew Brzezinski’s book, Between Two Ages, 1970
Good post, except for the part about how the right’s technocracy is the devil. The left buys tech-toys much more frequently and libertarian corporations Google and Facebook have already implemented surveillance capitalism.
Society, at least in the US, will come close to extermination due to our collective desire for shiny new toys. Last year’s iPhone isn’t good enough for people, they’ve got to buy the newest one with extra-rounded corners. We should kill IoT before it kills us, not to mention that almost no IoT vendor takes security seriously, predictably leading to babycams allowing perverts from around the world to spy on children, just to name one example.
The people seriously worried about climate change — I’m looking at you, AOC — never seem to practice what they preach. Me, I’m using computers at least six years old. Verizon will stop permitting 3G phones to access its towers by the end of the year, even though they work fine.
“… the right’s technocracy is the devil”.
Not sure how you derived that conclusion. I was making the point that there appears to be a consensus between both parties to be on board with this 5G rollout. This is the real communist threat, not democratic socialism.
It was this sentence fragment: “the very real revolution that Trump is pushing along right under their nose – making Technocracy global.”
I would agree that both parties are pushing 5G, just as they both fully support Wall Street and vast corporate powers, though some, notably Bernie Sanders, do not toe the line. Neither party has any idea of the implications of 5G and IoT
Here’s a lecture on surveillance capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff.
“Surveillance capitalism is the foundation of a new economic order. Firms compete on the manufacture of “prediction products” traded in lucrative new “behavioral futures markets.” Surveillance capitalism’s proprietary digital architectures — what Shoshana Zuboff calls “Big Other” — are designed to capture and control human behavior for competitive advantage in these new markets, as the production of goods and services is subordinated to a new “means of behavioral modification” that favors private market outcomes free of democratic oversight or control.
Acclaimed scholar and author Shoshana Zuboff, Ph.D., Harvard Business School professor emerita speaks on the publication of her new book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight For a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. The event is moderated by Christopher Lydon, radio host of Open Source.”
Thanks for the link, very enlightening.
Have there been any studies correlating wireless signal and insect population decline? You mentioned the birds in the Netherlands and many of the articles I’ve read discuss climate change, pesticides and habitat loss. I haven’t seen mention of wireless at all and my small mind goes to that as one of the larger culprits.
One little thing, about the windshield bug-splats:
You write, “Those of us who were alive in the 50s remember bug splats on car windshields” — it was the same still much later, at least in Germany. I bought my only really cool and fast car round 1995, and I christened it by burning up and down the Autobahn for two days. I had to constantly wipe the windshield because of the bug splats.
One thing I wonder about in this context: Some people raise the argument that cars are build with less air resistance now, and that is supposed to explain the current lack of bug-splats. But wasn’t that optimization already done in the 1980s?
I doubt its connected with aerodynamics. A few years ago I had a very unaerodynamic VW campervan – that, inevitably, got lots of bug splats when I drove around France. But recently I was driving a rental Audi A3 (presumably pretty much state of the art for aerodynamics) around south Portugal, one of the last holdout areas for relatively unintensive farming in Europe – I was regularly scrubbing the windscreen clean so I could see out.
I had a Toyota Corolla starting in 1985 that was one of the first cars optimized for air resistance using wind tunnel testing. Lots of bug splats on windshields on warm summer days back then. Used to have to buy the special bug remover wiper fluid to have a chance of seeing through the windshield on a long drive plus squeegeeing the windshield every time we bought gas.
Rarely an issue now in similar vehicles.
BTW – urban and suburban homeowners can do things to help provide habitat. Unfortunately, the typical nursery, landscaper, and landscape architect is clueless on the issue so you need to self-educate.
Suggested self-education starting points:
If you are in the Northeast, great plant ideas:
I have not read your links rd but if you are asking people to fill their gardens with natural flowering plants and shrubs I completely agree. Its really not necessary to buy those huge flower heads from the garden center when you can get equally bright colors from plants that also produce pollen and nectar and attract pollinators. Then you garden will again be humming with the sounds of insects.
i collect seeds and cuttungs and seedlings from the side of dirt roads, and pretty much everywhere else. the hippocrat “do no har” applies: as in the georgia guidestones,”leave room for nature”–only take a little bit from the wild. if given plant appears to be struggling in some way, leave it be; unless extreme conservation is in order(and im always forcing my mind thru the socratic filter of i dont know/circumspection)
i can name every plant on my place,at any life stage past the cotyledon.
