- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?"
The late folksinger and social activist Pete Seeger (1919-2014) sounded many alarms, but a recent article in the New York Times Magazine struck a different but somewhat similar chord: the declining population of insects worldwide.
Brooke Jarvis's piece on "The Insect Apocalypse Is Here," published Nov. 27, should be required reading.
Basically: Where have all the insects gone? What does it mean? Why haven't we noticed? And what are we going to do about it?
Well, butterfly guru/entomologist Art Shapiro, distinguished emeritus professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, has noticed. Shapiro has monitored butterfly population trends on a transect across central California for 46 years and maintains a research website at http://butterfly.ucdavis.edu/. The 10 sites stretch from the Sacramento River Delta through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains to the high desert of the Western Great Basin. Shapiro visits his sites every two weeks "to record what's out" from spring to fall. The largest and oldest database in North America, it was recently cited by British conservation biologist Chris Thomas in a worldwide study of insect biomass.
In her article, Jarvis related: "In October, an entomologist sent me an email with the subject line, “Holy [expletive]!” and an attachment: a study just out from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that he labeled, “Krefeld comes to Puerto Rico.” (See news article on Krefeld's "Insect Armageddon.")
That entomologist was Art Shapiro.
Pesticides, loss of habitat, diseases, climate change, and human encroachment--and more--are some of the reasons why our global population of insects is dwindling.
Shapiro, who engaged in a 90-minute conversation with author Jarvis (and suggested topics and interviews for the piece), is quoted as having one of the few long-term data sets about insect abundance in the United States.
"In 1972, he began walking transects in the Central Valley and the Sierras, counting butterflies," Jarvis wrote. "He planned to do a study on how short-term weather variations affected butterfly populations. But the longer he sampled, the more valuable his data became, offering a signal through the noise of seasonal ups and downs. 'And so here I am in Year 46,' he said, nearly half a century of spending five days a week, from late spring to the end of autumn, observing butterflies. In that time he has watched overall numbers decline and seen some species that used to be everywhere — even species that 'everyone regarded as a junk species' only a few decades ago — all but disappear. Shapiro believes that Krefeld-level declines are likely to be happening all over the globe. 'But, of course, I don't cover the entire globe,' he added. 'I cover I-80.'"
Jarvis quotes plant ecologist Hans de Kroon of Radboud University, the Netherlands, as characterizing the life of many modern insects as trying to survive from one dwindling oasis to the next but with “a desert in between, and at worst it's a poisonous desert.”
Why should we care? As Jarvis succinctly points out: "Insects are the vital pollinators and recyclers of ecosystems and the base of food webs everywhere."
Now the concern should not only be "Where have all the insects gone?" but "What are we going to do about it?"
The north-east of our country (Slovenia, EU) is predominantly agrarian. Kemofarmacy is there with its products strongly present. A few years ago there were mass losses of bee families. Many beekeepers remain completely free of all bee families. The investigation of the causes was carried out at the state level, and representatives of the chemopharmacy participated. It was not understandable to representatives of the chemopharmacy how their products (neonicotinoids) on bees could have such a catastrophic effect. They were used in cultures not visited by bees, and their concentration was not deadly. Our country is small as there are also areas of the surface. Different plants are therefore present at smaller distances. In the immediate vicinity of a culture that does not visit bees, another plant suitable for bee grazing was planted. This was treated with a non-toxic repellent that only prosecute the pests. Here, it is also necessary to say that bees need, besides nectar and pollen, daily water entries. And what did the investigation reveal? Representatives of the chemopharmacy were astoned when the locals among the furrows of the field, planted with plants that should not be visited by bees, showed the bees who drank with the pesticide contaminated rainwater. Laboratory research has revealed that the harmless repellant used in the adjacent field, in combination with the insecticide used, strengthens the effect of the latter by a factor of 1000 times (And neonikotinoids are 1000 times more toxic than DDT, which was decades ago the cause of "Silent Springs".)
It has also been shown that modern protective agents have a devastating effect on bees (reducing immune resistance, disruption to orientation and social behavior), even at concentrations that are permissible or even so low that they can not be detected. The beekeepers try to replace the number of lost bee families with new ones, but after the bad experience of such areas we avoid them. Even in neighboring Austria, bee families in orchards began to drop in number years ago. That is why the beekeepers withdrew their bees from orchards. Now, Austrian fruit growers must order and pay their pollination for their orchards. Unfortunately, wild pollinators do not have such luck. After the disappearance, their populations have not recovered in the affected areas for a long time.
The same applies to other organisms in the natural environment, not just insects. In every 1 dm3 of healthy fertile soil, there are over 1000 of them. All poisons that are released by humans into the natural environment also kill them. Without them, the soil loses fertility. This effect on the nutritional capabilities of humanity must also be added to the damage that would have occurred if we lost 1/3 of the on polination dependent cultures due to the extinction of pollinators.