"The insect apocalypse is here" (INYT, 1. - 2. Dec., 2018)

Research Cooperative
02/12/18 10:46:49PM

The title here is the title of a front-page article written by Brooke Jarvis for the International New York Times , 1.-2. December, 2018 (Japan edition).

The title does not seem to be an overstatement. Unfortunately.

Jarvis recounts how a group of insect collecting enthusiasts in the city of Krefeld, Germany, created an almost three-decade-long record of insect abundance in diverse habitats, across 63 different nature preserves and 17,000 sampling days. The data provided the basis for a paper published in 2017, with help from researchers at Radboud University, Netherlands, and revealed huge declines in the overall abundance of insects (see reference below).

The trend has been confirmed in numerous other studies in other regions of the world, and is attributed, along with habitat loss, to the widespread use of persistent pesticides, and especially neurotoxic neonicotinoids.

My own field area is in the low mountains of Southeast Asia, where cash-cropping of monocrops has spread rapidly with the expansion of new roads, clearfelling of forest, and active discouragement of swidden production systems that previously helped to maintain biological diversity when practiced with long fallow periods. The new ways of growing crops demand higher densities supported by fertilisers and extensive use of pesticides, even in the same catchments use as water sources for household consumption.

The wild forest herbs that I study are insect-pollinated, so I fear that just as we begin to learn about the them and their insect pollinators (thanks in large part to the access provided by new roads!), they will begin losing the pollinators, as well as the birds and other animals needed for seed dispersal.

It is hard for each of us to avoid being contributors to the mass extinction now underway, even while we try to discover and preserve what remains. There is a huge need for good science journalism - like this newspaper article by Jarvis - to bring good research to public attention, and also to the attention of other scientists. Perhaps as more of us become aware of the crisis around us, ideas will emerge for ways that we can individually and collectively reduce our ecological footprints.

PJ Matthews, Kyoto, 2nd December 2018.


Hallmann CA, Sorg M, Jongejans E, Siepel H, Hofland N, Schwan H, et al. (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE 12(10): e0185809. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0185809