(AP) — There are millions of preserved insects on display at London’s Natural History Museum.
Some of the species here are already extinct, and according to a new report, by the end of the century the rest could follow.
Scientists reviewed 73 studies around the world from the last 13 years and published their analysis in the journal, Biological Conservation.
The report warns that the total weight of all the insects on the planet is decreasing by a quarter every decade and that could lead to a collapse of ecosystems around the world.
“Some of my colleagues have compared it to playing Jenga – you know, you move pieces from the Jenga tower and everything seems to be OK and then you remove one piece and the whole thing falls down and you don’t know which piece in advance that’s going to be, and once you’ve removed it you can’t put it back again, so the loss of species is inevitably concerning, because often we don’t know what those pieces are doing, we don’t know what other species are depending on them,” says Max Barclay, Senior Beetle Curator at the Natural History Museum
Insects are becoming extinct 8 times faster than mammals, birds or reptiles according to the report.
The total weight of insects has been falling over the last 25 to 30 years and although the weight of all the insect biomass on Earth is still 17 times heavier than humans, at the current rate of decline, insects could all be gone in a century, according to the review.
In the 4 billion year history of Earth there have been 5 recorded mass extinctions tied to natural catastrophes – volcanic eruptions, ice ages and the meteorite impact that scientists believe wiped out the dinosaurs.
Many scientists now believe we are at the beginning of a 6th mass extinction of species. The cause this time is human activity.
The report largely blames intensive agriculture for the decline in insects – with pesticides turning crops into sterile fields.
Climate change and the rapid swings in temperature and rainfall that comes with it, coupled with the ever-increasing growth of urban areas are also having an effect.
Insects are not always the most popular of species with humans, but life on Earth depends on them. They provide food for many other species and pollinate around three-quarters of the world’s crops.
“A large number of the crops we eat and rely on are pollinated by insects, so imagine a world where that pollination process is not taking place. And there are some cases around the world already where we are having to pollinate by hand – at a huge cost – at huge economic cost simply because the insects aren’t there to do the work that we would normally ask them to do for free. In some cases, if you are talking about food crops, just try to imagine the scale of what that would look like if insects weren’t doing that for us,” says Mark Wright, Science Director at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
In addition to affecting food supplies for humans, the report says many birds, reptiles and fish that depend on insects for food will also be wiped out if insect populations disappear.