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Posted on: October 22, 2018 at 2:27 pm
Last updated: January 3, 2019 at 5:39 pm

We are all aware of how crucial bees are to our existence. In fact, they’re so important that even Morgan Freeman converted his 124-acre ranch into a bee sanctuary to help save the bees. But, a new report suggests that bees aren’t the only insects we should be worried about losing.

Since about 1980, researchers from around the world have found that beetle, bee, and other invertebrate populations have decreased by 45%. [1] On top of that, another 27-year study showed that flying insect populations in Germany have dropped a shocking 75%. [2] So, why should I care about what’s happening in Europe?

Well, in October 2018, scientists published a hyper-alarming report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. For the first time, scientists are acknowledging that the drastic drop in insects is now being felt in the Americas. [3]

It may not seem like a big deal. We may not even notice any significant impacts right now. But for David Wagner, an expert in invertebrate conservation at the University of Connecticut, the significance of this new report cannot be stressed enough: “This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read.” [4]

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Biologist Bradford Lister has studied Puerto Rico’s fairytale-like rainforest insects since the mid-1970’s. In 1976, Lister and his team visited El Yunque, the tropical rainforest, to measure some of the populations found living underneath its 50-foot-tall canopy: [3]

  • Insects
  • Insectivores
  • Birds
  • Frogs
  • Lizards

Bye-Bye Bugs…

Almost 40 years later, Lister and his colleague ecologist, Andrés García, returned to El Yunque to see how it had changed. But they didn’t expect what they saw.

“Boy, it was immediately obvious when we went into that forest,” said Lister. [4] “Fewer birds flitted overhead. These butterflies, once abundant, had all but vanished.”

The two scientists used the same areas and methods as in 1976 to measure the rain forest’s insect and arthropod (e.g., spiders and centipedes) populations. It was not until they finished collecting them all in nets and on sticky traps that the reality started to kick in…

“’Everything is dropping,’ Lister said. [4] The most common invertebrates in the rain forest — the moths, the butterflies, the grasshoppers, the spiders and others — are all far less abundant.” [4]

What Is Causing All the Insects to Disappear?

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In their report, Lister and García also recorded the forest temperatures and compared them to the averages from forty years ago. After comparing them, they found that the average maximum temperatures have risen 2.0° Celsius. It’s one of the only things that increased, but not for the better… Do you remember what a two-degree temperature increase can do to our species?

“Our study indicates that climate warming is the driving force behind the collapse of the forest’s food web.” [3]

Next time you go outside during the spring and summer, take a moment to sit in silence… Is the nature around still vibrant? Can you see insect populations working away? Do you hear birds chirping or see bees buzzing and butterflies fluttering? Let’s hope we do…It’s only a matter of time until humanity starts to see the effects.

Keep Reading: Deadly Heat Waves: A Sign of Global Temperature Shifts

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[1] Dirzo, R., Young, H. S., Galetti, M., Ceballos, G., Isaac, N. J., & Collen, B. (2014, July 25). Defaunation in the Anthropocene. Retrieved from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/345/6195/401

[2] Hallmann, C. A., Jongejans, E., Siepel, H., Hofland, N., Schwan, H., Stenmans, W., . . . Martin Sorg. (n.d.). More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0185809

[3] Lister, B. C., & Garcia, A. (2018, October 10). Climate-driven declines in arthropod abundance restructure a rainforest food web. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/10/09/1722477115

[4] ‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss. (2018, October 15). Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/science/2018/10/15/hyperalarming-study-shows-massive-insect-loss/

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