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Earth Science

Where Have All the Insects Gone? (sciencemag.org) 227

Entomologists have been assessing diversity and abundance across western Germany and have found that between 1989 and 2013 the biomass of invertebrates caught had fallen by nearly 80 percent. From an article on Science magazine: Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. "We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species," which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada. [...] 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. Such losses reverberate up the food chain. "If you're an insect-eating bird living in that area, four-fifths of your food is gone in the last quarter-century, which is staggering," says Dave Goulson, an ecologist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, who is working with the Krefeld group to analyze and publish some of the data. "One almost hopes that it's not representative -- that it's some strange artifact."

Where Have All the Insects Gone?

Comments Filter:
  • Cellphones killed them, every one.

    When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn? /#

  • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @04:04PM (#54436467) Homepage Journal
    I attributed it to climate change and loss of continuous habitat.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @04:10PM (#54436505)

      Blasting pesticides everywhere doesn't help either.

      • This is Europe and Canada. They are eco-friendly countries who wouldnt do that.
        • Especially with all those eco-friendly diesel cars and trucks that spew black dust that covers the arctic and causes ice to melt faster.

          • That's only in the U.S. where diesel vehicles (still) throw out clouds of black smoke. In Europe they mandated cleaner burning diesel which resolved that issue.

            It's the same thing with higher mileage vehicles in Europe. American car manufacturers make vehicles which meet those higher requirements without issue. It's only in the U.S. where they fight tooth and nail to prevent the same thing from happening.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              "In Europe they mandated cleaner burning diesel which resolved that issue."

              Amusing. I guess you don't read the news much.
              • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @05:28PM (#54437035)

                You can make broad-brush statements all you want, but:

                This was ONE SITE, not the entire country, the EU, or the world.

                ONE SITE. You need to know about the ONE SITE because that's where the data lays.

                The rest of the sites have had linear and mercurial declines. But the article isn't a broad, or even area-wide statistical analysis. ONE SITE. This is why science journalism gets a bad name.

                • by PsychoSlashDot ( 207849 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @08:19PM (#54438137)

                  You can make broad-brush statements all you want, but:

                  This was ONE SITE, not the entire country, the EU, or the world.

                  ONE SITE. You need to know about the ONE SITE because that's where the data lays.

                  The rest of the sites have had linear and mercurial declines. But the article isn't a broad, or even area-wide statistical analysis. ONE SITE. This is why science journalism gets a bad name.

                  From TFS, "found dramatic declines across more than a dozen other sites."

                  Now, maybe my math skills aren't what they once were, but I'm pretty sure that one and a minimum or thirteen are not the same. Perhaps if it's in upper-case it's closer than if it's in lower case.

                  • The scope increases to perhaps twelve sites. Note how many other sites are mentioned. It would make nice research. A global clickbait phenomenon, it's not, although the global probable decline is onerous.

                    My math skills say: needs a lots more research until you can tie these factoids together. Even boolean algebra says correlation!=causation. Causation still must be causation.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Hmmmm, this seems to correlate with the recent influx of immigrants in both these countries. Is it possible that the insects simply do not like them and left?

    • by Thelasko ( 1196535 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @05:42PM (#54437103) Journal

      I attributed it to climate change and loss of continuous habitat.

      I've attributed it to habitat loss, but not climate change. Roundup ready crops has enabled the farming industry to nearly eradicate a lot of habitat. Particularly the milkweed used by monarch butterflies.

      • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @06:30PM (#54437443) Journal

        Of course it is climate change, idiot.
        Most insects need to 'hibernate' over the winter. Because: there is no food!
        The winters used to be cold, really cold, in Germany. Now they are piss warm.
        Insects preparing for hibernation now get killed by simple things like mold.
        Because winters are now warm and moisty.

        To grasp that you don't need a PhD.

      • by caseih ( 160668 )

        Yes farming is an industry. But it's an industry that feeds you. you can't talk about it as some kind of "them" entity while blissfully enjoying the fruits of the lowest food prices in human history. Does this come at a price? Yes it does, and yes farming has to adapt and change to realities. This gap between what farms and farmers actually do and the people who consume food is increasingly worrying me. We need education in the worst way. Most people don't have any real sense of what farms actually do,

      • Roundup ready crops has enabled the farming industry to nearly eradicate a lot of habitat. Particularly the milkweed used by monarch butterflies.

