‘Because Insects Are Key to Our Own Survival,’ 73 Scientists Unveil Global Roadmap to Battle Bugpocalypse

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

Highlighting the “strong scientific consensus that the decline of insects, other arthropods, and biodiversity as a whole, is a very real and serious threat that society must urgently address,” 73 international scientists on Monday published a roadmap to battle the world’s “bugpocalypse.”

The roadmap, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, explains that a mountingbody of research shows “a suite of anthropogenic stressors—habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, invasive species, climate change, and overharvesting—are seriously reducing insect and other invertebrate abundance, diversity, and biomass.”

The scientists note that in September 2019 the German government announced a €100 million ($111.9 million USD) “action plan for insect protection” that includes safeguarding key habitats, restricting pesticides, reducing light pollution, and investing in research.

“This funding should act as a clarion call to other nations across the world—especially wealthier ones—to follow suit,” the letter says of the German initiative, calling for “the immediate implementation of several ‘no-regret’ measures” on a global scale.

Among the immediate steps that the scientists propose to protect bugs worldwide are:

  • Aggressively curbing planet-heating emissions;
  • Cutting back on the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers;
  • Limiting light, water, and noise pollution;
  • Preventing the introduction of invasive and alien species;
  • Pursuing conservation efforts for vulnerable, threatened, and endangered species; and
  • Funding programs targeted at the public, farmers, land managers, policymakers, and conservation workers.

The roadmap for insect conservation and recovery also features mid-term and long-term actions as well as a call for large-scale assessments to monitor the status of insects groups.

Those proposals include establishing an international body, perhaps under the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) or the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), “that is accountable for documenting and monitoring the effects of proposed solutions on insect biodiversity in the longer term.”

“As scientists, we want to gather all available knowledge and put it to action together with land managers, policymakers, and everyone else involved,” said Jeff Harvey, a professor at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam who initiated the letter.

“Most importantly,” Harvey added, “we hope that end-users and land managers now can use this roadmap in, for instance, farming, habitat management, and urban development as a template for true insect recovery.”

The roadmap’s co-authors are experts at academic institutions and advocacy organizations around the world—Australia, Austria, China, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Indonesia, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Serbia, South Africa, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam.

Among them is British biologist and author Dave Goulson. As Common Dreamsreported in November 2019, Goulson produced a report detailing the human-caused insect “apocalypse” and the “profound consequences for all life on Earth” if humanity fails to pursue bold enough action to address the declines.

Co-author Tara Cornelisse, an entomologist at the U.S.-based Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), pointed out in a statement Monday that under President Donald Trump, the U.S. government has taken steps that studies show are driving insect declines.

“The United States needs to step up and help save insects by protecting habitat and reducing pesticide use,” said Cornelisse. “Instead the Trump administration has dangerously weakened regulation of pesticides like the neonicotinoid sulfoxaflor and highly toxic pyrethroids.”

“We’re calling for action because insects are key to our own survival, and we ignore their decline at our peril,” she added. “Study after study confirms that human activities have decimated insects, from butterflies to bees to beetles. We can save these crucial species, but the world has to get moving.”

Cornell professor John Losey, another co-author and chair of IUCN’s Ladybird Specialist Group, explained that “we depend on insect predators like ladybugs to protect our crops from pests while birds, bats, and fish depend on insects as food.”

“We can’t survive without all these different insects, and they are all going through alarming losses in both numbers and diversity,” Losey warned. “Ignoring this issue places all our food security at risk.”

See the infographic included in the scientists’ letter below:

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18 comments

  1. GramSci

    Regrettably, €100 million is pocket change for Bayer. We recently drove Naples FL – DC and back with like two bug splats the whole way. It seems only NCers who notice this, and at that maybe only us older ones. Our friends’ peppers are two feet high, and nary a flower has been pollinated. For us this is scarier than Australia on fire.

    Reply
    1. jackiebass

      There can be a few reasons for peppers not being pollinated. If the temperature is either too hot or not warm enough , peppers will drop their blossoms. The biggest pollinator for pepper are ants. That’s why you should plant peppers fairly close so the ants can crawl from one plant to another plant. Over fertilizing can be another reason the peppers don’t flower. They use the fertilizer to grow taller instead of producing blossoms. I have gardened for over 50 years. In that time I’ve had years where I didn’t get any bell peppers because of the weather. Other years the plants will be so loaded that they fall over. Hot peppers are more tolerant to adverse weather. Also some varieties pollinate better in adverse conditions. I usually plant three varieties of pepper plants.I’ve had years where some varieties produce no peppers and other varieties produce many. Hope my comment is helpful.