I collected seeds from the hillside to reseed my sideyard. The next spring nothing emerged, but the following spring I saw a few and then the next year (so almost three years removed) I saw that even the wild hollyhock made it. So, also, be patient.
many seeds need the scarification of freezing, drying out, burning or sandblasting by wind in order to germinate.
then they also need “timely rain”.
like you said, one must be patient, and allow the Mystery to happen.
With the surfeit of rain, we might be in store for a rare super bloom in Death Valley NP, and those seeds lie dormant for decades occasionally between showings.
We were there for the 2005 outburst of color. (predominantly yellow)
Seed also has a bell curve for germination as well as scarification/moisture requirements. Even if all conditions are perfect, only a percentage of seed will germinate to prevent having everything germinating and then getting killed by frost or drought before it can reseed. So it often takes up to five years for all healthy seed to germinate. If buried in soil, some seed may be viable for decades and germinate when tilled and exposed to light (hello weeds in a recently tilled field).
The interview with Douglas Tallamy is really useful in discussing the “nativars” which are selections and breeding (not hybrids) of native plants and which aspects of those cultivars negatively impact their ecological role.
Basically, big double flowers are usually largely sterile with poor nectar and pollen production while colored leaves have compounds that make them unpalatable for insects. So I will plant some of the cultivars where I am looking for show at the front of a bed or by the front door and then put in more of the unselected species in “filler” parts of the gardens.
For example, the purple ninebarks (e.g. Diablo and its offspring) provide good flowers for pollinators but their leaves are unusable for larvae. But other varieties such as Dart’s Gold or the plain species have simple green leaves for most of the summer and are used by some insect species as larval food. So the colored ninebarks go where I am looking for a splash of summer and fall color and the Dart’s Gold goes where I want that yellow color in the spring but it blends in as a green during the summer, providing flowers for flying pollinators and larval food for caterpillars that turn into butterflies and moths.
Nearly all green trees in a garden should be species native to a region. They provide a huge amount of biomass for many species of caterpillars. This is especially true for oaks, maples, and birches. So plant a white oak instead of an English oak. Willows (salix) are also very productive and are one of the few genus where it doesn’t seem to make much difference between natives and non-native species for insect use.
Because of the availability of insects on the native plants in our garden, our yard is a cacophony of bird song in the spring and early summer until the nests are empty and the birds are no longer territorial. Then we get to enjoy the visual display of butterflies, hummingbirds (most of their diet is insects BTW), and birds flitting through the branches looking for insects.
BTW – this website has a lot of really interesting videos on the subject with Tallamy and a couple of other researchers:
I didn’t see mentioned the loss of mosquitoes, ticks or cockroaches. What are the ramifications of their continued existence?
I searched the BW PDF, and you’re quite right: Mosquitoes are mentioned only in the context of other endangered insects for which they serve as prey, and there’s no mention of ticks or cockroaches.
So that’s the world we’re leaving our children: Ticks, mosquitoes, and cockroaches are the only insect species. (It’s possible that a search procedure for “keywords [insect*] AND  AND [survey]” would return studies for those insects, too, but we won’t know until we try….
Adding, the “Web of Science,” from which the BW sample is drawn, requires an institutional registration. Do any NC readers have one, and would they like to run that search?
There are definitely fewer mosquitos. I never get bitten the brief time I am in Maine, when normally I’d get bitten a reasonable amount. Similarly, they now never get in my apartment in NYC, when in the past, I’d have a bare minimum of hearing mosquito whine while trying to sleep episodes a summer.
And not clear there is the same number of ticks. They is vastly more concern about ticks because Lyme disease.
10 years ago when driving along a by the Big Hole river in MT there was a hatch that swarmed the road and within minutes I had zero visibility through the bug guts that then rapidly dried to a nearly irremovable crust on the windshield. I’d be interested to know if that would still be the case. Maybe Diptherio, or someone else up that way could check that out?
I bought a bug deflector after that, which sends bugs sailing over the roof of the car. Maybe more people are using them.
Thanks for this post, Lambert. I find it a little bit (forefinger 1 inch from thumb) cheering that climate issues are not a major driver with insect loss. I’m not sure why, but I like that it’s in a different, doom-ridden category. That said, they do have at least one thing in common, as it appears that attention to land use an important topic for both climate change abatement and reversing insect loss.
