The Causes and Implications of Mass Insect Extinctions

Photo by Boris Smokrovic on Unsplash

Summary Points

  • The biodiversity of insects is threatened worldwide. Dramatic rates of insect decline may lead to the extinction of 40% of the world’s insect species over the next few decades.
  • The current rate of insect decline is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. Any insect population collapse would have detrimental repercussions for nature’s ecosystem.
  • The current industrial agriculture model is the primary driver of biodiversity loss. Corporate concentration in the global food system has lead to an increased use of agrochemicals, fertilizers and pesticides. As well as the conversion of natural habitats to land used for mono cropping.
  • There is a need for landowners to adopt a landscape approach, which combines conservation, sustainable management and restoration. These three elements are integral parts of a single coherent land management framework.

The Current State of Affairs

The worldwide reduction in biodiversity undergone by many terrestrial and aquatic vertebrates has been a major and longstanding concern of biologists and ecologists.[1] More recently, significant population declines of invertebrate taxa, particularly insects, have sparked trepidation amongst many scientists.[2] Population declines denote a more restricted geographical distribution of species, and represent the first step towards extinction.[3]

Declining Insect Species

Insects are the most diverse group of organisms, comprising two thirds of all terrestrial species on Earth. Over 1 million insect species are named, however 80% remain to be discovered.[8] New research shows that large-scale declines in insects are a phenomenon that requires serious attention. A study published recently in the journal Biological Conservation concluded that dramatic rates of population decline might lead to the extinction of 40% of the world’s insect species over the next few decades.

The Importance of Insects

The anthropogenic erosion of biodiversity has a direct impact on the ecosystem services essential for civilization.[11] In terrestrial ecosystems, Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths), Hymenoptera (sawflies, wasps, ants, bees) and Coleoptera (beetles) are the taxa most affected.

The Role of Pollinators

Collectively, the Hymenoptera are most important to humans as pollinators of wild and cultivated flowering plants, and as makers of honey.[17] For example, bees and wasps are the most significant agents for the pollination of flowers; they are found virtually everywhere that flowering plants occur.

The Impact of the Industrial Agriculture Model

Agriculture is the largest contributor to biodiversity loss for two main reasons:

The Influence of Corporations over the Agricultural Model

In order to find solutions to the current situation a few key questions need to be addressed:

  • If we know the agro-industrial model is the leading cause of invertebrate population declines — how did it get so bad?
  • Why are so many farmers’ globally using chemically altered seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides?

What can International Organizations do to Solve this Problem?

The United Nations Environment Programme, as well as the Food and Agricultural Organization, have codes of conduct and management strategies regarding the use of chemical and hazardous waste. These guidelines are used as a guiding tool for many countries around the globe.[41] Therefore, it is important that leading global institutions are aware of a variety of land management practices in order to reduce the overall amount of chemicals being put into the Earth.

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Alison Reiszadeh

Alison Reiszadeh

Ottawa Based Writer- I write articles about underrated and overlooked issues regarding climate change, the environment, and biodiversity loss