Scientists shocked by 75 percent decline in flying insect numbers

A malaise trap in a nature protection area in Germany. Credit Hallmann et

"All these areas are protected and majority are managed nature reserves", a co-author of the study from Radboud University, Casper Hallmann, said. They suggest that large-scale factors must be involved, and additional research should further investigate the full range of climactic and agricultural variables that could potentially impact insect biomass.

However, few studies have taken such a broad view of entire insect populations, she says.

"The widespread insect biomass decline is alarming, ever more so as all traps were placed in protected areas that are meant to preserve ecosystem functions and biodiversity", the authors said.

To get the best possible idea of the insect population in the surveyed areas the scientists used what are known as Malaise traps.

Hallmann also said he was "very surprised" by the results. It showed that flying insects in the study sites have declined an average 76 percent over the survey period, with a high of 82 percent in the summer months.

In the study, researchers conducted a "census" 60 nature reserves created in Germany over the past century. What makes the troubling trend even worse is that the researchers found the decline was universal across all habitats and was seemingly not affected by weather change or the type of land the insects call home.

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"We don't often think about insects other than 'eww, an insect.' But these are the organisms running the world".

Instead, they speculated that intensive agriculture and pesticide use may be to blame. According to Caspar Hallmann (Radboud University), who performed the statistical analyses, "All these areas are protected and a lot of them are managed nature reserves".

Species who rely on insects as their food source - and, up the food chain, the predators which eat these animals - are likely to suffer from these declines.

Indeed, "ecosystem services provided by wild insects have been estimated at $57 billion annually in the US", the study says, quoting an earlier study.

It then appears that plants, flying insects, and many birds - all of which have lives that are intertwined within their ecosystems - are decreasing in species diversity, if not in other respects. "It could be something as simple as growing wildflowers along the edges of fields".

"There's so much going on out there, it's a struggle to convince people that insects are important".

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