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Insect Mortality – Are we Facing an “Ecological Armageddon”?

Flying insects have disappeared by 76% over the past 27 years in Germany

Insect mortality is increasing. This year, I’ve noticed that the number of butterflies is decreasing from year to year and I hardly see any bumblebees. This year – at least in Berlin – there was a real mosquito plague since we had a very rainy start into the summer. Optimal conditions for mosquitoes, the only animals that love me more than I love them. They literally could eat me up.

Yesterday, a long-term study (since 1989) was published, confirming that the number of insects in Germany has declined dramatically. A decline of 76% was counted in more than 60 nature reserves in Germany. What makes this study so credible is the long observation period. For more than 27 years, researchers observed over 60 places all over Germany with traps that caught flying insects. Due to this long observation period, weather-related fluctuations from a year to another can be ruled out.

It is frightening to see that the measurements come from nature reserves. Actually, one would expect a lot of insects to live here.

But what happens when there are no more insects?

About 80% of all wild plants are pollinated by insects. If this pollination is removed, the plants can not reproduce or bear fruit. The extinction of insects will have dramatic consequences for our ecosystem and food supply.  Bumblebees and other pollinators provide an essential role for life on earth.

In addition, insects are important prey for more than half of all bird species. The already observed bird mortality could also be a result of the plummeting amount of insects.

Bumblebees and other pollinators are essential for 1/3 of our food
Bumblebees and other pollinators are essential for 1/3 of our food

Why do more and more insects die?

There is nothing we can say unerringly because our environment is an interaction of almost endless factors. In the context of climate change, one would actually assume that there are more insects. Warmer temperatures are actually beneficial to insects. But it seems that the harmful effects have more pull.

There are many indications that pesticides from fertilizers and nitrogen compounds from exhaust gases have a very strong influence. Above all: neonicotinoids which are highly toxic pesticides. They are used in conventional agriculture to keep pests away from plants. The problem is, however, that they are not only highly toxic but also other living creatures encounter them, to whom they were not intended at all. If a beetle eats the snail which was poisoned by the pesticide, the beetle may die, too. It results in collateral damage.

The ever-increasing use of soils by agriculture is linked with insect death. They have to be fertilized more and more intensively with pesticides. The effects of pesticides on our body will be discussed on my blog soon.

Dave Goulson, one of the authors of yesterday’s published article, said: “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

The natural world is experiencing the 6th major extinction event in its history

One possible solution to the problem could be organic agriculture, where the use of highly toxic pesticides is prohibited. Especially in the light of the fact that these toxic substances always leave their mark on foodstuffs or get into the groundwater in case of rain. This is also the reason for the high nitrate pollution of our groundwater, which is why drinking water prices are also increasing. Our drinking water must always be cleaned more elaborately to filter out these nitrates tracing back to the used pesticides.

It is getting more important that we recognize that we depend on nature and have to deal with it more consciously. The more we interfere with the cycle of nature with chemical hammers, increasing livestock farming and conventional agriculture, the worse will be the consequences. There are already many alternatives that we can resort to, which guarantee ethically and ecologically acceptable handling of nature (see Bio-Label, Demeter-Label). With every purchase decision, we as consumers determine in which world we want to live every day: quality before quantity.

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See all science-based studies and scientific evidence for this blog post

Benton, T. G./Bryant, D. M./Cole, L./Crick, H. Q. P. 2002: Linking agricultural practice to insect and bird populations: a historical study over three decades, in: Journal of Applied Ecology, Vol. 39, 2002, No. 4, pp. 673-687.

Fox, R. 2012: The decline of moths in Great Britain: a review of possible causes, in: Insect Conservation and Diversity, Vol. 6, 2012, No. 1, pp. 5-19.

Hallmann, C. A./Sorg, M./Jongejans, E./Siepel, H./Hofland, N./Schwan, H./Stenmans, W./Müller, A./Sumser, H./Hörren, T./Goulson, D./de Kroon, H. 2017: More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas, in: PLoS One, 2017.

Thomas, J. A./Telfer, M. G./Roy, D. B./Preston, C. D./Greenwood, J. J. D./Asher, J./Fox, R./Clarke, R. T./Lawton, J. H. 2004: Comparative Losses of British Butterflies, Birds, and Plants and the Global Extinction Crisis, in: Science, Vol. 303, 2004, No. 5665.

Vogel, G. 2017: Where have all the insects gone? in: Science Magazine.

Insects are dying. Above all, the bee is the main affected insect. But what does this mean? And why does this raise the topic of pesticides?

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