Scary news from Australia:
• Marc Rigby, Insect population decline leaves Australian scientists scratching for solutions, ABC Far North, 23 February 2018.
I’ll quote the start:
A global crash in insect populations has found its way to Australia, with entomologists across the country reporting lower than average numbers of wild insects.
University of Sydney entomologist Dr. Cameron Webb said researchers around the world widely acknowledge that insect populations are in decline, but are at a loss to determine the cause.
“On one hand it might be the widespread use of insecticides, on the other hand it might be urbanisation and the fact that we’re eliminating some of the plants where it’s really critical that these insects complete their development,” Dr Webb said.
“Add in to the mix climate change and sea level rise and it’s incredibly difficult to predict exactly what it is. It’s left me dumbfounded.”
Entomologist and owner of the Australian Insect Farm, near Innisfail in far north Queensland, Jack Hasenpusch is usually able to collect swarms of wild insects at this time of year.
“I’ve been wondering for the last few years why some of the insects have been dropping off and put it down to lack of rainfall,” Mr. Hasenpusch said.
“This year has really taken the cake with the lack of insects, it’s left me dumbfounded, I can’t figure out what’s going on.”
Mr Hasenpusch said entomologists he had spoken to from Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and even as far away as New Caledonia and Italy all had similar stories.
The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary in Kuranda, west of Cairns, has had difficulty breeding the far north’s iconic Ulysses butterfly for more than two years.
“We’ve had [the problem] checked by scientists, the University of Queensland was involved, Biosecurity Queensland was involved but so far we haven’t found anything unusual in the bodies [of caterpillars] that didn’t survive,” said breeding laboratory supervisor Tina Kupke.
“We’ve had some short successes but always failed in the second generation.”
Ms. Lupke said the problem was not confined to far north Queensland, or even Australia. “Some of our pupae go overseas from some of our breeders here and they’ve all had the same problem,” she said. “And the Melbourne Zoo has been trying for quite a while with the same problems.”
Limited lifecycle prefaces population plummet
Dr. Webb, who primarily researches mosquitoes, said numbers were also in decline across New South Wales this year, which was indicative of the situation in other insect populations.
“We’ve had a really strange summer; it’s been very dry, sometimes it’s been brutally hot but sometimes it’s been cooler than average,” he said.
“Mosquito populations, much like a lot of other insects, rely on the combination of water, humidity and temperature to complete their lifecycle. When you mix around any one of those three components you can really change the local population dynamics.”
All this reminds me of a much more detailed study showing a dramatic insect population decline in Germany over a much longer time period:
• Gretchen Vogel, Where have all the insects gone?, Science, 10 May 2017.
I’ll just quote a bit of this article:
Now, a new set of long-term data is coming to light, this time from a dedicated group of mostly amateur entomologists who have tracked insect abundance at more than 100 nature reserves in western Europe since the 1980s.
Over that time the group, the Krefeld Entomological Society, has seen the yearly insect catches fluctuate, as expected. But in 2013 they spotted something alarming. When they returned to one of their earliest trapping sites from 1989, the total mass of their catch had fallen by nearly 80%. Perhaps it was a particularly bad year, they thought, so they set up the traps again in 2014. The numbers were just as low. Through more direct comparisons, the group—which had preserved thousands of samples over 3 decades—found dramatic declines across more than a dozen other sites.
It also mentions a similar phenomenon in Scotland:
Since 1968, scientists at Rothamsted Research, an agricultural research center in Harpenden, U.K., have operated a system of suction traps—12-meter-long suction tubes pointing skyward. Set up in fields to monitor agricultural pests, the traps capture all manner of insects that happen to fly over them; they are “effectively upside-down Hoovers running 24/7, continually sampling the air for migrating insects,” says James Bell, who heads the Rothamsted Insect Survey.
Between 1970 and 2002, the biomass caught in the traps in southern England did not decline significantly. Catches in southern Scotland, however, declined by more than two-thirds during the same period. Bell notes that overall numbers in Scotland were much higher at the start of the study. “It might be that much of the [insect] abundance in southern England had already been lost” by 1970, he says, after the dramatic postwar changes in agriculture and land use.
Here’s the actual research paper:
• Caspar A. Hallmann, Martin Sorg, Eelke Jongejans, Henk Siepel, Nick Hofland, Heinz Schwan, Werner Stenmans, Andreas Müller, Hubert Sumser, Thomas Hörren, Dave Goulson and Hans de Kroon, More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas, PLOS One, 18 October 2017.
Abstract. Global declines in insects have sparked wide interest among scientists, politicians, and the general public. Loss of insect diversity and abundance is expected to provoke cascading effects on food webs and to jeopardize ecosystem services. Our understanding of the extent and underlying causes of this decline is based on the abundance of single species or taxonomic groups only, rather than changes in insect biomass which is more relevant for ecological functioning. Here, we used a standardized protocol to measure total insect biomass using Malaise traps, deployed over 27 years in 63 nature protection areas in Germany (96 unique location-year combinations) to infer on the status and trend of local entomofauna. Our analysis estimates a seasonal decline of 76%, and mid-summer decline of 82% in flying insect biomass over the 27 years of study. We show that this decline is apparent regardless of habitat type, while changes in weather, land use, and habitat characteristics cannot explain this overall decline. This yet unrecognized loss of insect biomass must be taken into account in evaluating declines in abundance of species depending on insects as a food source, and ecosystem functioning in the European landscape.
It seems we are heading into strange times.