Where have all the insects gone?

Collage of different insects.

(National Geographic) 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.” Without insects to pollinate them, most flowering plants, from daisies to dogwoods, would die out. It is, therefore, shocking—and alarming—that in most places scientists have looked recently, they’ve found that insect numbers are falling.

Honey bees could help monitor fertility loss in insects due to climate change

Image of honey bees with egg cells.

(ScienceDaily/University of British Columbia) Heat can kill sperm cells across the animal kingdom, yet there are few ways to monitor the impact of heat on pollinators like honey bees, who can serve as a bellwether for wider insect fertility losses due to climate change. Now, researchers used a technique called mass spectrometry to analyze sperm stored in honey bee queens and found five proteins that are activated when the queens are exposed to extreme temperatures. “Just like cholesterol levels are used to indicate the risk of heart disease in humans, these proteins could indicate whether a queen bee has experienced heat stress. If we start to see patterns of heat shock emerging among bees, that’s when we really need to start worrying about other insects.”

Dramatic loss of food plants for insects in Zurich

Image of bumble bee on woody burdock.

(EurekAlert/University of Bonn) A team of German and Swiss researchers have demonstrated that the diversity of food plants for insects in Zurich has dramatically decreased over the past 100 years. Overall, all plant communities have become much more monotonous, with just a few dominant common species. This means that bees, flies and butterflies are increasingly deprived of their food base. 250 volunteers helped map the flora and process historical records.

Invest in pollinator monitoring for long-term gain

Image of strawberries next to a free-standing hedgerow

(The Niche, pg. 10) Despite urgent need, monitoring insect pollinators, especially wild bees and hover flies, has often been considered too expensive to implement at a national scale. A research team is studying how to improve pollinator monitoring in the UK in a cost-effective manner. This research examines hidden benefits of monitoring schemes. By pooling data and expertise from a wide range of resources, the costs of schemes have been estimated to be between £5,600 ($6,900) for a small volunteer-led scheme collecting basic data and £2.8 million ($3.5 million) per year for professional monitoring of both pollinating insects and pollination to the UK’s crops. Overall, for every £1 invested in pollinator monitoring schemes, at least £1.50 can be saved from costly, independent research projects.

eDNA provides researchers with ‘more than meets the eye’

Image of woman collecting soil.

(Curtin University) Researchers from Curtin University have used next generation DNA sequencing to learn more about the different species of plants, insects and animals present in the Pilbara and Perth regions of Western Australia. As animals and organisms interact with their environment, they leave behind traces of their DNA through things like droppings, skin cells, saliva, and pollen. “This study was the first of its kind to systematically test terrestrial substrates for eDNA, and it also was the first time that some of these particular substrates were analyzed.”

Blinded by the light: How sensory pollution impacts animal survival

Image of city lights at night.

(Utah State University) A new paper provides a framework for understanding how light and noise pollution affects wildlife. The framework is the product of an effort among worldwide experts in ecology and physiology and reveals the presence of “sensory danger zones,” or areas where sensory pollutants influences animal activity. For example, artificial lights cover the glow of the moon, preventing birds or insects from detecting it. “From a conservation biology point of view, we don’t know how to mitigate the effects of sensory pollution if we don’t know what the pathway of harm is.”

How warming winters are affecting everything

Graphic of melting North America with different plants and animals.

(Michigan Radio) Winters are warming faster than other seasons across much of the United States. While that may sound like a welcome change for those bundled in scarves and hats, it’s causing a cascade of unpredictable impacts in communities across the country – impacting pollinators and the plants they’re connected with. Temperatures continue to steadily rise around the globe, but that trend isn’t spread evenly across the map or even the yearly calendar.