I wonder if our k8 environmental club could begin to work in this regard in both small scale (reviewing the insect habitats in our gardens) and large scale (city planning ideas for the city council!).
Like you, I’ve been waiting for the climate issue to be framed within this context: an overwhelming injustice perpetrated on the children who surround us, who we know and love right now. I hope it’s not “clarifying” that it hasn’t been framed that way. It better not be.
I live on the Florida coast. Bugs are not a burden because the ocean blows them inland and the lizards eat the bigger ones. Nevertheless, as research has pointed out, inventorying the bug population is not a reliable technology. Sometimes bugs hibernate for long, erratic periods. Maybe hibernation is climate-related for some, others might be influenced by gravity, magnetic field shifts, or even the presence/absence of predators. Regardless, every 6 months or so, I wake up to find my garden wall has turned black with an orgy of lovebugs (Plecia nearctica). They hide in lawn thatch, awaken, find a mate – any mate, copulate and remain connected for literally half the day, which in swarms makes them vulnerable to car windshields – whatamess. Sometimes they do not come out for a year or two. Nobody knows why.
Doubtless Monsanto/Bayer is guilty of insect genocide. Like human antibiotics, we kill the good bugs along with the bad. I cannot see Trump giving a flying f—.
There is no way this issue exists in trumps mindspace…just a little hint to the tds crowd, I mean, here’s an issue you can win on (since it’s obviously and unavoidably become election season……)
Does it exist in pelosi world, or in kamala’s orbit, or seven ways to sunday chuck ?? I wouldn’t be surprised if they were to consider the subject ONLY if there’s some advantage in it for them politically. Which brings up another question: which of our esteemed senators & reps. receive any campaign ‘contributions’ , or other perks, from Big Ag Chemical and/or other Corpserate Chemical Producers generally ?
while I completely agree re pelosi schumer et al, my point is that there is some power still lying in the street waiting to be picked up, in other words, there is some advantage in it fort them politically. Problem is they are pocketbook politicians, as in “what have you got for my pocketbook?” If they don’t pick it up people should walk away from them without compunction as it’s proof that they are in the money party first, not the party of the people
i remember those from childhood north of houston. havent seen a lovebug swarm there in decades
I would guess that magnetic field shifts are definitely implicated. In our confusion about bee populations and pesticides, and other destructive practices, we have not looked at the sun’s magnetic field growing weaker nor the earth’s growing more erratic. If bees are so in tune with the sun, their sensitivity could be enormous. Not that pesticides are a minor thing, just the opposite they are usually such wide-spectrum blunt instrument that their effects must, logically, be ubiquitous and probably hard to track through the ecosphere.
My impressions from New Zealand:
We farm 25 acres of hill country on the North Island. We’ve been on the property for 15 years. In this sort of country you don’t get large-scale insecticide/fungicide application, because we’re pastoral farmers, not croppers. Some chemicals are applied, particularly anthelmenthics (wormers) to the grazing stock (those drugs can take a toll on the earthworm populations, depending how they’re used/over-used/abused), plus some herbicide use, particularly for gorse. The herbicide use, at least in our area, is usually spot-applied, not flown-on or otherwise mass-spread.
Even so, the drop in insect numbers in the last 15 years has been remarkable. We notice it most with the moths at night. We used to have to close all windows after dark in the warmer months, or they’d swarm inside, with some dramatically large species fluttering up at the ceiling lights. Now we get few-to-none, and what few we get are only the smaller species.
Over the Christmas holidays we were playing tour guide to visiting relatives, and driving around the North Island. As driver I saw almost no bug hits, with the very notable exception of when we passed through National Park (with Ruapehu and some other volcanos). Then the thawk-thawk of bugs was relatively common. But it stopped again as soon as we got away from the park area.
On our own place we’ve left ~20% of our land as regenerating bush, including planting in species that are good food sources or were otherwise missing (but used to be common in the area). And in recent years we got some lime on the paddocks, which raised the pH and now in spring we have heaps of flowers (red&white clover, lotus, dandelion, and others). I like to think that helps. But seeing the collapse of bug-numbers in an otherwise low-pesticide environment is alarming. And it’s not like the total amount of land in grazing has changed, if anything in our district more steep land is being retired from grazing and being fenced and replanted with natives. So the local food sources and habitat should be improving over the last 50+ years, yet the insects are in decline.
