The results of a new scientific study indicate that extreme land use combined with warming temperatures are pushing insect ecosystems toward collapse in some parts of the world. The study demonstrated a clear and alarming link between the climate crisis and high-intensity agriculture* and showed that in places where those impacts are particularly high, insect abundance has already dropped by nearly 50%, while the number of species has been slashed by 27%. Why should you care? Well, given the important role of insects in local ecosystems, pollination and food production, losing insects threatens human health and food security.
“Three quarters of our crops depend on insect pollinators. Crops will begin to fail. We won’t have things like strawberries. We can’t feed 7.5 billion people without insects.”
-Dr. Dave Goulson, professor of biology, University of Sussex in the UK
Researchers analyzed data from a 20-year period for more than 6,000 locations and studied nearly 18,000 insect species, including butterflies, moths, dragonflies, grasshoppers and bees.
They concluded that in areas with low-intensity agriculture, less climate warming, and a nearby natural habitat, insects only declined by 7%, compared to the 63% decrease in areas with less natural habitat cover. Many insects rely on plants for shade during sweltering days — the loss of nearby natural habitats could leave them more exposed and vulnerable to warming temperatures. And as climate change advances, scientists say these natural buffers may become less effective.
What can you do?
Scientists say there are important changes we can do at the individual level to help stave off this crisis: (1) planting more native species and wildflowers, (2) reducing pesticides used in gardens, and (3) limiting the frequency of lawn mowing.
*Researchers defined high-intensity agriculture as the kind characterized by the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers, low crop diversity, large field size or high livestock density, among other things — all of which are relatively common features of modern-day farming.
: Outhwaite, C.L., McCann, P. & Newbold, T. Agriculture and climate change are reshaping insect biodiversity worldwide. Nature
(2022). PDF of study