Where have insects gone

“If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen”… they call it the windshield phenomenon.

This worrying article appeared in May, reporting that over the last 25 years 80% of insects have disappeared from multiple sites in Western Europe. While the world had taken note of shrinking vertebrate populations (58% lost from 1970 till 2012), smaller creatures were being overlooked (evidenced by the lack of long-term insect population data).

The plight of insects finally entered our consciousness through the distressing decline in bees. Bees pollinate many of our crops – about 100 different fruit and vegetables (though wild pollinators do a much better job). In short, it seems the sixth great extinction of the anthropocene is well underway.

However, if it truly is, then there is no hope, it is too late, for it cannot be stopped, due to a “secondary cascade of …devastating chain reactions that no one understands.” (Doug Erwin) He says, “to a certain extent [people who claim we’re in the sixth mass extinction] are claiming it as a way of frightening people into action, when in fact, if it’s actually true we’re in a sixth mass extinction, then there’s no point in conservation biology.”

Our local futurist, Clem Sunter, in a recent talk to a Mensa audience, included this wave of man-made extinctions in a list of things he calls “a new normal to which we will all have to adapt”. He said, “the displacement of fauna and flora is set to intensify …meaning that the planet will be far less diverse […] in one hundred years’ time. Many unforeseen consequences may occur to the ecosystems […] as the links in the chain disappear.”

I am not ready for this ‘new normal’. Such defeatist talk is premature. For now the extinctions are mainly of ranges and populations, not yet (too much at least) of species. The degree of population and range loss is serious enough and “the time to act is very short” (Paul Ehrlich). But for now there is still hope. If you restore the flora, the animals comes back (eg. see here or here).

The worst fallout of the anthropocene can still be averted if we act immediately and decisively.

And what exactly should we do? Restore indigenous ecosystems and protect what is left. Get rid of invasive aliens, plant indigenous trees. Everyone. Everywhere. Now.