        Roundup-Ready crops are not, and never have been, grown in Germany.

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @05:44PM (#54437121)
      Because an alarming ecological story comes up, and without evidence or even a rational hypothetical cause, it's immediately blamed on climate change.

      Most insects are herbivorous, so rely on plants for food. Global warming (increasing global temperatures, higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations, shorter winters) are conducive to plant growth. So you'd actually expect temperatures increasing by a few degrees to lead to more insects, not fewer.

      Loss of continuous habitat is possible, but I'd consider it unlikely. Larger species are more susceptible to that than smaller ones like insects. We would've noticed the loss of biomass there first.

      My bet is on pesticides. You state later that Canada and the EU are eco-friendly, therefore speculating that they use less pesticides. But this map [fao.org] (pages 17, 47-49) shows the EU uses more pesticides per hectare than the U.S./Canada, and are only exceeded by China and some South and Central American countries. (The EU uses more pesticides than the U.S. and Canada because it has less arable land but more population. So to feed itself the EU needs to grow more food per hectare.) Pesticide use in kg/ha is down slightly since 1989 [europa.eu], but I suspect this is more than offset by development of more effective pesticides.
      • Because an alarming ecological story comes up, and without evidence or even a rational hypothetical cause, it's immediately blamed on climate change.

        The article does not mention global warming or climate change at all. A much more likely culprit is Neonicotinoid pesticides. An interesting tidbit form the article is that they have been able to reconstruct some avian diets from the 40's round th etime DDT came into use. Possibly smoked the beetles pretty good, and after DDT was outlawed, thee beetles only made a small comeback.

        • A much more likely culprit is Neonicotinoid pesticides.

          Unlikely. Neonicotinoid pesticides were banned in Germany almost a decade ago.

      • Most insects are herbivorous, so rely on plants for food. Global warming (increasing global temperatures, higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations, shorter winters) are conducive to plant growth. So you'd actually expect temperatures increasing by a few degrees to lead to more insects, not fewer.

        Perhaps, assuming that the increased plant growth is the only thing that happens. Which it probably doesn't.

      • So you'd actually expect temperatures increasing by a few degrees to lead to more insects, not fewer.

        You misunderstand. There are not fewer insects, but fewer species of insects. Their number has not diminished, their diversity has.

        • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

          And the cause is probably that humans to a large extent try to eradicate what we think is weed. There are also some insects and plants that depends on forest fires for their survival.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          So you'd actually expect temperatures increasing by a few degrees to lead to more insects, not fewer.

          You misunderstand. There are not fewer insects, but fewer species of insects. Their number has not diminished, their diversity has.

          No. TFA says explicitly that there is 80% loss of total mass of insects caught, so regardless of breakdown by species, there is fewer insects in total.

      • by Uberbah ( 647458 ) on Thursday May 18, 2017 @01:53AM (#54439435)

        Because an alarming ecological story comes up, and without evidence or even a rational hypothetical cause, it's immediately blamed on climate change.

        Right. In the same way that every time a newspaper reports on a fatal car accident and mentioned the fact that the dead weren't wearing their seat belts, just proves how pervasive and devious the Newtonian Conspiracy is when promoting their liberal seat belt-wearing agenda.

        Global warming (increasing global temperatures, higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations, shorter winters) are conducive to plant growth.

        Remedial biology fail. Every mass extinction in history has resulted from the environment changing too fast for life to adapt to new conditions. Guess what happens when humans change the environment faster than life can adapt - and that's before even approaching the subject of climate change.

        But don't mind me. Go on back to spreading the gospel of Jenny McCarthy while giving lead-painted toys to your kids and feeding them oatmeal steeped in arsenic, sending them off to school with a pack of Camels in each of their backpacks. Because science is a Big Lubrul conspiracy.

    • I attribute it to 80% of them having already been eaten by the birds. Note to the birds: You can't have your cake, & eat it too.

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      Environmental changes are important, a lot of insects require a certain type of environment and humidity to prosper. Other factors is that a lot of insects actually also need manure and grazed areas for their development. Modern farming depends a lot on mono-culture growth and pesticides to keep up the yield.

      In areas where you have free-ranging cattle in moderate numbers in the meadows with mixed vegetation you will get a better result with many different species.

