Humanity must save insects to save ourselves, leading scientist warns

Insects are ‘the glue in nature’, says Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, underpinning the food and water we rely on.

Humanity must save insects, if not for their sake, then for ourselves, a leading entomologist has warned.

“Insects are the glue in nature and there is no doubt that both the [numbers] and diversity of insects are declining,” said Prof Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson, at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. “At some stage the whole fabric unravels and then we will really see the consequences.”

On Monday, the largest ever assessment of the health of nature was published and warned starkly that the annihilation of wildlife is eroding the foundations of human civilisation. The IPBES report said: “Insect abundance has declined very rapidly in some places … but the global extent of such declines is not known.” It said the available evidence supports a “tentative” estimate that 10% of the 5.5m species of insect thought to exist are threatened with extinction.

But for all their abundance, insects are in trouble. “Global data suggests that while we humans have doubled our population in the past 40 years, the number of insects has been reduced by almost half – these are dramatic figures,” she said.

Some researchers warned in February that falling insect populations threaten a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, while recent studies from Germany and Puerto Rico have revealed plunging numbers over the last 25 to 35 years.

“There are lots of details to fill in, but I have read pretty much every study in English and I haven’t seen a single one where entomologists don’t believe the main message that a lot of insect species are definitely declining,” said Sverdrup-Thygeson. 

“I can understand people might not be interested in saving insects for insects’ sake. But people should realise this will come back on ourselves. We should save insects, if not for their sake, then for our own sake, because it will make it even more difficult than today to get enough food for the human population of the planet, to get good health and fresh water for everybody. That should be a huge motivation for doing something while we still have time.

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