      Reply
      1. rjs

        yes, and it’s accurate, as my 47 years of growing peppers would attest to…i’ve had years when my hundreds of thousands of honeybees didn’t make a difference…

        Reply
  2. foghorn longhorn

    Having spent the last thirty years on this tract of land provides for a pretty long term study.
    The prognosis is, we are screwed.

    The only major input that has changed substantially over this time is, radio waves.

    Cellular, electric meters, water meters, tv, and internet are all now wireless. They are also constant, never taking a break, always transmitting.
    We have moved from an analog, hard-wired infrastructure to a digital, wireless environment.

    Really don’t see this getting dialed back anytime in the near future either.

    Reply
    1. oaf

      …This leads me to wonder if all the R.F. clutter has negative effects on insects…Anyone have info on a study of this topic?

      Reply
  3. jackiebass

    Most people think bees pollinate all crops. The fact is that other insects do more pollinating than bees. Killing off all of the insects would be a big problem for farmers that grow crops that have to be pollinated. It would lead to mass starvation because of a lack of food.

    Reply
      1. Massinissa

        Is it wind pollinated or wind planted? Aren’t those different things?

        I assume ‘wind planted’ is a typo.

        Reply
    1. rd

      NYS has 416 documented species of bees and Pennsylvania as 371: https://pollinator.cals.cornell.edu/wild-bees-new-york/bee-diversity-new-york/

      The cities are turning into havens for bees as they get a wide variety of plants and environments without too much pesticide usage. Suburban tract homes are less accommodating with large non-native grass lawns treated with pesticides. Expanding forests do provide good habitat as well, although I have seen a marked decrease in bug splats on the windshield in upstate NY over the past 20 years as the patented corn signs go up in the fields indicating greatly increased use of pesticides and herbicides.

      Reply
  4. Robert Hahl

    Heather McCargo of the Wild Seed Project (Maine) talks about the importance of native plants in our gardens at the Oceanside Conservation Trust Annual Meeting.

    https://youtu.be/X4Zl4WvlrEc?t=179

    I saw Heather speak in Maine last summer and she almost got a standing ovation. One book she recommended is:

    Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants
    by Douglas W Tallamy.
    https://www.alibris.com/Bringing-Nature-Home-How-You-Can-Sustain-Wildlife-with-Native-Plants-Douglas-W-Tallamy/book/24338619?matches=32

    Reply
    1. rd

      Douglas Tallamy and Richard Darke teamed together to write a great book on how to design gardens as native plant ecosystems: https://www.amazon.com/Living-Landscape-Designing-Beauty-Biodiversity/dp/1604694084

      There is also starting to be some good research on nativars and cultivars of native plants to evaluate their ecosystem benefits. A basic rule of thumb is that leaves that are significantly different color from the original species are unlikely to be attractive to the leaf-eating insects in the food web, so use the red and purple-leafed plants sparingly in garden design and try to have some of the original green leafed species in a corner somewhere: .https://content.yardmap.org/learn/nativars-native-cultivars/

      Eastern Ninebark is a good example where there are a lot of interesting cultivars derived from the purple-leafed “Diablo” developed in Germany and the gold leaf (in spring) :”Dart’s Gold”. The “Dart’s Gold” goes green by early summer and is used by leaf-eating insects, so judicious use of the purple and reddish-orange cultivars for visual effect provides their flowers for pollinators but “Dart’s Gold” and the original species in places also provides the lepidoptera with their leaf food for the caterpillars.

      Reply
  5. Jack White

    Too little, too late. There are far fewer insects here on the farm, even though we don’t use insecticides or fungicides, now or ever. Junebugs, moths, down about 75%, I’d guess. The porch light is abandoned. Even fewer houseflies, we can leave the door open. There’s a lot of unknowns, but I suspect neonic seed coatings and systemic insecticides

    Reply
  6. kareninca

    I live in Silicon Valley. My elderly father in law has lived with us for three and a half years now. The other day said to me, “It’s so nice around here, you never see any mosquitos or flies. It’s nothing like back in * (east coast state he’s from).” Well, he grew up in the Depression; he doesn’t like insects.

    There are no bees, either.
    No moths.

    When we first moved here 24 years ago, there were insects. If you walked past a flowering bush, there would be loads of bees. A few years ago there were still some, but not very many. There aren’t any now.

    I have no idea what the cause is.

    Reply
  7. Roxan

    Neonics, and planting hedgerow to hedgerow. I have an old friend who keeps bees. He claimed the hives he kept on the far side of his farm, away from neighboring farms that used neonics, roundup and roundup ready seed, did OK. Hives near the neighbors, died. Many meadow type plants such as milkweed, goldenrod, etc. are hard to find.

    Reply

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