  • Editor's note (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msmash ( 4491995 ) Works for Slashdot <asteriskspace@outlook.com> on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @04:05PM (#54436479)
    It's actually a week-old story, but I only spotted it today. (It wasn't pitched by any reader.) Apologies for running what seems like an old story, but we found it important enough to run it. Thanks.
  • by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @04:07PM (#54436491) Journal

    It's nearly summer here, we got 23C today, and most of the leaves have sprung everywhere. But indeed - where are the insects? Yes, there are the odd bumblebee here and there, but this place (right in the middle of mother nature) is usually buzzing with insects this time of the year, but there is hardly any.

    Of course - I can't say that I miss the Mosquito, in fact - it's my sworn enemy, but the rest of the insect hordes seems to be gone as well, I hardly see any banana flies, moths or any common insects here out in the wilderness any more. Maybe there is something going on here?

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @04:45PM (#54436757) Homepage Journal

      I spent many years in the mosquito control field. Trust me, they're coming. You just need rain followed by a warm spell.

      Animal and plant species vary by how well they deal with disruptions. Species which deal well with disruptions and which have a high reproduction rate is a weedy species and thrives when we screw things up. Specie that reproduce slowly and are dependent upon certain specific things in the environment are the ones that disappear.

      Most mosquito species are weedy. The larvae live on rotting organic matter in water and the adults live on nectar from a variety of sources. In some species a gravid female can lay two hundred eggs after a blood meal, and do that a half dozen times a year in some places. This means they have immense potential for exponential population growth, provided they have sources of water, temperatures warm enough to breed, and someone to get blood meals from.

      Ecological disruption doesn't always look like death; in fact quite the opposite it can sometimes look like a profusion of life, as in a polluted lake choked with algae. But you lose most of the food chain: the fish and invertebrates they feed on. Or in cases like this it can be subtle; you might not see it until you look and wonder why a certain bird species is gone. Then you look and find out that the things it lives on are gone too.

      But don't worry about mosquitoes. Unless your climate gets drier and cooler, you can count on them coming back.

      • But it's so weird for all the other insects.

        Even last summer I noticed the absence of insects. I live out on the country side. For a while I thought it might be my basement spiders (which I do have a lot of, they can get quite big, up to 15 CM long, yes, the fuel of nightmares for some), and I was grateful for them keeping the insect population to a minimum around here.

        But somethings odd...we have knatts (do you call them that in your neck of the woods?), those are the smaller biting bugs that likes to hang

        • we have knatts (do you call them that in your neck of the woods?)

          I've never seen that spelling before, but google seems to have a number of references to it. I've only ever seen "gnats" as the spelling. Interesting that both have a silent first letter

          Learn something every day!

        • by hey! ( 33014 )

          There are many species of small flies called "gnats", some of which bite. Many of them have aquatic larval stages, so changes in river levels can affect their populations. Some of them, as well as larger biting flies, live in damp, organically rich soil which also means that low rain levels can suppress their populations.

          Also, farms are potent sources of many kinds of lies. The closure of a nearby farm, or even a modest change in husbandry practices can have an effect on fly populations.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Of course - I can't say that I miss the Mosquito, in fact - it's my sworn enemy,

      Alas, even the mosquito is a delicacy for some predators as well - bats and frogs I believe love them as do many other creatures (spiders?).

    • Probably the remnants of Chernobyl?

      -- oh that was a joke btw..

    • by dargaud ( 518470 )
      I know we all have anecdotal evidence but mine over 50 years are the following:
      • when driving in summer we used to have to wipe the windshield every few hours while driving on the highway. Not so now.
      • haven't seen lightning bugs in decades
      • haven't seen groups of migrating swallows in decades, only a few isolated individuals
      • seldom see butterflies anymore
      • even at night, it used to be a pain to be near any camping light, now you see a night moth every once in a while

      See what you can remember about the insec

  • Even the insects (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mspohr ( 589790 )

    I used to think that climate change would only make mammals go extinct and that invertebrates and insects and bacteria, etc. would adapt and survive.
    However, it looks like the insects are going... earth will need to start over from a clean slate. It should only take a few hundred million years for a carboniferous period to create conditions for mammal like creatures again.

    • "Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015 to 2019", more accurate than the Farmers' Almanac.
    • Insects thrive on warmer weather. The only potential cause that I can think of are pesticides.

      • Insects don't thrive on warm weather in winter!
        From what would they live when they are usually hibernating at minus ten degrees?

