Three-Decade Survey Shows Drastic Decline in Insect Populations

Study: 75% decrease in flying insects over 27 years

"This decrease has always been suspected but has turned out to be more severe than previously thought", Hallmann said in a statement.

"The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery", said Hans de Kroon, an ecologist at Radboud University who led the new research.

The long-term study used Malaise traps - a sophisticated kind of insect net which catches a wide variety of insects - set up in 63 German nature protection areas over the course of 27 years. In the middle of summer, when insect numbers peak, the decline was even more severe at 82 percent.

The longitudinal study was widely-anticipated by environmental scientists as a source of data on a potential trend of declining insect populations in a quality that was previously unattainable.

Comparing samples from this year to 1989, the researchers found that the weight of insects in the same traps had dropped 76%. "The research areas are mostly small and enclosed by agricultural areas". What makes the troubling trend even worse is that the researchers found the decline was universal across all habitats and was seemingly not affected by weather change or the type of land the insects call home. "If you see these sort of dramatic declines in protected areas it makes me worry that this could be everywhere".

In the study, researchers conducted a "census" 60 nature reserves created in Germany over the past century.

While noting they had not "exhaustively analyzed the climatic variables" that may have impacted populations, such as "prolonged droughts, or lack of sunshine especially in low temperatures", they also suggested "agricultural intensification (e.g. pesticide usage, year-round tillage, increased use of fertilizers and frequency of agronomic measures) that we could not incorporate in our analyses, may form a plausible cause".

While no corresponding data over the same study period is available for non-flying insects, "we can just hope they are faring better, but we have no reason to believe that is the case", Hallman said.

"They're food for umpteen other organisms so, if we lose the insects, we'd lose of our birds". "As entire ecosystems are dependent on insects for food and as pollinators, it places the decline of insect eating birds and mammals in a new context".

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