NewsThe Big Fear

The Big Fear

While there are species that have recovered, the most recent Red List shows that nationwide nearly a third of insect species are endangered

These include bees and butterflies, as well as ground beetles, caddis flies and ants. Insects are irreplaceable for biodiversity. They represent 70 percent of all animal species. But here, too, the loss of species is rampant, worldwide. A new red list from the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) now also proves this for Germany.

Five years ago, the topic of insect mortality hit the headlines in this country. Volunteer entomologists from the Krefeld Entomological Association presented their studies on flying insects. It turned out that the decline since the start of their surveys in 1989 was considerable in some cases – with a peak value of minus 82 percent. Now the BfN has completed its official Red List of invertebrates. Conclusion: almost a third of the examined species are endangered.

The Federal Office had the insects examined in three tranches. The third part presented on Wednesday is mainly about beetles, such as leaf beetles or weevils, but also about flies, including dragonflies, stoneflies and mayflies. Of the nearly 6,750 species living in Germany recorded therein, 26.2 percent fall into the categories “critically endangered”, “endangered”, “endangered” or “threat of unknown extent”. According to the BfN, the populations of only a few insect species have increased; the declines clearly predominate. Despite the success of nature conservation projects, the endangerment remains particularly high for species that live near bodies of water.

The President of the Federal Office, Sabine Riewenherm, commented: “The new Red List confirms the negative trend that has been shown in the first two volumes.” In the three volumes, a total of more than 15,000 invertebrate species were examined, including 14,000 insect species. Of these, more than 4,600 species or 29.6 percent are endangered, i.e. almost a third.

The current list shows that the groups of stoneflies and mayflies are particularly badly affected, with rates of 46.4 and 40.5 percent respectively. And this is where water conservation comes into play. The BfN explains: Many of these species live in inland waters, preferring near-natural waters and bank areas.

Since the beginning of industrialization, populations have declined due to water pollution, and while streams, rivers and lakes have become cleaner over the past 25 years, many have yet to fully recover. There is an “urgent need for action” here, said Riewenherm. The pollutant load of the waters must be further reduced, it is also important to make streams, rivers and lakes more natural again and to preserve waters and their banks that are still near-natural today.

According to the BfN, the loss of near-natural habitats is also the main problem for beetles. According to this, species that live in open or semi-open landscapes are primarily endangered by the ongoing intensification of agriculture. Species that feed on the dung of other animals, such as dung beetles, were adversely affected by the abandonment of grazing in favor of stable housing and the use of medication in animal husbandry, such as antibiotics.

The balance shows again that a turnaround in the conservation of species diversity has not yet been achieved. It remains to be seen whether the new federal government will be able to do this. After all, there are clear commitments to the protection of biodiversity in the traffic light coalition agreement, and it literally says: “We are committed to consistent insect protection, will significantly reduce the use of pesticides and promote the development of nature-friendly and environmentally friendly alternatives.” One goal is, for example, the expansion of organic farming from around ten percent at present to 30 percent by 2030. The traffic light contract is keeping a low profile on the subject of water body renaturation, although the water quality is to be improved.

A study by the University of Sydney from 2019, for which the authors evaluated 73 long-term studies from all continents, also showed how precarious the situation for insects is worldwide. Result: Around 41 percent of all insect species examined were in decline, a proportion twice as high as in vertebrates. One in three insect species is threatened with extinction, and every year one percent of all insect species are added, it said.

Since humans are also dependent on insects, for example as pollinators for crop cultivation, this should not leave them indifferent. Another research team has calculated that a collapse in pollination services in agriculture and the food industry would result in annual financial losses of up to 577 billion US dollars.

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