Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers

GR: Over the past four years that I’ve reported bad news, this is the worst. We’ve known that insects were declining, but no one would have guessed the decline was this deep. Habitat loss is probably the leading cause (Yay farmers!), but pesticides applied to farms, roadsides, and settled areas undoubtedly play a serious part.

A raging disaster of this magnitude should spur a massive response. Can we reduce the human population and its growing demand for food, can we clean up our environment,can we stop using pesticides, can we cluster our homes and leave more untouched wild nature? Of course we can. If we don’t, the consequences for Earth and for humanity will be deep and dark.

Three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years, with serious implications for all life on Earth.

As well as being pollinators insects provide food for birds and other animals and help control pests. Photograph: Kevin Elsby/Alamy

“The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The traps were set in protected areas and reserves, which scientists say makes the declines even more worrying. Photograph: Courtesy of Courtesy of Entomologisher Verein Krefeld

“The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

“The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

“The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.

“When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak.” –Damian Carrington (Continue reading: Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers | Environment | The Guardian.)

Pesticides impair honey bee flying abilities

GR: More evidence on pesticide impact on bees. Pesticides are toxic to many more animals than bees. The economic importance of bees, however, has served us all by focusing attention on the dangers of pesticides. Perhaps Monsanto’s next genetic breakthrough (after herbicide resistant GMOs) will be self-pollinating crops. Thus, pesticide use expands, wildlife declines, and Earth becomes more of a biological wasteland of mile-long rows of corn and beans tended by GPS guided artificial intelligences. Where is the farmer? He’s in the shadows shielded from the intense radiation pouring through the ozone free atmosphere.

“The evidence keeps mounting that pesticides are the main driver of honey bee declines. In a new study, scientists with the University of California San Diego showed that a commonly used neonicotinoid pesticide (thiamethoxam) can significantly impair the ability of otherwise healthy honey bees to fly, raising concerns about how pesticides affect their capacity to pollinate and the long-term effects on the health of honey bee colonies.

“Previous research has shown that foraging honey bees that ingested neonicotinoid pesticides, crop insecticides that are commonly used in agriculture, were less likely to return to their home nest, leading to a decrease in foragers.

“Thiamethoxam is used in crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton. To test the hypothesis that the pesticide impairs flight ability, the researchers designed and constructed a flight mill (a bee flight-testing instrument) from scratch. This allowed them to fly bees under consistent and controlled conditions. The study was published April 26 in Scientific Reports.

“The testing showed that nonlethal levels of neonicotinoid exposure — which bees could experience when foraging on agricultural crops–but below lethal levels — resulted in substantial damage to the honey bee’s ability to fly.

“Our results provide the first demonstration that field-realistic exposure to this pesticide alone, in otherwise healthy colonies, can alter the ability of bees to fly, specifically impairing flight distance, duration and velocity” said Tosi. “Honey bee survival depends on its ability to fly, because that’s the only way they can collect food. Their flight ability is also crucial to guarantee crop and wild plant pollination.” –Staff Report, Summit County Citizens Voice (Pesticides impair honey bee flying abilities – Summit County Citizens Voice).

Disastrous 2016 shows British butterflies are ‘failing to cope’ with climate change

GR: Butterflies and other pollinators seem to be in steep decline around my home in Dewey-Humboldt, Yavapai County, Arizona. Monarch, Morning Cloak, and Swallowtail numbers shrank over the past few drought years. Part of the explanation for butterfly decline here, as in Britain is pesticide use and habitat loss. However, global warming with its rising temperature, droughts, and storms, is probably becoming as important. We just had wet winter, and I hope that this summer and next spring butterfly numbers will rebound.

Butterflies are like the canary in the coal mine. If they die, are we in danger too?

Tiger Swallowtail

Two-tailed Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata) Arizona’s butterfly.

In Britain: “Butterflies are “failing to cope” with climate change and the pollution of the British countryside, experts have warned after a disastrous year saw population declines in 40 out of 57 species.

“The UK Butterfly Monitoring Survey found it had been the fourth-worst year overall with six species – the heath fritillary, grizzled skipper, wall, grayling, white-letter hairstreak and white admiral – all suffering their most dramatic declines in the 41 years since records began.

“Sixteen species saw increases with one remaining about the same, the annual survey found. But Professor Tom Brereton, head of monitoring at Butterfly Conservation, said the results showed that the insects were in trouble.” –Ian Johnston (Continue reading: Disastrous 2016 shows butterflies are ‘failing to cope’ with climate change | The Independent.)

The extinction crisis is far worse than you think

GR:  This CNN Photo/Video/Data essay has high-quality images and interviews.  Recommended.

“Frogs, coral, elephants — all are on the brink. Three quarters of species could disappear. Why is this happening? CNN explores an unprecedented global crisis.” –CNN (Continue:  The extinction crisis is far worse than you think)