A study recently published in the Biological Conservation journal suggests that Earth’s insect population could be extinct in a matter of decades, which could very well lead to the collapse of all global ecosystems.
In the study, researchers analyzed the rapid decline of various insect species, and estimated that the 2.5 percent annual loss of insects means that the last insect species could be gone before the end of the 21st century. This would, according to researchers, result in “catastrophic consequences” for the rest of life on Earth.
“[The rate of insect extinction] is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none,” study author Francisco Sánchez-Bayo told The Guardian.
In some parts of the world, the die-off for insect species has already advanced to almost outright extinction. In Puerto Rico, for example, 98 percent of ground insects died off in just 35 years.
If Earth’s insect population were to die off, it would very likely mean the subsequent extinction of thousands of plant and animal species that depend on insects for food and pollination. Small mammals that eat insects, like hedgehogs and moles, would be without their primary source of food, and the animals that depend on those small mammals for sustenance would also likely go extinct. Aside from bees and butterflies, the death of other insect species that pollenate plants — like ants, wasps, moths, midges, and mosquitoes — means almost certain extinction for thousands of plant species.
The most likely culprit for the mass die-off of bugs is climate change. As The Guardian reported in January, a rapidly warming climate means bugs that depend on a certain temperature to survive simply can’t when temperatures continue to steadily climb with no end in sight.
As the data came in, the predictions were confirmed in startling fashion. “The number of hot spells, temperatures above 29C, have increased tremendously,” [scientist Brad Lister] said. “It went from zero in the 1970s up to something like 44% of the days.” Factors important elsewhere in the world, such as destruction of habitat and pesticide use, could not explain the plummeting insect populations in Luquillo, which has long been a protected area.
Data on other animals that feed on bugs backed up the findings. “The frogs and birds had also declined simultaneously by about 50% to 65%,” Lister said. The population of one dazzling green bird that eats almost nothing but insects, the Puerto Rican tody, dropped by 90%.
The findings recently published in Biological Conservation echo the conclusion of another study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal in 2017. That study suggested Earth was in the midst of its sixth mass extinction event given the amount of “biological annihilation” taking place. Of the 177 mammal species studied, nearly half had lost more than 80 percent of their distribution between 1900 and 2015.
“Humanity will eventually pay a very high price for the decimation of the only assemblage of life that we know of in the universe,” the study said.
A federally mandated climate change study in November — compiled with the help of more than a dozen federal agencies — estimated that climate change would reduce the U.S. economy by more than 10 percent by the 22nd century. President Trump simply refused to believe it, saying the onus to reduce emissions was on Asian countries like China and Japan.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.