Thursday, April 30, 2015

Insects: A Silent Extinction

When many of us think of conservation efforts, animals like polar bears or tigers are at the top of our lists. Maybe this is because they are mammals and we can better relate to them unlike those creepy crawly insects. However, entomologists like May Berenbaum believe insects are at  a greater risk of extinction compared to other familiar taxa.

And that's a problem especially when you think about the essential roles insects play in the environment such as pollination and decomposition.

Honeybees are the iconic symbol of pollination and one of the few insects commonly cultivated by people but even they are in trouble. Many beekeepers are losing around 40-50% their bees to an unknown malady.

And while bees are essential for producing crops and honey, let's not forget about the decomposers. Stoneflies and caddisflies help to reduce the abundance of leaf litter in streams and are important prey to fish, but due to reduced riparian vegetation and increased land fertilization around streams, these aquatic insects have been reduced enough to further affect water conditions in Sweden.

Recently in Britain, dozens of insects were put on the Red List due to possibility of each species going extinct. The iridescent green tansy beetle once common in the wetlands are now endangered not only in Britain, but worldwide.

But on a positive note, a species of giant stick insects, thought extinct for 80 years, was found on Ball's Pyramid by two Australian scientists. Discovering the frass (excrement) of the stick insect, they risked their lives to find the nocturnal creature and rediscover it. However, this illustrates one of the problems of determining insect extinction or status: they are hard to find. While many of us can easily spot an elephant or a whale, insects are a different story.

The loss of insects and the impacts it has on humans just goes to show not to take the little things in life for granted.

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