A new report from the Associated Press (AP) is describing a lack of flying insects that were once abundant in the summertime. The obvious signs of population declines among insects such as bees, butterflies, and moths have scientists concerned, and there is not enough data from previous decades to confirm or calculate most of these losses.
Helen Spafford is an entomologist at the University of Hawaii. She told the AP, “We don’t know how much we’re losing if we don’t know how much we have.”
Even though flying insects were not always monitored closely, there is a noticeable lack of them across the globe.
One of the only broad studies on the issue was conducted last summer in Germany. The researchers found that the number and weight of bugs captured in traps in 63 nature preserves across the country declined by 82 percent over the last 27 years.
University of Connecticut entomologist David Wagner has documented moth declines in the northeastern United States. “It’s clearly not a German thing,” Wagner told the AP. “We just need to find out how widespread the phenomenon is.”
May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois said that the lack of older data makes it “unclear to what degree we’re experiencing an arthropocalypse.” While individual studies may not be as compelling, “the sheer accumulated weight of evidence” is creating a shift, according to Berenbaum.
Research has found declining numbers of individual species in certain places, including moths, lightning bugs, and bumblebees. One study estimated that ladybugs declined by 14 percent in the United States and Canada from 1987 to 2006.
University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy told the AP: “You have total ecosystem collapse if you lose your insects. How much worse can it get than that?” Tallamy said that, without insects, “the world would start to rot.”
According to the AP’s report, the suspected causes of vanishing insects include habitat loss, insecticide use, the killing of native weeds, invasive species, highway traffic, light pollution, and climate change.