Shrinking Insect Numbers Could Lead To Nature's 'Catastrophic Collapse,' Warns Study

The fast-shrinking insect numbers threaten the very existence of mankind and could lead to nature's "catastrophic collapse," according to the first global scientific review, as reported by the Guardian.

The numbers showing insect population changes are alarming. According to the study, insects are going extinct eight times faster than reptiles, mammals, and birds. Nearly a third of those insects are endangered, while 40 percent of the insect species are declining. The best available data indicate that insect numbers are plummeting by 2.5 percent a year, a rate so alarming it could mean that the entire insect population could vanish by the end of this century.

Scientists believe that the Earth is entering his sixth mass extinction phase. The shrinking number of animals has already been reported widely, with the Guardian detailing last year how humanity had helped wipe out 60 percent of the larger animals in less than 50 years. But while declining animal numbers are easier to study, precisely analyzing the decline of insects remains a tough task. Outweighing humanity by 17 times, insects are, by far, nature's most abundant animals, and as a result, remain integral to the functioning of all ecosystems.

As reported, insect populations in Germany and Puerto Rico have seen a sharp decline over the last few years, but scientists confirm that the decline in numbers is global.

"The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet," the study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, reads.

"Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades. The repercussions this will have for the planet's ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least."
One of the architects of the study, Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, of the University of Sydney, Australia, said that several factors contribute to the declining insect numbers, but the single-largest factor remains intensive agricultural practices -- specifically the over-dependence on pesticides. Climate change and unregulated urbanization are other important factors.

Sánchez-Bayo said the rate at which insects were disappearing was "shocking" and if the present rate continues, nearly a quarter of all insects will perish within the next decade. That number will halve in 50 years, and in less than a century, the entire insect populations of the world could be wiped out.

Thousands of animal species depend on insects as their food source, and if so they are extinct, the entire food chain will be damaged irrevocably.

"If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death," Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian.

Among the insects, butterflies, moths, and bumblebees are the worst affected, with beetles also recording an alarming decline-rate.