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Daily News Blog

16
Feb

More Dramatic Insect Decline Confirms Inadequate Action on Pending Biodiversity Collapse

(Beyond Pesticides, February 15, 2023) Areas designated to protect insects fail to do so for over 75 percent of global species, according to a study, “Three-quarters of insect species are insufficiently represented by protected areas,” published in the online journal One Earth. Protected Areas (PAs) act as a safeguard for biodiversity. However, PAs in North America, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia do not meet the minimum coverage requirements to safeguard global insect species assessed in the study. PAs are discussed in the 2020 Nature article, “Area-based conservation in the twenty-first century,” in which the authors state that, in view of the global biodiversity crisis, national governments must do much more to increase protected areas with “coverage across different elements of biodiversity (ecoregions, 12,056 threatened species, ‘Key Biodiversity Areas’ and wilderness areas) and ecosystem services (productive fisheries, and carbon services on land and seas).” The authors write, citing the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (to which the United States is not a signatory), “To be more successful after 2020, area-based conservation must contribute more effectively to meeting global biodiversity goals—ranging from preventing extinctions to retaining the most-intact ecosystems—and must better collaborate with the many Indigenous peoples, community groups and private initiatives that are central to the successful conservation of biodiversity.” [Note that Beyond Pesticides’ community-based program, Parks for a Sustainable Future, eliminates petrochemical pesticides and fertilizers and develops land management programs in sync with nature and biodiversity.]

The lack of coverage in PAs underestimates global insect distributions. The study reports, “Given this substantial local variation, the extent to which insect species are covered by PAs globally remains obscure, meaning we are unable to track the progress of insect conservation globally.”

All insects encounter multiple stressors besides pesticides, including parasites and poor nutrition, that act together to increase the risk of mortality. Despite being the driver of many ecosystem processes and functions/services, insects lack adequate consideration in global conservation assessments. Additionally, insects only constitute eight percent of the assessed species in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species. Therefore, reviews like these highlight the need to address all factors that can exacerbate adverse impacts on insects, especially when threatened by uninhibited chemical pollutants. Lead researcher Shawan Chowdhury (Ph.D.) cautions, “Many insect species are declining within protected areas because of threats such as rapid environmental change, loss of corridors, and roads inside protected areas.”

Using the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), researchers measure global insect representation, mapping the distribution of all existing insect species that appeared at least three times in GBIF records (89,151 species). Study researchers compare insect coverage in protected areas to the geographical range of species to determine:

  1. “[t]he extent of occurrence (EOO; area within the shortest continuous boundary encompassing all known occurrence records) and,
  2. area of occupancy (AOO; the area within the EOO estimated to be occupied [by said species].”

The resulting map shows designated protected areas for species shows that “76% of 89,151 insect species assessed globally do not meet minimum target levels of PA coverage.” inadequately protecting at least 76 percent of global insect species. Thus, the researchers caution this study as a call for the expansion of PAs for insects to ensure worldwide biodiversity.

The United Nations states that 80 percent of the 115 top global food crops depend on insect pollination, with one-third of all U.S. crops depending on pollinators, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, research finds that many insect populations are in decline, including managed and wild pollinators. Monarchs are near extinction, and commercial beekeepers continue to experience declines that are putting them out of business. The continued loss of mayflies and fireflies disrupts the foundation of many food chains. Additionally, the decline in many bird species has links to insect declines. Since the 1970s, three billion birds have vanished.

Despite habitat fragmentation and climate change, extensive use of pesticides, like neonicotinoidssulfoxaflorpyrethroidsfipronil, and organophosphates, increase the potential risk and indiscriminate threat to all insects. Research shows that residues from neonicotinoids (including seed treatments) and sulfoxaflor accumulate and translocate to pollen and nectar of treated plants. Both pyrethroids and fipronil impair bee learning, development, and behavioral function, reducing survivability and colony fitness. However, inert ingredients in these products cause similar or more severe impacts on insect populations, such as disruption in bee learning behavior through exposure to low doses of surfactants. With the global reliance on pollinator-dependent crops increasing over the past decades, a lack of pollinators threatens food security and stability for current and future generations.

The geographical range of species varies from small to large. Thus, some species can have high coverage within PAs, while others have little to no coverage in PAs, depending on range size. Despite the growth in PAs for endangered species, insects still face existential risk factors like habitat destruction, chemical exposure, and food insecurity. The study researchers link the lack of data on surveying insect species and an underestimation of geographical range size attributes to gaps in PAs conservation. Even animals in larger protected areas, like U.S. wildlife refuges, experience similar health risks from chemical pesticide exposure. Additionally, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) routinely finds widespread pesticide contamination of surface waters throughout the U.S. Scientists warn that neonicotinoids, and other pesticides, pose a direct threat to both insect and non-insect wildlife, including birds, aquatic animals, and other wildlife, which absorb pesticide sprays and vapors through respiration, as well as ingestion via food. Pesticide spraying in or around PAs threatens the survivability and recovery of species that reside there, as many pesticides are highly toxic to human and animal health. Therefore, studies like these are significant, especially since the globe is going through the Holocene Extinction, Earth’s 6th mass extinction, with one million species of plants and animals at risk of extinction.

Most animals on this Earth are insects, which play a significant role in sustaining the ecosystem despite their size. Insects found in nature preserves are consistently contaminated with over a dozen pesticides, calling into question the ability for these areas to function as refuges for threatened and endangered species. With rampant pesticide use and ubiquitous contamination, it is imperative that lawmakers and regulators embrace stronger measures to reverse the ominous trajectory society continues to follow, especially with the ongoing global insect apocalypse.

As has been widely reported, pollinators (such as bees, monarch butterflies, and bats) are a bellwether for environmental stress, as individuals and as colonies. Pesticides intensify pollinators’ vulnerability to health risks (such as pathogens and parasites), with pesticide-contaminated conditions limiting colony productivity, growth, and survival. However, ending toxic pesticide use can alleviate the harmful impacts of these chemicals on species and ecosystem health. Beyond Pesticides captured the bigger picture in its introduction to its 2017 National Pesticide Forum, Healthy Hives, Healthy Lives, Healthy Land: “Complex biological communities support life.” Learn more about the science and resources behind pesticides’ impact on pollinators, including bee pollinator decline, and take action against the use of pesticides. To find out more about what you can do to protect bees and other pollinators, check out information on the BEE Protective Campaignpollinator-friendly landscapespollinator-friendly seedspesticide-free zonesbee-friendly habitats, and what you, or your state representative, can do to protect our pollinators. For more information on the insect apocalypse, see the Beyond Pesticides article in our Pesticides and You journal, Tracking Biodiversity: Study Cites Insect Extinction and Ecological Collapse.

Furthermore, buyinggrowing, and supporting organic agriculture can help eliminate the extensive use of pesticides in the environment. Organic land management eliminates the need for toxic agricultural pesticides. For more information on how organic is the right choice for consumers and the farmworkers who grow our food, see the Beyond Pesticides webpage, Health Benefits of Organic Agriculture

Spring is around the corner, so get ready to grow your spring garden the organic way by Springing Into Action, pledging to eliminate toxic pesticide use.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: ScienceDaily, One Earth

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2 Responses to “More Dramatic Insect Decline Confirms Inadequate Action on Pending Biodiversity Collapse”

  1. 1
    Marcelo Vazquez Says:

    STOP PESTICIDES¡¡¡¡¡

  2. 2
    Catherine Nadals Says:

    I’m seeing a sizeable decline in insects here in Frederick, Maryland. I’m a beekeeper. May 28, 2023.

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