FunNature & AnimalWarning: the Earth suffers a massive loss of insects

Warning: the Earth suffers a massive loss of insects

We are in an era of mass insect extinction and a massive decrease in the number of insects could have dire consequences for the environment.

New research suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists believed. They discovered that a pristine national forest of Puerto Rico (called El Yunque or ‘enchanted forest’), has suffered the loss of a large number of insects and the animals that feed on the insects of the forest have also disappeared.

Ecological apocalypse

“Our generation is presiding over an ecological apocalypse and in one way or another we have normalized it,” say the authors.

In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, over the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45%. But, in the study carried out last year the decrease was 76% in flying insects in the last decades in the nature reserves of Germany.

The latest report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , shows that this surprising loss of insect abundance extends to the Americas.

The history of the rainforest

Spanish King Alfonso XII claimed the jungle as a royal preserve in the 19th century. Decades later, Theodore Roosevelt made it a national reserve, and El Yunque remains the only tropical rain forest in the national forest system.

A worrying change

The experts measured forest insects and other invertebrates such as spiders and centipedes. They trapped arthropods on the ground in plates covered with a sticky glue and collected all sorts of creatures that crawled through the vegetation.


Each technique revealed that the biomass (the dry weight of all captured invertebrates) had decreased significantly from 1976 to the present day.

“Everything is falling,” explains Bradford Lister, a co-author of the study. The most common invertebrates in the rainforest, moths, butterflies, grasshoppers, spiders … all of them are now rare.

The study authors also caught arthropod-eating Anolis lizards in the rainforest. They compared these numbers with those of the 1970s. Anole biomass declined by more than 30%. and some species of anoles have completely disappeared from the interior forest.

Numbers of frogs and insect-eating birds also plummeted. 50%.

The food web appears to have been erased from the bottom of the ecosystem. Experts attribute this shock to the weather. In the same 40-year period , the average high temperature in the rainforest increased by 2.2ºC.

Invertebrates that live there, in the same way, are adapted to these temperatures and insects cannot regulate their internal heat, making it difficult for them to survive. After a certain thermal threshold, the insects no longer lay eggs and their internal chemistry breaks down.

Whatever the cause, all scientists agree that we must pay more attention to this “bugcalypse.”

35% percent of the world’s plant crops require pollination by bees, wasps, and other animals. And arthropods are more than just pollinators. They are the smallest custodians on the planet, working in hidden corners. They chew rotten wood and eat carrion. Additionally, the loss of insects and arthropods could further wear down the rainforest’s food web, causing plant species to go extinct without pollinators.

Reference: Climate-driven declines in arthropod abundance restructure a rainforest food web. Bradford C. Lister and Andres Garcia. PNAS published ahead of print October 15, 2018 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1722477115

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