Study: Pesticides Are Causing an “Insect Apocalypse”

February 23, 2019 at 6:07 pm

Nearly half of all insect species could be extinct in a few decades thanks to industrial agriculture. Researchers call for urgent global shift toward more sustainable farming practices.

Credit: Matt Dorfman, Bridgeman Images.

A new meta-analysis of 73 studies finds that industrial farming practices, especially the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, are to blame for a global “insect apocalypse.”

More than 40 percent of insect species worldwide are on the fast-track to extinction, the study found. And because of the symbiotic relationship between insects and all other life on Earth, that spells trouble for even those of us at the top of the food chain.

The main causes, in order of importance, are as follows, say the study’s authors:

1. Habitat loss to intensive agriculture and urbanization

2. Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers

3. Pathogens and non-native species invasions.

4. Climate change.

Species from all insect groups — but especially butterflies, moths, native bees, beetles, and aquatic insects like dragonflies — are in danger.

The populations of half of all butterfly, moth and beetle species are on a sharp decline, while a sixth of all bee species have disappeared completely.

The review cites a 2017 study that found that more than 75% of all flying insects had disappeared from Germany in just 25 years.

It also points to a 2018 study that found a 78-98% reduction in the biomass of all arthropods (insects, spiders, centipedes and crustaceans) in the rainforest of Puerto Rico over a 36-year period.

The Puerto Rico study also showed parallel declines in birds, frogs and lizards, who rely on the arthropods for food.

Insects comprise about 2/3 of all terrestrial species on Earth, and because all other species are interdependent on them, we are all in danger if they are.

“A rethinking of current agricultural practices, in particular a serious reduction in pesticide usage and its substitution with more sustainable, ecologically-based practices, is urgently needed to slow or reverse current trends, allow the recovery of declining insect populations and safeguard the vital ecosystem services they provide,” wrote the study’s authors, biologists from the University of Sydney and the University of Queensland.

“This analysis is an alarming wake-up call that we need to dramatically reduce pesticide use,” said entomologist Tara Cornelisse, in a press release for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Dumping more and more insecticides on our food crops is like fixing a noise under the hood by yanking out the car’s engine. Insects are the foundation of every healthy ecosystem, so we need to quit poisoning landscapes with millions of pounds of toxic pesticides every year.”

“We know neonicotinoid pesticides are a major cause of bee decline and are working to ban them, but this review highlights the urgent need for sweeping pesticide reform,” Cornelisse added.

“That reform must start with the EPA replacing its long, troubling embrace of pesticide makers with a truly independent review process for assessing these dangerous poisons.”