A bug in your ear

The Compass - - Editorial -

Not only is the world be­com­ing a less colour­ful place, it’s be­com­ing a less func­tional one as well.

What’s a bug worth? Well, ac­cord­ing to a 2006 study in the sci­en­tific jour­nal Bio­Science, the an­swer num­bers in the bil­lions.

“The Eco­nomic Value of Eco­log­i­cal Ser­vices Pro­vided by In­sects” puts a clear num­ber on their value.

“In this ar­ti­cle we fo­cus on the vi­tal eco­log­i­cal ser­vices pro­vided by in­sects,” the au­thors say. “We re­strict our fo­cus to ser­vices pro­vided by ‘wild’ in­sects; we do not in­clude ser­vices from do­mes­ti­cated or mass-reared in­sect species.”

What the sci­en­tists ex­am­ined was four cru­cial ser­vices pro­vided by in­sects: dung burial, pest con­trol, pol­li­na­tion, and nu­tri­tion for wildlife.

“We base our es­ti­ma­tions of the value of each ser­vice on pro­jec­tions of losses that would ac­crue if in­sects were not func­tion­ing at their cur­rent level,” the study goes on to say. “We es­ti­mate the an­nual value of these eco­log­i­cal ser­vices pro­vided in the United States to be at least $57 bil­lion...”

So why is an 11-year-old study on the value of in­sects so in­ter­est­ing to­day?

Well, be­cause an even newer study is sug­gest­ing that in­sects are dis­ap­pear­ing at a stag­ger­ing rate.

The study, in the jour­nal PLOS One, looks at changes in fly­ing in­sect biomass in a set of 63 pro­tected ar­eas in Ger­many.

It’s based on 27 years of in­sect-trap mea­sure­ment, and the re­sults are alarm­ing.

Be­tween 1989 and 2016, the biomass of fly­ing in­sects in the ar­eas cov­ered by the study fell by be­tween 76 and 82 per cent.

Re­mem­ber, that’s the to­tal biomass - not the num­ber of species that were found.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­searchers, “Loss of in­sect di­ver­sity and abun­dance is ex­pected to pro­voke cas­cad­ing ef­fects on food webs and to jeop­ar­dize ecosys­tem ser­vices.”

In­sects pro­vide 80 per cent of wild plant pol­li­na­tion, and 60 per cent of birds rely on in­sects as a food source.

“Our re­sults demon­strate that re­cently re­ported de­clines in sev­eral taxa such as but­ter­flies, wild bees and moths, are in par­al­lel with a se­vere loss of to­tal aerial in­sect biomass, sug­gest­ing that it is not only the vul­ner­a­ble species, but the fly­ing in­sect com­mu­nity as a whole, that has been dec­i­mated over the last few decades.”

Of course, the de­cline in in­sects recorded in the study is only part of what the nat­u­ral world has lost. An­other study found that be­tween 1970 and 2012, the planet lost roughly 58 per cent of its wild ver­te­brate abun­dance.

Not only is the world be­com­ing a less colour­ful place, it’s be­com­ing a less func­tional one as well.

There has to be a point where we stop ig­nor­ing the warn­ings all around us.

Put it this way: ca­naries in coal mines only ef­fec­tively de­tect the pres­ence of coal gas if you are will­ing to look in their cages to see if they might be dead.

If you just keep blindly dig­ging, well, you can imag­ine how that’s go­ing to turn out.

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