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Over 40 percent of insect species face extinction: study

Lewis Sanders IV
February 11, 2019

From butterflies to bees, nearly half of all insect species are threatened with extinction "over the next few decades." Scientists have warned of the devastating impact it could have on the future of humankind.

Silhouette of a butterfly
Image: picture-alliance/Arco Images GmbH/F. Rauschenbach

New research published Sunday suggests more than 40 percent of insect species "are threatened with extinction."

For years now, scientists have warned of the devastating impact the loss of insects, especially pollinators, will have on the future of humankind.

Species affected:

  • Butterflies and moths
  • Bees and wasps
  • Beetles
  • Dragonflies, among others

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'Threatened worldwide'

Researchers said:

  • "Biodiversity of insects is threatened worldwide."
  • "Our work reveals dramatic rates of decline that may lead to the extinction of 40 percent of the world's inspect species over the next few decades."
  • "Affected insect groups not only include specialists that occupy particular ecological niches, but also many common and generalist species."

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What is the problem?

The researchers, whose work was published in the leading international journal in the discipline of conservation science, Biological Conservation, pointed to several factors, including habitat loss, pollution, pesticides and biological factors, such as pathogens. They also cited climate change, saying "it is particularly important in tropical regions."

Although the researchers did not go into detail about the knock-on effects, scientists have warned of the potential for disaster, especially with reduced pollinator populations, and urged concrete action to protect critical species.

"Failure to do so will jeopardize food security by posing imminent threats to the global economy, nutrition and diet diversity, and the biodiversity of ecosystems," said the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in a report. "But our success in doing so will ensure our ability to feed a growing population for generations to come."

Read more: 'Our consumption choices are driving biodiversity loss'

Can we change it?

According to the researchers led by Francisco Sanchez-Bayo of the University of Sydney and Kris A.G. Wyckhuy of the University of Queensland, there are several steps that can be taken to mediate losses and reverse the trend.

"A rethinking of current agricultural practices, in particular a serious reduction in pesticide usage and its substitution with more sustainable, ecologically based practices, is urgently needed to slow or reverse current trends, allow the recovery of declining insect populations and safeguard the vital ecosystem services they provide," the researchers said.

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