    • The insects will bounce back once we're out of the picture, don't worry.
    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      I don't know about you, but I've noticed a marked, and reasonably considered alarming, decrease in earthworms over the last 4 decades. It used to be that whenever it rained the sidewalks would be covered with earthworms, these days nary a one. Snails and slugs also seem to be declining, but I have less info there. And when I consider a longer period back into the 1950, the number of bees and wasps of various kinds was staggering, and now I rarely see any. This is less good information, however, as I've

  • It begins (Score:5, Informative)

    by nospam007 ( 722110 ) * on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @04:18PM (#54436551)

    "Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects"

    In other news,:birds eating those missing insects are declining rapidly as well.

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com... [wiley.com]

  • by trybywrench ( 584843 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @04:18PM (#54436553)
    The world's missing mosquitos are in my backyard. Everyone is welcome to them, just let me know when you want to come pick them up.
  • Those bloodsuckers caught me off-guard last weekend.

    I'm sure they will outlast the Human species, and live on to plague the next dominant species. :)

  • by mugnyte ( 203225 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @04:26PM (#54436603) Journal
    This has some scary downstream implications - bird migrations will immediately change, and the ecosystem will have geographic pockets of abundance and scarcity due to that. Food pollination also comes to mind. Corporations do not react to emotional pressures [often] - so any link from pesticide/herbicide usage to lack of pollinators will require a round of market disruption. Even then, the answer may not be insects but something like humans or drones to artificially pollinate sustenance plants until unequivocal proof is found that insects were affect by these chemicals.
    • Food pollination is typically performed by cultivated bees. Farms do not depend on pollination from the wild.
      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        Sorry, but no. It depends on your crop. And "cultivated bees" are also dying off.

        • o ok I didn't know.

          Unless you mean vegetables or self/wind pollinators, you are mistaken. And if you do, then you're being a bit pedantic.

          And you'd sort of need to be living under a rock to not know that bees are dying off. When you rent out your bees that doesn't matter in the same way. The farmer tells you the size of the field/orchard, you bring an appropriate amount of bees. If you don't have enough because of colony collapse disorder problems, then the farmer hires multiple beekeepers. The fees mig

  • by hAckz0r ( 989977 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @04:31PM (#54436637)
    Somebody told Trump that the Chinese were making better "bugs" than the US.

    /s

  • It shows some bees and it said, "If we go we're taking you with us" *handed cease and desist order* Dammit! I should have read your article about stealing jokes first! :(
  • Sir, I don't understand. Who needs a knife in a nuke fight anyway?
    • Put your hand on that wall trooper..
      Sir?
      I said put your hand on that wall!! /throws knife
      The enemy can't press a button if you disable his hand....Medic!

  • This report sounds pretty suspicious. As is mentioned, loss of insects to that degree would have huge implications for the entire biomass - which we are not seeing.

    I question the duration of the period being studied and the consistency of collection technique. Who is to say they did not have a much higher number of insects than normal when they started collecting? Or perhaps they over-fished the area they were collecting from and CAUSED the crash in local populations...

    Personally I've noticed no decrease

    • by rl117 ( 110595 )
      The effect might not be immediate. It might not be noticeable or detectable for a few years, at which point it might be too late. Ecosystems are very complex, and can be fragile in ways we don't even suspect when some critical but unappreciated part is disrupted. When it concerns our future food production, it's only right to be concerned about it, irrespective of whether it eventually turns out to be a serious problem or not.
      • The effect might not be immediate.

        Insects (not just bees) play a huge part in pollination. You should see a dramatic drop in plant growth if nothing else if the insect population had declined by 80% - not to mention the also immediate effect on populations of birds and other animals that rely on a daily intake of insects to survive.

        Ecosystems are very complex, and can be fragile in ways we don't even suspect

        I guess they aren't fragile after all if you can drop 80% of insects with no immediate observed effe

    • Insects and birds are on the decline since a decade.
      But the US citizens blame our wind mills and our love for cats ...

      • Insects and birds are on the decline since a decade.

        Source? I've not read anything like that. Sounds like #FakeNews to me, spread by someone making lots of money from you being scared.

        But the US citizens blame our wind mills and our love for cats ...

        An increase in outdoor cats will absolutely affect local bird populations.

        • Source: personal experience.
          If you need more reliable sources, google.
          No one is scaring me, or if he would make money from it.
          You can hardly make money from fear unless you are in the gun business. Facepalm.

