Is the insect armageddon upon us?
Scientific researchers Francisco Sánchez-Bayo and Kris Wyckhuys reviewed 73 insect population studies from around the world and came to the conclusion that we are in the middle of an insect armageddon that they say was caused by agriculture and climate change.
“Our work reveals dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40 percent of the world's insect species over the next few decades,” it says in their report, titled 'Worldwide Decline of the Entomofauna: A Review of Its Drivers.' “Lepidoptera, hymenoptera and dung beetles (coleoptera) are the taxa most affected. Four aquatic taxa are imperiled and have already lost a large proportion of species. Habitat loss by conversion to intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines. Agro-chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change are additional causes.”
According to a summary of the Sánchez-Bayo/Wyckhuys report in the UK newspaper The Guardian, “The planet is at the start of [the] sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are 'essential' for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.”
The data assessed by Sánchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys was not comprehensive. Most of the studies they analyzed were from the USA and Europe. A few were from Australia, China, Brazil and South Africa, but very few from anywhere else. Also, very little is known about many types of flies, ants, aphids, crickets and other bugs, and undiscovered specimens are being discovered all the time. It is difficult to come to a definitive conclusion using limited data of an incomplete picture.
“It's as if our global climate dataset only involved 73 weather stations, mostly in Europe and the United States, active over different historical time windows,” said University of Texas at Austin professor Alex Wild on Twitter. “Imagine that only some of those stations measured temperature. Others, only humidity. Others, only wind direction. Trying to cobble those sparse, disparate points into something resembling a picture of global trends is ambitious, to say the least.”
Meanwhile, for years there have been reports of a mysterious decline in the bee population. In 1947, the number of honeybee colonies in the US was 6 million. Today it is 2.5 million. To make matters worse for the bees, last week the EPA revealed that in 2018 they issued “emergency approvals” to spray sulfoxaflor, an insecticide considered “very highly toxic” to bees, on more than 16 million acres of crops, including sorghum and cotton, in 18 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.
"Spraying 16 million acres of bee-attractive crops with a bee-killing pesticide in a time of global insect decline is beyond the pale, even for the Trump administration," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity in an interview with EcoWatch.com. "The EPA is routinely misusing the 'emergency' process to get sulfoxaflor approved because it's too toxic to make it through normal pesticide reviews."
Emergency exemptions for sulfoxaflor aren't some new way Trump dreamed up to kill bees. When he was president, Obama issued similar exemptions for sulfoxaflor year after year. The most recent exemptions are available to read online at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/02/14/2019-02354/pesticide-emergency-exemptions-agency-decisions-and-state-and-federal-agency-crisis-declarations. The full report by Sánchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys is available online at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320718313636#!