Not an optimistic situation.
Yes, moths round the porch lights is a second anecdote. I remember they used to be thick as late as the 1970s in Maine. No more.
I’d forgotten about them too. Lots of big beautiful ones, pretty as butterflies.
I did notice last week on a map showing world areas that had increased greenery in the last year that though the South Island did have increasing greening areas, the North Island was completely brown. Would drought conditions perhaps be also part of the problem there? I also have noticed a lot of commercials for Roundup listening to NZ radio, so that might still be an issue down there.
Buy insect-safe food. Certified Organic is the most likely to be grown insecticide-free. The more people who buy insect-safe food, the more farmers who can make a living growing insect-safe food. The more farmers who are able to grow insect-safe food because they have an insect-safe food-purchasing clientele to sell it to, the more farmland is managed in an insect-safe manner.
And people could grow their own gardens with insect-safe methods.
San juan county is gmo free which means when you go to ace hardware or wherever in the county any seeds you see for sale are non gmo. Super cool I have to say. Hit ’em in the pocket book… neonics really need to be banned. It’s illegal to use nicotine as a pesticide in your garden as it’s so toxic and indiscriminately lethal, so what’s this neonicotinoid thing anyway?
while were at it, could we please ban dows persistent herbicides? cant have organic/sustainable ag without manure thats not contaminated with herbicides that pass unchanged thru the digestive tract
I’m wondering about an awful test case. What happened to Vietnam’s insect population after agent orange? Glyphosate left its mark on the human population, we know that. And its effects persisted in the GIs returning home and they are finding epigenetic effects as well. So long lasting to say the least.
agent orange is called “2-4-D” by ranchers, today(not exactly the same).
it’s horrible stuff…but at least it breaks down readily in sunlight.
gone in a couple of days.
the persistent herbicides don’t break down…by design.
i was unaware of this “innovation” until we wheelbarrowed 2 tons of well rotted cow manure from the feedlot to jumpstart the garden.
subsequent experimentation(the bean test) revealed that it takes up to 2 years for that crap to break down, depending on conditions.
this is still fringe news…even in the organic circles i “run” in online.
but i think it’s a nightmare for all organic/sustainable/regenerative efforts going forward…because you need good manure.
i loathe dealing with rabbits…but I’ve considered adding a dozen or more to our menagerie just for manure.(rabbit crap is pretty good feedstock for compost, is concentrated in one place(under hutches) for ease of collection, and they’re efficient coverters of plants to crap(unlike poultry)—but they bite,lol)
Paging Wukchumni – I have a very sad persistent herbicide story.
Like Wuk, I live with Sequoia giganteum, but ours are planted. They line the street, between it and the railroad, plus others of the same vintage on the other side of the road – that serve as test cases. They’re about 70 years old, mere babies, but still the biggest trees around.
The sad part: the row along the road are dying, because the railroad poisoned them. Like most, it sprays herbicide along the tracks, a mixture that includes aminocyclochlorpyrifor. Turns out it’s highly water-soluble and migrates in the soil – and it’s deadly to certain trees, mostly conifers. Ponderosa pines and some others have died from it in other places. Now we have a clear case that sequoias are also very sensitive to it. Trees farther from the tracks are still healthy. It will change our street dramatically.
Our county mostly mows the roadside vegetation, certainly on our street. But most spray. Please check with your county to make sure they aren’t using ACP, which is now banned in Oregon for that sort of use; we’re trying to make the ban permanent.
a few years ago, during our last big drought, i was driving the dirt roads to the dump(slower, no traffic, i can stop and pick up anything that escapes)…and there was a county truck, spraying the brush on the side of the road.
strong smell of diesel…which is commonly used around here as a “surfactant” to mix with herbicides. the label, i should note, says specifically to use vegetable oils…and names peanut oil as a fine example.
i called and bitched out the county judge about this…which i found absolutely ridiculous. he was shocked that anyone would see anything wrong with this time honored practice.
fixing the environmental attitudes of american humans is definitely gonna be an uphill climb.
