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Insects play important roles in ecosystems

According to a recent study led by Lancaster University, we should stop thinking of insects as creepy crawlies and focus instead on the multiple benefits they bring to humans and nature. The widespread and deeply ingrained negative cultural perception of insects is a major factor holding back the public’s appreciation of the critical roles they play in ecosystems. Unfortunately, this perception is also partly reflected in government biodiversity policy inaction worldwide.

Despite three decades of intergovernmental reports highlighting biodiversity targets, global insect biomass, abundance, and diversity continues to decline. “Biodiversity, including insect, declines are often unintended consequences of human activities with human wellbeing nearly always trumping nature conservation, and this is likely to continue until we reach a point where we see flat-lining ecosystems are detrimental to our own species,” said study lead author Phillip Donkersley, an expert in Invertebrate Biology and Conservation Policy at Lancaster.

 “Intergovernmental action has been slow to respond, kicking in only when change becomes impossible to ignore. If we are to see political attitudes and actions change, then first societies’ perception of insects needs to be addressed.”

Dr. Donkersley and his colleagues highlight the various benefits that insects bring, including their fundamental role in ecosystems (such as pollinating plants, or being a food source for animals and people in many parts of the world), and their contribution to wellbeing, culture, and innovation (such as the mental health benefits people derive from seeing butterflies in parks and gardens, their inclusion in poetry and literature, or their use in a range of technologies, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals). 

In addition, the scientists outlined several strategic priorities in their action plan to help support the conservation of insects, including: proactively and publicly addressing governmental inaction; highlighting the technological developments we owe to insects; aligning with plant, mammal, and bird conservation groups to stress the interdependency of various species and the knock-on benefits insect conservation could have for other species; and engaging pupils and students with the wonders of the insect world to counter ingrained perceptions of insects as threatening creepy crawlies.

“The benefits we gain from the insect world are broad, yet aversion or phobias of invertebrates are common and stand firmly in the path of their conservation,” said Dr Donkersley. “We need to move beyond this mindset and appreciate the huge role they play in ecosystems, food chains, mental health, and even technological innovation.”

“This perception change is a crucial step, alongside other measures we outline in this paper. Immediate and substantial actions are needed to protect insect species in order to maintain global ecosystem stability,” he concluded.

The study is published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

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By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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