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A Bug’s Death

Avery Kleinman/WAMU

Insects vastly outnumber humans on Earth. And humans are far more dependent on insects than vice versa.

Which is why it’s bad news that insects are dying rapidly, to the point that mass extinction is on the mind of some researchers.

If this mass insect extinction happens, the implications are “catastrophic to say the least, as insects are at the structural and functional base of many of the world’s ecosystems” according to new research co-authored by scientists Francisco Sánchez-Bayoa and Kris A.G. Wyckhuys.

The Guardian reports:

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

A loss of insects would devastate global ecosystems, potentially leading to an ecological collapse.

But some subsequent reporting by The Atlantic’s Ed Yong threw cold water on the most dire claims:

…it’s hard to take the widely quoted numbers from Sánchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys’s review as gospel. They say that 41 percent of insect species are declining and that global numbers are falling by 2.5 percent a year, but “they’re trying to quantify things that we really can’t quantify at this point,” says Michelle Trautwein from the California Academy of Sciences. “I understand the desire to put numbers to these things to facilitate the conversation, but I would say all of those are built on mountains of unknown facts.”

Yong wrote that the scientists he spoke to told him “the claim that insects will all be annihilated within the century is absurd.”

But that’s not to say there’s not a threat from declining insect populations.

We’re talking about the possibility of a mass extinction of insects — and how it might affect us.

Produced by Avery Kleinman.


John Losey, Professor, Department of Entomology, Cornell University; Director, The Lost Ladybug Project

Emma Pelton, Endangered Species Conservation Biologist & Monarch Science Lead, The Xerces Society; @xercessociety

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