Falling insect populations must be seen by the public eye

Scientists in western Germany have noticed a sharp decrease in the population of flying insects in the area. (Creative Commons/Flavio Juca)

To the unobservant eye, the number of insects always seems to be in great abundance, and it seems as if the insect population will forever remain stable. As a result, these insects are taken for granted and are sometimes even underappreciated. However, scientists in western Germany have noticed a sharp decrease in the population of flying insects in the area. While many people have dismissed this phenomenon, such an immense disruption could cause serious repercussions in the ecosystem and should be treated as a serious issue.

In 1989, a team of researchers from Entomological Society Krefeld began trapping insects for scientific studies, according to a report from The Atlantic. The number of insects in the traps began to decrease, and by 2016, they found that the weight of insects caught in the traps between May and October had dropped by 77 percent since the data collection had commenced. While this news is startling, it does not come entirely without warning. Other studies have shown that European butterfly populations were double the current size in 1990 and that British moth populations have decreased by 30 percent every ten years. Even in North America, the honey bee population has experienced a 59 percent decrease since the 1940s.

Despite these warnings, people outside the scientific community have expressed little concern for these decimated populations. Perhaps this is due to human tendencies to disregard insects or overestimate their abundance, but the fact of the matter is, it does not matter how noticeable the lack of insects is to human daily life but rather to the surrounding ecosystem which will surely feel this loss.

Insects are in fact an integral pillar to ecosystems everywhere, including western Germany. Without them, around 60 percent of birds would lack a food source, and 80 percent of plants would not be pollenated and would therefore be unable to reproduce. If these insects were to die out, the repercussions would propagate outward, effecting the entire ecosystems and even surrounding ecosystems.

Of course, there are always fluctuations in insect populations. These fluctuations are quantified using predator-prey models, which usually depict the rise and fall of these two competing populations in a way that can sustain the life of the ecosystem. However, if one population experiences a large fluctuation, this predator-prey relationship can be knocked completely out of orbit and may never return to its normal steady state. Once the insects die off, the birds and the plants will follow, and then their predators higher on the food chain.

It is for this reason that humans must be aware of this growing concern, because we may very well be responsible for this disturbance in the ecosystem. While no definite conclusion has been reached regarding the cause of the population decrease, pollutants and pesticides are likely two of the main contributors. Humans must therefore be more conscious of the damage that man-made technologies and tools can bring to the ecosystem.

It is a severe misconception that insect populations do not affect us. The food we prey on will certainly be decimated if this trend continues, and our plants will not thrive without proper pollination. For now, these trends are only known within the scientific community, but they must be publicized and given greater visibility, or else the human destruction of these ecosystems will continue.

By the same token, however, human intervention could possibly help return the insect population to its steady state through the proper protection laws and regulations. Nature reserves could be monitored more closely by more researchers with more resources. They could then aid in artificially restoring the population to its previous conditions. This, of course, can only occur if these findings are treated seriously and humans are made aware of the disturbances they can cause in the natural ecosystem.

Alex Oliveira is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.oliveira@uconn.edu.