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Does Congress Need to Act on the ‘Insect Apocalypse’?

by Countable | 12.3.18

What’s the story?

  • They’re calling it the “Insect Apocalypse.”
  • The population of monarch butterflies has fallen by 90 percent in the last 20 years; the bumblebee dropped by 87 percent over the same time period. And a German study found that, measured by weight, the abundance of flying insects in that country’s nature reserves had decreased by 75 percent over 27 years.
  • But the disappearance of certain species isn’t what’s most disquieting to scientists—it’s “that a whole insect world might be quietly going missing, a loss of abundance that could alter the planet in unknowable ways,” the New York Times explained.
“We notice the losses,” says David Wagner, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut, told the Times. “It’s the diminishment that we don’t see.”

Why the concern?

  • Thirty-five percent of the world’s plant crops require pollination by bees, wasps, and other animals. (As the Times points out, “In the United States, dung beetles save ranchers an estimated $380 million a year.)
  • Arthropods also chew up rotting wood and eat carrion. “And none of us want to have more carcasses around,” Louisiana State University entomologist Timothy Schowalter told The Washington Post
  • According to a 2006 estimate, “wild insects provide $57 billion worth of six-legged labor in the United States each year,” the Post explained.
“Bugs are vital to the decomposition that keeps nutrients cycling, soil healthy, plants growing and ecosystems running. This role is mostly invisible, until suddenly it’s not.” –New York Times

What can be done?

  • Regulating – or banning - neonicotinoid pesticides— neurotoxins used to treat crops that also affect insects.
  • Paying farmers to create insect habitats by leaving fields fallow and allowing for wild edges alongside cultivation
  • Integrating insect habitats into the design of roads, power lines, railroads, and other infrastructures.
  • Research into what's causing the defaunation.

What do you think?

“Unfortunately, we have deaf ears in Washington,” Schowalter said. But Congress will have to listen at some point, he added, because our food supply will be threatened.

Insects around the world are in a crisis—does Congress need to act? If so, should they focus on climate change or some other way of protecting arthropods? Take action above, then share your thoughts below.

—Josh Herman


 (Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / imv)

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