A new analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation has revealed that more than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered. As the Guardian reported, the rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds, and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the data, suggesting they could vanish within a century. According to some scientists, the planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are essential for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators, and recyclers of nutrients.

According to the research, intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanization and climate change are also significant factors. Professor Dave Goulson at the University explained that “It should be of huge concern to all of us, for insects are at the heart of every food web, they pollinate the large majority of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recycle nutrients, control pests, and much more. Love them or loathe them, we humans cannot survive without insects.”

Why This Matters: As the human population grows instead of turning more forests, grasslands, etc into farmland we need to focus on sustainable farming practices and reducing our reliance on pesticides. Preserving habitat for insects and ensuring that their populations can stay healthy is critical to our survival as well. As NatGeo explained, almonds in California or watermelons in Florida wouldn’t be available if it were not for bees. Insects also return nutrients to the earth. If they weren’t around, the amount of decay and rot all over the place would be terrible. We don’t notice these services because insects are so small and we often see them as this nuisance. But they are the lever pullers of the world.

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