Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Insects Are Going out the Window. How Should We Think About This?

Insect populations are rapidly declining according to scientists (and our cars' windshields):
An amateur German group called the Krefeld Entomological Society has been monitoring insect numbers at 100 nature reserves in Western Europe since the 1980s. Although there were the annual fluctuations they discovered that by 2013 numbers began to plummet by nearly 80 per cent.

Most people likely see this as a huge loss, particularly animal advocates. Environmentalists will of course see this as a huge loss given the effects on many ecosystems.

There's a growing body of literature, however, that suggests a different reaction (for instance, see Simon Knutsson). Much of it is done by lay people, but I hope to be able to study this question academically before long. If insects do feel pleasure and pain, then their lives look pretty lousy. In the vast majority of cases, "being an insect" means being born and promptly starving, being eaten alive, or dying in another horrific way.

It seems too early to take much action on insect suffering (besides research), but it is thought-provoking to wonder whether this trend is instead a merciful one.

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the post! I look forward to your possible academic research on this topic. :)

    I haven't read the fine print on these insect-decline studies (I hope someone will), but it's not obvious to me if all invertebrates are declining or mainly flying invertebrates. If plant productivity has remained roughly constant, we might expect the total invertebrate populations (including those of soil decomposers, which far outnumber flying insects) to remain roughly constant, unless insecticides or something are killing off significant numbers of all terrestrial members of the kingdom Animalia at once.

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  2. Interesting! It sounds like insecticides are the main contributor to the decline from what I've read. Should one expect the same insecticides that lower flying insect populations to also lower terrestrial ones?

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  3. > Should one expect the same insecticides that lower flying insect populations to also lower terrestrial ones?

    Not sure. This is another thing I'd like more exploration of. :) Here I quote Brady (1974) as saying:

    "Since the purpose of pesticides is to kill organisms, it is not surprising that some of them are toxic to specific soil organisms. At the same time, the diversity of the soil organism population is so great that except for a few fumigants, most pesticides do not kill a broad spectrum of soil organisms. It is perhaps surprising that the extensive use of pesticides in the United States has not provided more extensive evidence of damage to soil organism numbers. Even so, there is evidence that some commonly used pesticides adversely affect specific groups of organisms, some of which carry out important processes in the soil."

    Soil invertebrate numbers on agricultural fields could even be informally studied by amateurs who live next to or can visit pesticide-sprayed farms, by creating videos like this. If I ever visit the Midwestern US, I'll bring my microscope camera. :)

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