World faces ‘catastrophic’ risks over insect extinction

Global insect population could vanish within 100 years creating a ‘frightening’ threat to the Earth’s ecosystems.

The world’s insects are on the road to extinction and could vanish in 100 years, according to the first global review of decades of research into insect populations.

The report by Francisco Sanchez-Bayo and Kris AG Wyckhuys, which reviewed all long-term surveys of insects published in the past 40 years, found more than 40 percent of insect species may become extinct in the next few decades.

Scientists say the findings are “frightening” and a “catastrophic” threat to our ecosystems.

“This is a brilliant paper, but at the same time it is one that will scare the pants off of any biologist who understands how the world works,” Paul Ralph Ehrlich, president of Stanford University’s Center for Conservation Biology, told Al Jazeera.

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“If the insects disappear – we’re gonna disappear too. The whole agricultural system depends on insects that are most vulnerable to extinction to control the other insects which compete with us for our crops.”

It is not just the place of insects in the food chain that has scientists worried.

They pollinate plants, purify the soil and water, recycle waste, and have an important role in pest control.

Their numbers are declining by 2.5 percent every year.

Pesticide problem

While climate change and urbanisation are factors, scientists point to the intensification of agriculture as the main culprit.

The report’s authors say insecticides have little real bearing on food production. Part of the solution is the overhaul of how the world grows its food to be more environmentally friendly.

“A rethinking of current agricultural practices, in particular a serious reduction in pesticide usage and its substitution with more sustainable, ecologically based practices, is urgently needed to slow or reverse current trends, allow the recovery of declining insect populations and safeguard the vital ecosystem services they provide,” said the report.

The study also recommended applying effective remediation technologies to clean polluted waters in both agricultural and urban environments.

“This is an overly optimistic paper because it mentions things we should be doing to avoid extinction of the insects. The point is we are not doing any of them,” Ehrlich said.

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