Insects are the most abundant group of animals on the planet. There are an estimated 10 quintillion of them on Earth.
But in recent years, scientists have found disturbing evidence that insect populations are on the decline around the world.
The environmental threats to insects are numerous: deforestation, pesticides, and climate change all seem to play a part in declining populations, a phenomenon UConn ecologist David Wagner and colleagues described as a “death by a thousand cuts” in a January 2021 special issue of PNAS dedicated to the issue of insect decline.
This hour, we talk with the scientists and journalists trying to make sense of the precipitous decline in insect populations around the world. We hear from a Nevada researcher whose recent study in the journal Science helps pinpoint the role of climate change in disappearing butterfly populations across the American West.
And we ask: what does loss could mean for us, and what can we do about it?
- Elizabeth Kolbert - Staff writer at the New Yorker and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction. She wrote a cover story for National Geographic’s May 2020 issue about worldwide insect decline. Her new book is Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future
- Dr. David Wagner - Entomologist and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at UConn
- Dr. Matthew Forister - Insect ecologist at the University of Nevada, Reno
National Geographic: Where Have All The Insects Gone? (April 23, 2020)
“If humans were to suddenly disappear, biologist Edward O. Wilson has famously observed, the Earth would ‘regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago.” But “if insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.’ It is, therefore, shocking—and alarming—that in most places scientists have looked recently, they’ve found that insect numbers are falling.”
Science: Butterflies are vanishing in the western U.S.—but not for the reasons scientists thought (March 4, 2021)
“Earth is in the midst of an insect apocalypse, with thousands of species dwindling over the past several decades. Scientists have often blamed habitat loss or pesticide use. But a new study of butterflies in the western United States has found that warmer fall weather may be taking as big, if not a bigger, toll.” Read the full study here.
PNAS: Eight simple actions that individuals can take to save insects from global declines (January 12, 2021)
“Eight simple actions, most with immediate impact, that many people can undertake on their own, regardless of background, occupation, or geographic location.”
Cat Pastor contributed to this episode.