The impact of climate change on insects

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“Insects tether everything together. If you remove the insects from the planet, basically life as we know it would grind to a halt. We would not have as much soil manufacture. There would be no bird life. There would be little food produced on land. We would lose many of our fruits and agriculture crops.”

– Entomologist and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut,
David L. Wagner

Insects, indeed, play, though often neglected, a vital role in existence of life. They serve as pollinators, undertakers, leaf litter sweepers, garbage collectors, soil conditioners and fertiliser producers of nature. Nonetheless, insects have been facing an enormous decline in population recently even without us ever noticing its gravity. Within this context, researchers at Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research (CBER) have conducted one of the largest-ever assessments of insect biodiversity change, filling a huge gap of knowledge which has prevented better analyses in this regard. The report however brings forth several glaring truths which almost intimidate the whole world.

Climate change and habitat loss

The analysis has depicted how climate change and habitat loss have threatened the existence of insects even more seriously than the world had ever assumed. Indeed these two factors are intertwined as climate change also limits or destroys natural habitats in different ways. Exemplifying the connection between this, the researchers point out how limiting available shades further increase the temperature in vulnerable areas. They further described how increasing frequency of extreme weather events and deforestation also destroys natural habitats of many insect species.

For an instance forest-dependent orchid bees in Brazil have declined in abundance by around 50 per cent due to habitat loss.

Another aspect of habitat loss revealed through the research is caused by intensive farming. Intensive farming is inclusive of monoculture; growing only one type of a crop at one time on a specific field and excessive use of pesticides. According to the statistics the insect population in areas affected by these factors has declined by 50 per cent while only a quarter of the total number of species could be found.

Agriculture at the receiving end

The researches warn that the declination of insect population could cause catastrophic effects on life and nature, especially on agriculture. Since the insects are primarily responsible for pollination there is a possible danger of receiving lower harvests. Certain crops such as cocoa-primarily pollinated by midges- have been affected. The farmers have been using hand pollination techniques for some time now in order to overcome this issue but without much success. The situation is similar with the fruit farmers of China where heavy use of pesticides on fruit trees in the area caused a severe decline in wild bee populations.  So within this context many farmer families will be put at a risk of losing their livelihood. Much worse, if continued, this issue could lead to a global food crisis soon.

Hope is not dead yet

The group of researchers has also come out with a number of ways to minimise the declination and preserve the environmental equilibrium. Their foremost proposal is lowering the intensity of farming; using lesser chemical fertilisers and pesticides and having a greater diversity of crops in farmlands. Also, they emphasise that preserving natural habitat within the agricultural landscape helps to mitigate the negative effects. The farmlands in climate-stressed areas with its natural habitat largely removed show 63 per cent of insect reduction. This number could be reduced to 7 per cent if three-quarters of the nearby natural habitat has been preserved. These natural habitat patches in farmlands provide the insects an alternative source of food, nesting sites and places to shelter from high temperatures.

So, there is still a glimpse of hope of slowing down the declination of insects and protecting them given that the suggested measurements are implicated soon enough.

By Induwara Athapattu