          • Source: personal experience.

            But as I said, I have not seen that, and since there are no articles to cover it - it's plainly your own personal opinion and not even close to fact.

            If you need more reliable sources, google.

            I did and found nothing but lunatics, certainly nothing credible or in any way scientific.

            You can hardly make money from fear

            AAAAnd I stopped listening to you. Post as you will, I see no reason to listen to those so clueless as to the actual workings of the world.

            • Actually he is right, there are fewer and fewer birds in Germany.
              If you can read German, then look no further than here:
              http://www.spiegel.de/wissensc... [spiegel.de]

              This article is based on the official data of the German government, so if you think that they are nothing credible or lunatics, then there is no point in arguing with you anyway.

              And as for anecdotes, every winter I do see fewer birds at my feeder. Many used to come - great tits, blue tits, robins, thrushes, even wood pigeons. The last few winters, only a c

              • >The last few winters, only a couple of great tits showed up.

                Are you sure you're watching BIRDS ? Because it sounds more like you're watching porn.

  • by Revek ( 133289 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @04:38PM (#54436707) Homepage

    When I was a kid you could see tens of thousands fireflies at night in the country around here. In the early eighties the pine beetle started spreading through the tree farms around here. They started aerial spraying of pesticides to kill them and in just a few years you stopped seeing them at all. In the last decade or so they have reappeared, in very low numbers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      In the '90s, I spent summers on a Great Plains farm and saw fireflies by the multitude, year after year. By the mid-2000s, though, they had all disappeared. Haven't seen them in at least a decade, and I do wonder if pesticides are responsible -- the farmers who worked the surrounding land in my youth aren't those who are working it today.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I've lived my entire life in the tidewater area of Virginia (Gloucester, Williamsburg, Hampton, etc), and we've had crazy species die-offs here, to the point where I think many are regionally extinct. I spend a lot of time in the woods, and am always looking for small things. My hobby as a child was finding bugs, and my hobby now is macro photography, so I have roughly the same habits. Off the top of my head, these have all died off in the last 20 years:

      Bugs:
      - Luna Moth (almost gone)
      - Pol

    • by gstovall ( 22014 )

      Yes, when I was a child in the 70s, fireflies were extremely numerous. Now, even though I live in a very rural location, there are almost no fireflies.

      The strange thing is that I live in an area where there is really nothing but hay fields and small ranches; there is very little pesticide use, as far as I can tell. Yet, everything is way down. Insects, spiders, birds seem all much less common here in the city than they were when I was a child in a city of 100,000 people. The only species I encounter are

  • All is quiet on the Western Front...
  • It's actually evolution in action. All of the stupid insects in the area are being caught by these traps, thus removing their lower intelligence from the local gene pool. Over time the insects that are breeding are only having smarter offspring, so they aren't getting caught in these traps. It's the long term results of the observer effect. I heard that in the areas that have been doing this the longest, many of the traps have been vandalized by what appear to be tiny stone weapons.
  • They should come checkout my backyard - it seems to have plenty of bugs in it, even with three pots of pitcher plants.

  • by slincolne ( 1111555 ) on Wednesday May 17, 2017 @05:59PM (#54437223)
    When I was a kid there were always bees and dragonflies around. Now the only bees you see are the introduced ones (I live in Tasmania - someone solved the pollination problem way illegally importing them and releasing them). I miss the dragonflies though - as far as your average bug goes they were always the most exciting thing on the wing. We still seem to have wasps though - they seem to be thriving :-(
  • Every time I drive my Mustang on the interstate highways, I think 2/3 of the states insect population ends up on the front & windshield of my car.
  • When I was a kid the porch spot lights on my mothers house in rural Western MD would attract an insane swarm of hundreds of bugs on a summer night.

    These days you get about a dozen or so bugs flying around them.

  • We have more bugs here than we've ever had this year, and we've lived here for about a decade.

  • My entire neighborhood is being invaded by massive swarms of ants. Literally hundreds have gotten into my house. Judging by the number of exterminators ringing my doorbell, my neighbors are just as bad off. As a result, the bird population is gigantic. The sheer racket in the morning when they all start up their pre-dawn calls is enough to wake me up. It's obnoxious.

    The amphibian population is also dramatically up. Frogs are in all the drainage ditches. The noise at night from tree frogs is worse tha

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