Global insect populations are plummeting - you should care

In some parts of the world, insect populations have plummeted by over 75% during the last twenty years.

3 min read

In some rainforests, which are otherwise relatively untouched, the insect biodiversity loss sits at about 40%. For some of you that sounds like great news! Fewer creepy crawlies, means you’re far less likely to be surprised by a spider in the bathtub. But actually, it’s a really serious problem.

It’s well known that without bees we’d lose one in four mouthfuls of food we eat, and that bees are in decline around the world. And if bees were to totally disappear from the planet, we’d follow them within four years. So safe to say, we need bees.

That’s because bees, and other pollinators, like butterflies, are vital for global food production. Three quarters of all flowering plants and one-third of our food crops are pollinated by insects – this is work we can’t easily do ourselves.

But bees aren’t the only insect important for our survival. Here’s why we need insects.

They make soil

Worms and other soil dwellers form part of a complex ecosystem, which turns dead stuff like leaves, grass clippings and other organic waste into soil we can use to grow food. And we need that soil.

In just the last forty years, we’ve lost a third of our topsoil – and we’re losing 30 soccer fields more every day. Topsoil loss is caused by erosion and intensive farming, which compacts and removes nutrients from the ground. If we continue to lose topsoil at the current rate, farming as we know it will be impossible within 60 years. Soil is something we all take for granted, but it’s unbelievably precious. Without it, there would be no life on earth.

They feed the world

Sitting at one of the bottom rungs on the planet’s food chain, insects are a huge part of the global diet, sustaining enormous populations of birds, bats, fish and other animals. These insectivores (animals that eat insects) are then eaten by other animals and so on, up the food chain. If insects disappear, entire ecosystems will collapse rapidly – they would starve.

They decompose waste

This is a bit gross, but bear with me. Without insects like flies and beetles (which are being hit particularly hard) we would be wading through dead things and er, poo. Insects are a big part of the decomposition process, breaking down all manner of organic material into delicious compost for organisms like plants.

Why are they disappearing?

Well, us of course. 40 percent of insect species are considered to be in decline, with many expected to die out completely within the next couple of decades.

We are causing huge habitat loss through mass deforestation and by polluting waterways, which affects those species that use water to breed. Enormous pasture-based farms also leave little opportunity for insects to feed and breed. And of course, there are pesticides, herbicides and insecticides, which hammer much more than those pest species they target.

Climate change is already having an effect on some populations and this will, of course, only continue.

So what can you do?

Yes, this is a problem, but it’s something we can fix! Much more research is needed and the problem is not yet dire – we just need to start paying attention.

Firstly, stop squashing, spraying and swatting. Learn to love them. Yes, some are annoying, some are scary and some are potentially hazardous. But, frankly, the vast majority of them are harmless and if you give them a chance, quite entertaining to watch.

Fill your garden with insect-friendly plants – think swan plants for monarchs, flax (which birds love it too) and flowering plants like lavender for bees and other pollinators.

Read up on pest insects in your area and find out what you can do to discourage them, without indiscriminate chemicals.