It has been hard to escape media reports of plummeting insect populations over recent years (so-called ‘insect Armageddon’). Of course, the picture is far more uncertain and nuanced than newspaper headlines suggest (shocker!). Nonetheless, there is solid evidence of worrying long-term declines in insect numbers for some parts of the world. This is extremely concerning, not least because insects are the glue that holds the natural world together.
For biodiversity loss globally, conservation groups have traditionally recognised five key threats: habitat change (ranging from its complete removal through to more subtle degradation effects), species overexploitation (fishing, hunting), invasive species and diseases, climate change, and pollution (which usually refers to chemicals, including pesticides and fertiliser).
But as often turns out to be the case, reality can be more complicated (or even quite different) to long-held conventional wisdom. Some potential causes of wildlife declines appear to have been overlooked historically, or at least, their impacts have gone largely unstudied.
One of these neglected areas is undoubtedly the consequences of the surge in artificial lighting.
Why do we do it? It consumes countless hours of our lives. It must cost millions. Every hedge neatly trimmed, every verge carefully mown, every ‘weed’ meticulously eradicated. Obsessive Tidiness Disorder (OTD) is everywhere – and it’s choking our wildlife.
Widely-reported research has led some to suggest we are “on course for ecological Armageddon”. Behind these headlines: an analysis of a German dataset spanning nearly three decades, which detected a 76 percent plummet in biomass of flying insects. So is now the time to build our apocalypse bunkers?
Insects play a unique role across terrestrial habitats. They are integral to most food chains and provide vital services, such as pollination. Their sensitivity to environmental change makes them the ‘canary in the coal mine’.
If the research findings from Germany are indicative of the health of insect populations globally, the implications for ecosystems and human wellbeing are likely to be catastrophic.