Widespread extinctions and rapidly diminishing populations are probably what comes to mind when most of us think about the nature of biodiversity change in the 21st century.
This is not surprising. The influence of modern humans on the planet is vast. The growing demand for food, timber, and fuel increasingly erodes and degrades once pristine habitats. Decades of greenhouse gas emissions are causing global temperatures to steadily rise. Catastrophic weather events that used to be once-in-a-generation are becoming the new norm. The magnitude and rate of these changes have even led some scientists to propose a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene.
It is only to be expected that these accelerating impacts will be mirrored by plunging biodiversity trends. Some have estimated that species are being lost at more than one hundred times the natural rate. We may even be in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event.
But despite all this, the response of wildlife to human pressures is by no means universally negative.
Chimney Sweeper, Maiden’s Blush, Peach Blossom. British moths have some fantastic English names. There’s also the Drinker, the Conformist, the Sprawler, the Phoenix, and the Saxon.
Such enchanting names are at the root of the ever-growing
popularity of moth trapping. They capture our imagination and stick in our
minds. Who wouldn’t be fascinated by creatures with names like Brindled Beauty,
Plumed Prominent, Feathered Footman, or Marbled Minor?
But not all are blessed with a common name. The majority of British Lepidoptera are known only by their scientific denomination. Many of these don’t exactly roll off the tongue (try Schrekensteinia festaliella or Ptycholomoides aeriferanus). Some are even longer than the insect itself. So why do so many species lack an English name? Is this something we should rush to rectify?
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.