Data shows that the total mass of insects globally has been dropping at 2.5 percent annually over the past 25-30 years, which could render them all extinct in less than a century.
The first global scientific review which was published in the journal Biological Conservation brings forth the terrifying truth behind our food production patterns and the startling decline of insects the world over. The numbers are quite sobering and warrant timely intervention, if whatever is left of the fragile ecosystem is to be salvaged and hopefully revived. As tiny as bugs may seem, they play an integral role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. As more of them disappear, they will take much else with them too. The analysis revealed that over 40 percent of existing insect species are dwindling, and at least a third are in danger of becoming extinct. Data suggests that at the current rate of decline of the total mass of insects, which is 2.5 percent annually, they could very well be completely wiped out in less than a century. Many fail to realize how fast their numbers are falling possibly because they are not as conspicuous as their feathered or four-legged counterparts. In reality, the insect extinction rate is eight times that of any other creature classification.
We are well on our way towards the sixth mass extinction in history and much of our fate depends on how we counter the sharp decline of essential species like insects. While they occupy the seemingly less glamorous position at the bottom of the food chain, without them many other creatures will starve and consequently be wiped out. Not to mention their most valuable role as nature's farmers, discreetly going about their pollination duties while nobody notices. The fact that there are such an abundant variety of insects and yet we have managed to topple their very existence due to reckless consumerist practices is deeply concerning.
The researchers chose to use uncharacteristically emphatic language to drive home the point and get people to sit up and take notice of the gravity of the situation. We are all equally guilty of contributing to the possible end of the world as we know it if we continue to sit on our hands and instead just sympathetically nod along to possible solutions. The scientific paper reveals, "The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet."
"Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades. The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic, to say the least," the paper warns. To meet growing demands, agriculture has long abandoned sustainable methods of delivering produce. Instead, rampant use of pesticides is commonplace. Urbanization coupled with climate change act as catalysts in this already grim scenario allowing very little room for any more bad judgment calls.
Francisco Sánchez-Bayo who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing told the Guardian, "If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind." Commenting on the annual loss of 2.5 percent over the past 30 years, Sánchez-Bayo said, "It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none." He even warned of the cascading effect on the ecosystem that has already begun to show in Puerto Rico which has seen a 98 percent decline in ground insects over 35 years.
Many scientists concur with their findings and confirm that this steep decline in the insect community is a grave global problem. Prof Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex in the UK is one among them. He said, "The evidence all points in the same direction. It should be of huge concern to all of us, for insects are at the heart of every food web, they pollinate the large majority of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recycle nutrients, control pests, and much more. Love them or loathe them, we humans cannot survive without insects."
While Matt Shardlow, from Buglife conservation charity, commented, "It is gravely sobering to see this collation of evidence that demonstrates the pitiful state of the world’s insect populations. It is increasingly obvious that the planet’s ecology is breaking and there is a need for an intense and global effort to halt and reverse these dreadful trends." In areas like Puerto Rico which are spared from intensive farming that calls for heavy-duty pesticides, global warming dons the role of the villain and is considered to be the reason behind the falling insect numbers. Either way, if necessary measures are not taken, we could be looking at an irreversible error that comes at the cost of life itself.