Insects are marching towards extinction — and why we should be mightily bugged

A study by researchers from Australia, Vietnam and China shows that the rates of decline in insect populations may lead to a staggering 40% of the world’s insect species going extinct over the next few decades.
Insects — the tiny creepers, crawlers and flyers that may be an annoyance to humans and seem a little useless — are among the most important players in ensuring the stability of our biodiversity and therefore the livelihood of humans.
However, their populations have over the years been showing a decline as the world rapidly develops, the climate crisis worsens and the increased demand for food forces farmers to be highly dependent on pesticides that are partly responsible for the drop in insect numbers.
A 2019 study by researchers from Australia, Vietnam and China showed that the rates of decline in insect populations may lead to a staggering 40% of the world’s insect species going extinct over the next few decades.
According to the study, moths and butterflies, bees, wasps, hornets, sawflies, ants and dung beetles are most affected by the threat of extinction. More aquatic insects, however, such as dragonflies, stoneflies, caddisflies and the mayfly have already lost significant numbers to their population group.
Beekeeper Simon Hartley told DM168 that driving through the Lowveld region about 20 years ago meant the car windscreen would be covered in insects.
“You drive through the Lowveld area now, you come out with a clean windscreen. And that was, to me, a really tangible indicator of the perceived impact that heavy commercialised farming has had on the insect population in general. To me, that was very telling and it was absolutely true. I’d been all the way through the different areas (in the Lowveld) and my windscreen was still clean; maybe one or two bugs on it,” said Hartley.
Declining insect populations
Dr Bronwyn Egan, from the University of Limpopo’s biodiversity department, told DM168 that while the numbers point to a decline in South Africa’s insect population, it was more complex than that since there were niche areas where the insects were fine.
“It does in general look like they’re declining and that is a massive problem,” Egan said. “Because insects are such a massive group of animals, and we have such a dilemma in the way we look at them: sometimes we look at them in terms of just pests, so we don’t really care what happens to them as long as they’re not around. ...