This reminded me of a john prine song with the line about the june bug and the folklore of insects seems gone too
some fancy guitar work for those who like that
how could I not add this
Re bug splats. I drove cross country for six weeks in 1994 by myself. Because I was by myself and the radio had not much I noticed random things to keep my mind engaged, one of which was in the time frame I traveled–mid August through September–Wyoming had *by far* the most bug splats per square inch of windshield.
I have to wonder if the explosion of usage of IT devices over the last several decades are somehow affecting insects abilities to navigate whilst flying, as well as other activties (mating?) All these electronic emissions radiate over vast areas, often crisscrossing each other’s field generation … and not just from portable devices either ! Has anyone done studies to determine what, if any, deleterious effects all this High Tech stuff might have on Insect populations, let along higher lifeforms ??
That is an extremely paranoid and interesting thought!
Insect preserves. Insectariums. Insect shelters. Lots of trees. I’m wondering also about the wetter climate. Insects disappear when it rains. When it rains for 10 consecutive days, they could get hungry.
Extremely paranoid* ?? How so Lambert ? …
*perhaps my sarc detection antennae pointed elsewhere ?
You don’t have to look far to find there is some valid evidence for EM fields having deleterious effects on wildlife. Goodness knows what will happen when there’s a 5G transmitter every 50 yards.
years ago, there was a flurry of tin foil about brain damage,etc from cell phones and the ubiquitous em fields we unknowingly move around in.
but to my knowledge, this has remained tinfoil. last i looked(few years ago) there werent any real scientific studies.
one wonders abt the lobbyists for att et al having some influence on this dearth of actionable knowledge
sychronicity! 10 feet from where i parked my office in hotel parking lot is a short cell tower. on gate is a list of warnings for folks working in rf envoronments…including not getting too close to antennae and not lingering and having a “personal rf monitor”.
also strongly suggests rf safety training.
this at least implies the opposite of the blithe denials of any dangers of em fields
Here, right next to Sequoia NP where there aren’t any cell towers-save a few in the main part of the NP, it’d be a perfect blank canvas of lack of em fields & cell phone users in say a frame measuring 30 x 50 miles. There’s also no roads, so no windshield splatter tests, ha.
I tend to notice only insects that are bothersome, and there is no shortage of biting deer flies or mosquitoes as of late, although there were a couple years in the midst of the drought when mossies were downright scarce, as there were few standing pools of water for them to breed in. Sometimes you’ll hit such a rich vein of them, you’d swear they were coming at you in V-Pack formation.
I’ve also noticed if anything, more ants. Have they picked up the various missing insects slack after the latter got raptured?
A message for you further up, Wukchumni, once it posts. Basically, my neighborhood has discovered, the hard way, that sequoias are highly sensitive to a persistent herbicide called aminocyclopyrachlor (ACP). Our row of 70-yr-old giants between the street and the railroad are dying, because the railroad sprayed their right of way with ACP and the trees picked it up in their roots. Some farther from the tracks are unaffected – so far.
Counties often use the stuff on rights of way. You might want to ask your county about it – and warn them what could happen. Sequoias are not the only ones affected; ponderosas and other conifers have died, too. Oregon has banned the stuff for wide use and we’re trying to get the ban made permanent. California should ban it altogether.
Wow, what a tragedy…
How big does a 70 year old Giant Sequoia get in Oregon?
I doubt it’ll be much of an issue here as the few groves held privately (one local one is called the Case Mountain Grove) are far from anywhere @ 5-6k, and the National Park Service is very persnickety about any chemicals being applied to anything.
The trunks must be 5 feet across at the base, and they’re well over 100 feet tall. A I said, the biggest trees in the neighborhood. Douglas firs and cedars can get bigger than that, but not so quickly. The area is poorly drained and well watered.
The amusing thing is that they’re planted fairly close together; when mature, they would be a solid wall of wood.
I’m glad to hear that the native Sequoias are out of danger – but California has a lot of ponderosas, too. They died from it in Eastern Oregon.
Yes, ants are doing really well at our place, too. Some of them indoors.
All the science-gatekeepers have to do to make sure no studies are conducted on something is to refuse to fund any studies. And refuse to collect any data.
Then , when concerned laypeople raise a question about something, all the Corporate Science-Industrial Complex has to do is say: ” Oh! Is this a PROB-LEM? Where are the Studies? Where is your Data? OH! You don’t HAVE any studies OR datat, DO YOU . . .of course not. Such tinfoil.”
