Scientists decry death by 1,000 cuts for world’s insects

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The world’s vital insect kingdom is “dying by a thousand cuts,” said the world’s top bug experts.

Climate change, insecticides, herbicides, light pollution, invasive species and changes in agriculture and land use are causing the Earth to lose probably 1% to 2% of its insects each year, said the University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner, lead author of the special feature. of 12 studies in the Monday proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences written by 56 scientists from around the world.

The problem, sometimes called the insect apocalypse, is like a puzzle. And scientists say they still don’t have all the pieces, so they’re struggling to grasp its enormity and complexity and get the world to notice it and do something about it.

Wagner said scientists need to determine if the rate of insect loss is higher than that of other species. “There are reasons to be more worried,” he added, “because they are the target of attacks” with insecticides, herbicides and light pollution.

University of Illinois co-author and entomologist May Berenbaum, winner of the National Medal of Science, said: “The decline of insects is somewhat comparable to climate change of 30 years ago because the methods to assess the extent, the rate (of loss) were difficult. ”

To make matters worse, in many cases people hate insects, even though they pollinate the world’s food, are essential in the food chain and get rid of waste, she said.

Insects “are absolutely the fabric that Mother Nature and the tree of life are made of,” Wagner said.

Two of these well-known – bees and monarch butterflies – best illustrate insect problems and their decline, he said. Bees have experienced a dramatic decline due to disease, pests, insecticides, herbicides and lack of food.

Drier weather in the western United States due to climate change means less milkweed to eat for butterflies, Wagner said. And changes in American agriculture are removing the weeds and flowers they need for nectar.

“We are creating a giant organic desert except soybeans and corn in a giant region of the Midwest,” he said.

Monday’s science papers don’t provide new data, but show a big picture but incomplete picture of a problem that is starting to gain attention. Scientists have identified 1 million insect species, while probably 4 million more remain to be discovered, Berenbaum said.

University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy, who was not part of the studies, said they were highlighting how the world has “spent the past 30 years spending billions of dollars to find new ways to kill. insects and barely a few cents to preserve them ”.

“The good news is that with the exception of climate change, there is a lot that people can do to reverse the decline in insects,” Tallamy said in an email. “It’s a global problem with a bottom-up solution.”

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Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: @borenbears.

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The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science receives support from the Department of Science Education at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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