The evidence now seems to be startling clear that wildlife, under pressure from the ever growing masses of humanity, is in sharp decline. Indeed, according to a long article in the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) ‘most biologists agree that the world has entered its sixth mass extinction event, the first since the end of the Cretaceous Period 66 million years ago, when more than 80% of all species perished’. Most land-based animal populations have contracted by a third with some declining by more than 80%; up to 50% of amphibians (frogs, toads, newts etc) are in danger; bird numbers across the USA have fallen by nearly three billion since 1970. And now the fear is for insects.
However, the picture is far less clear for insects as there simply is not the data. Unlike large animals, insects are not only very hard to study but we start from a very low base. While there are around a million insects that have already been described it is estimated that there are another 4.5 to 7 million that we have not identified, named or described. And while the majority of these are probably in the tropical regions, most of the data that we have is for Europe and the northern hemisphere. None the less, the data that we do have suggests that we could already have lost up to 40% of our insect population.
(Taking part in the Butterfly Conservation’s Big Butterfly Count ten days ago I was horrified only to see three butterflies in three sunny hours spent picking litter on Hampstead Heath – and has anyone else noticed the dearth of flies in their kitchen this summer?)
But while insects are may not be as visible as birds or mammals they are absolutely crucial. Insects serve as ‘the base of the food web’: they provide food for birds, small mammals and fish; pollinate 75% of all flowering plants and nearly 40% of food crops and recycle massive quantities of waste. ‘Without insects’ says an article on the Natural History Museum site, ‘there would be no crops for either us or our livestock to eat. The cycling of nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen through the ecosystems would stop. The environment would collapse and the threat to our future is difficult to understate’.
There is little disagreement about the causes of this mass decline.
- Loss of habitat is the lead cause – deforestation, the spread of agriculture into previously wild landscapes, the loss of small family farms with their accompanying hedgrows and open pastures to industrial farming wastelands.
- Chemical farming – the widespread use of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides which kill not only the targeted weeds but all wildlife around them.
- Climate change – extremes of weather such as droughts and floods which are only likely to increase in severity.
- Parasites and diseases – and invasive species imported from other countries.
However, one other possible cause is not mentioned in any of the three articles quoted below: the effect of man made electromagnetic radiation. This has been known to affect insects for many years – yet it does not feature in mainstream discussions of insect decline.
How does man made Electro Magnetic Radiation affect insects?
A detailed overview of research can be found on the Powerwatch site here (spool down to page 4 for insects) which suggests, inter alia, that when subjected to EMR:
- Ants (and presumably therefore other insects such as bees) may lose both visual and smell memory which could severely impact on their ability to navigate if they use visual or smell memories to guide them. Radiation could also have a severe impact on animals that use magnetic fields to find their way.
After the installation of mobile phone equipment nearby 37.5% of a local bee population were more aggressive, 25% of the bees tended to leave the hive, and 62.5% reported collapses of the bee population – report in a bee keepers’ journal.
- EM Frequencies from telecommunications infrastructures could interfere with bees’ and other insects’ biological clocks that enable them to compensate properly for the sun’s movements so that they may fly in the wrong direction when attempting to return to the hive. They could disappear mysteriously. This phenomenon has been widely reported with bee colonies.
- Exposing fruit flies to 2G radiation for the first few days of their lives and then intermittently brought about a large decrease in the flies’ reproductive capacity as a result of DNA fragmentation.
- Electro magnetic radiation could also impact on insects’ immune system thus making them more vulnerable to pathogens.
Picking up on this research a study reported in the Science for the Total Environment suggests that while Electromagnetic Radiation/pollution is unlikely to be the sole cause of insect decline, it should be considered as a contributory factor. And not just considered but acted on by applying the precautionary principle. This would require a moratorium to be enforced to allow for more research before the roll out of 5G dramatically increases yet further the levels of EMR to which human, animal, insect life and plant are subjected.
For more on the decline of insects:
- National Geographic – Why insect populations are plummeting—and why it matters
- PNAS – Insect decline in the Anthropocene: Death by a thousand cuts
- Natural History Museum – The world’s insect populations are plummeting everywhere we look