Beginning years ago, I was reading in Acres USA and elsewhere about the cancer dangers from the EM frequencies used by cellphones to “talk” and “listen” to their towers. I would tell people about that and say “because cell phones cause cancer” every time my friends and neighbors demand I get a cell phone.
Well anyway, some years ago a friend of mine lost a friend of his to brain cancer. I remember a couple of years after I was told about that, that the subject of cell phones came up and I said I won’t get one because I think they cause cancer. Or at least may cause cancer. And I choose to be in the “control” population. I explained the mechanism as I understood it. My friend then said that his friend had been apparently healthy his whole life till he had to be physically distant from his wife and family for a long term project. He talked to them every day by cell phone. The cancer appeared exactly “under” the part of his head that he held his cell phone pressed against for all those calls.
But I don’t wear a white lab coat and I don’t carry a clipboard around, so that story is just an anecdote. But I offer it anyway.
Thanks for this, Lambert. It’s great to see NC become a place where these issues are discussed regularly.
One additional idea: lobby your street and highway maintenance folks to move to native grasses, wildflowers and shrubs for highway right-of-ways and ground-hugging, perennial herbs like creeping thyme or creeping soapwort for tree lawns. They’re already shifting away from mowed grass for right-of-ways to save maintenance, but we can nudge them toward new plantings chosen for their value as soil builders or insect habitat.
I ask nature directly how to improve balance on my land, to get info relevant to my unique circumstances. I learned how to do this by reading Machaelle Small Wright’s books. Perelandra offers the ebook format as an option (you can only get the ebook versions directly from them; other places will have hard copies).
The most alarming explanation that I’ve read about insect collapse ties to the increasing concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The theory is that insect metabolism is intolerant to the increase in CO2 concentrations. This ties the collapse directly to climate change but also makes the solution fairly straightforward and self evident. Reduce CO2 to 300 ppm as fast as we can through world war two scale carbon dioxide removal efforts
“The part about “generalist species” is interesting; assuming, perhaps wrongly, that the cockroach is one such”
Arguably they are highly specialized as parasites on human society. That turns out to be a good bet – most of the insects that are still common are pest species, the same ones that were targeted by insecticides.
This, I think, is an argument for “crowding out,” competition and habitat loss, as a main driver of the extinction. One would think it’s insecticides, since that’s their purpose, but maybe not.
I find the usual curious “we must not mention this, ’tis taboo” omission – lots of mention of insect populations, but nary a word about *human* population, nor of the obvious negative correlation between the two. For example: habitat destruction and ‘pollution’ [meaning especailly pesticide usage in this case] are identified as the 2 main drivers of insect population decline. Both of these are tied to intensified, widening-scale and predominantly monoculture agriculture, which ultimately boils down to a single cause: burgeoning human population, though “economic development”, as a code for “increased per-capita consumption” also plays a major role. In that sense it’s not particularly noteworthy that global warming is not widely seen as a key driver of insect loss, since it is driven by the same thing: too many people, consuming too much ‘stuff’. While the various promising mitigations are laudable, they don’t address the metaphorical elephant in the room, in form of the bolded part above. We need to drastically curb both our per-capita impacts on the environment *and* our population growth rate, for in doing the former alone we merely palliate the symptoms of the disease, which is us.
The industrial and ex-industrial countries have been experiencing a population growth slowdown. Italy, Japan, and maybe others are beginning to enter a state of population shrinkage. So they are contributing on the population side. Now they (we) have to get busy on the deconsumption side.
But in order to preserve the gains which the population-nongrowth countries are making within their borders, they will have to institute a hard freeze on immigration of all sorts . . . legal, illegal or otherwise.
Though a mischevious thought occurs to me. We could suggest a Grand Bargain to any would-be immigrant who wants to enter the non-growth countries from the growth countries. We will let you in if you will first get yourself irreversibly perma-sterilized. That way, you can share the good life of the industrial/ ex-industial world while contributing to that world’s goal of population non-growth.
I can think of a few New England and New York small or new seed companies.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds:
High Mowing Seeds:
Turtle Tree Seeds:
Hudson Valley Seeds:
The Maine Potato Lady:
Well . . . none of the websites printed. But the names printed. So people could find the websites from the names using Yahoo Search or some other engine.
Well, what do you know . . . now the websites are showing up. Maybe they will disappear again. If so, hopefully the names will remain.