We Crush, Poison, and Destroy Insects at Our Own Peril

John Hainze:

The insect apocalypse has captured headlines, but the situation is more nuanced than that. Scientists find an increase in the overall numbers of arthropods in the Arctic, but a decline in diversity. Certain habitats in the Arctic are also affected more than others.3 In Puerto Rico, insect declines initially attributed to climate change may have resulted instead from hurricanes.4 Some insect species have even increased in numbers—mainly those that are tolerant of human activities or that benefit from associating with humans or from climate change.

Despite that, the general trend is negative as climate change, habitat destruction (in the form of deforestation, urbanization, and intensification of agriculture), and pesticides take their toll. These forces are overtaking the insects. They are coming so quickly that even these spectacularly successful evolutionary improvisers do not have time to escape. It’s often difficult for scientists to identify a single contributing factor. A new paper, introducing a special issue on the plight of insects, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, referred to the decline of these tiny creatures as “death by a thousand cuts.”5