This project is important, even though it may appear insignificant. The 2023 Bugs Matter Campaign has nearly 700 participants and collected data from 6,358 journeys. This can be used to draw broader conclusions.
The 2022 results showed that the number of insects killed by cars had decreased by 64% over less than 20 years. Scientists are concerned by these results, which support the thesis that we’re moving closer to the sixth mass extinction.
Sixth mass extinction
Studies across Europe have also drawn similar conclusions. For the most accurate measurements, researchers use historical studies that track insect populations for decades.
In Germany, in 2017, a 27-year-long study was released that showed 76% of the flying insect biomass had been lost across a large network of natural space.
In Denmark, the number of insects has decreased along with the shrinking number of birds that feed on these insects, such as barn swallows.
In June, the Spanish and Portuguese scientific societies for entomologists gathered in Alicante to attend the Twenty-first Iberian Entomology Congress. They published a manifesto to bring attention to the alarming decline in insect populations and put an end to it.
The situation is alarming, not just in Europe. This is because the continent is densely populated and is exposed to human pressures. In studies of tropical forests in Puerto Rico, the current insect population was compared with that of 36 years earlier. The results were equally catastrophic: a 78% reduction in ground-dwelling insects biomass. The study showed that animals such as birds, lizards, and frogs that eat insects were also declining.
Why are there fewer insects?
The human activity that causes soil, vegetation, and water to deteriorate continuously is the root cause of many problems.
Insects are a diverse group. Insects need the soil that we cover in cement, the water that is becoming scarcer and that we divert or pollute, as well as the plants we spray with pesticides. We also disrupt the communication mechanisms that insects require to survive. Light, air, and chemical pollution can all lead to disorientation. The number of microscopic airborne particles that block their sensory organs, and ways to communicate is on the increase.
All of these are occurring along with Climate Change. This is considered an important factor for declining insect populations.
Loss of insect diversity leads to homogenization. It weakens vital biological connections between all living creatures, which threatens our existence as a species.
Wasps are essential pollinators. Richard Bartz / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA
Why are they important?
Over 80% of all animals are insects. Insects play a number of essential roles in the survival of life on Earth. The most important is that they pollinate plants.
35% of the food in the world comes from plants pollinated by insects. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, if it were to disappear, food security would be in danger.
Insects also play an irreplaceable part in the ecology by decomposing organic material and recycling nutrients. Insects are natural gardeners and garbage collectors. They contribute to the formation and health of soil, which is essential for maintaining food chains and cycles.
Insects also play a role in pest control, which is often overlooked. They prevent or reduce pest damage.
What can we do to protect them?
Individuals cannot solve large-scale environmental problems. Experience shows that many small actions can lead to big results. We can do the following:
Support or work on projects that raise awareness of insects in both rural and urban areas. In the UK, there are many examples, such as Kent Wildlife Trust or Buglife. In Spain, we have the Spipoll project uBMS Citizens’ Butterfly Observatory as well as the Spanish Network of Biosphere Reserves’ phenological monitoring program.
Verge, roundabouts, and other undeveloped spaces should contain native flora and animal habitats that can serve as breeding grounds and refuges for insects.
Avoid using pesticides on private gardens, vegetable patches, and public green areas. Avoid removing “weeds” around ornamental plants during the flowering period.
Food products that are produced using good agricultural practices promote and value organic farming or biological pest control.
Use products that do not harm insects and that aid in decomposition to replace pesticides on livestock.
In both agriculture and gardening, avoid introducing invasive plants or animals.