Climate change and industrial agriculture are accelerating the insect apocalypse

(Beyond pesticides, 4 May 2022) Agricultural intensification and climate change are causing unprecedented losses in insect abundance and biodiversity, jeopardizing key ecosystem functions such as food production. The results of this research, published in Nature by scientists at University College London, UK, are the first to elucidate the interactions between key drivers of the ongoing insect apocalypse. As civilization sinks into an era where the impacts of a rapidly warming planet meet the devastating effects of habitat loss and widespread chemical use, it becomes increasingly critical that action is taken now to avoid the worst outcomes for the future of life on the planet. While the solutions are at hand, considerable public action is needed to stop the fossil fuel and agrochemical industries from their short-term pursuit of profit at all costs, say climate advocates.

To conduct their analysis, the scientists used both short-term studies and the Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity in Changing Terrestrial Systems (PREDICTS) database, which contains a sampling of insect biodiversity comprising twenty years of information. (1992 to 2012). Species richness and total abundance were examined for nearly 20,000 species of insects, including dragonflies/damselflies, moths and butterflies, flies, true insects, beetles, bees and wasps, and grasshoppers/crickets from all biomes on earth except tundra. To determine how the synergy between climate change and industrial agriculture has affected species, the scientists grouped the sites in their dataset into four classes based on the level of land intensity (primary vegetation, secondary vegetation, agricultural low-intensity and high-intensity agriculture). Variations in mean and maximum temperatures, based on a baseline from the early 20e century, were also calculated.

The interaction between climate change (at a normalized temperature anomaly of 1 standard deviation) and high-intensity agriculture decreased total insect abundance by 50% and species richness by 27%. Low-intensity agriculture reduced these impacts, with insect abundance declining by 30% and species richness by 23%. Researchers define high-intensity agriculture as chemical-dependent industrial systems with large fields, monocultures, and high levels of mechanization or animal confinement. Low-intensity sites are those that do not use large amounts of pesticides or are grown in monocultures.

Scientists conducted further analysis to determine if other factors might be dampening these declines. Having significant natural land cover close to low-intensity agricultural sites was found to have the potential to reduce species decline. When low-intensity agriculture was surrounded by 75% natural habitat, losses in insect abundance fell by only 7% and richness by 5%. However, significantly higher reductions were observed when only 25% of natural habitat surrounded agricultural land. High-intensity agriculture shows no buffer of insect decline with nearby natural land. Moreover, at the highest modeled levels of climate change, natural land also does not provide any mitigation effects.

As the authors note, global warming is projected to accelerate and agricultural intensification is projected to increase throughout this century. “If this agricultural expansion is associated with a reduction in the availability of natural habitats in production landscapes or a shift towards more intensive agriculture, our results indicate that significant declines in insect biodiversity will occur, in particular especially as global warming accelerates,” study notes.

The insect apocalypse is framed so pompously because the impacts are incredibly deleterious to human civilization as we know it now. Food production relies on the services provided by insects: pollination, pest control, soil quality, decomposition and a stable food web. As these interrelated crises unfold, the public is continually inundated with misinformation from industries that are taking advantage of the crisis to deliberately create confusion and anger. Arguments are made that high-intensity industrial chemical agriculture is the only way to feed the world, and fossil fuels are the only way to provide energy. Scientific data now spells out exactly what awaits us if we continue to endorse these dangerous myths.

For more information on the ongoing insect apocalypse, see the Beyond Pesticides Study article Cites Insect Extinction and Ecological Collapse, as well as previous Daily News articles on the subject.

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

Source: Nature