Help Support EcoWatch
The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Acting Now Could Save Bugs From Insect Apocalypse
By Ajit Niranjan
Seven 'no-regret' actions could rescue insects on the road to extinction, a new roadmap for conservation says, helping ecosystems even where a lack of research means scientists cannot prove benefits to individual species.
Earth's biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates but population data on insects — which are small, diverse and abundant — is patchy.
Instead of waiting to fill knowledge gaps, 75 experts writing in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution are calling for immediate actions that also improve ecosystems and wider society. Short-term measures such as phasing out pesticides and diversifying farmland could set struggling insect species on a path to recovery while better data is collected.
"We reap what we sow," said Jeff Harvey, ecologist at the Netherlands Institute of Ecology and lead author of the roadmap. "It's a no-brainer that decline of insects will affect other species in the food chain … We can't just put little bandages on this."
Last year, a global review published in the journal Biological Conservation spawned headlines heralding an "insect apocalypse," "Armageddon" and "collapse of nature" when it found 40% of insect species would face the threat of extinction within decades.
Some experts have since criticized the paper for using biased search terms and misapplying extinction risk. It also relied on studies mainly from Europe and North America.
"Very little data is available for most species in most countries, so it's simply untrue to claim that there is scientific consensus that insects are in global decline," said Manu Saunders, an ecologist at the University of New England, in an email. "This is a very different issue to insects being under real threat from various drivers, particularly land clearing, pesticides, climate change, etc."
IPBES, the UN-convened panel of ecology experts, tentatively put the figure of threatened insect species at 10% last year, in the most comprehensive study of life on Earth ever undertaken.
"I think globally we have quite a decline in species," said Josef Settele, an ecologist at Germany's Helmholtz-Center for Environmental Research and co-chair of the IPBES report. "40% might be too high, and 10% in our global assessment is too low, but this is the range."
Even as ecologists disagree on broad population trends, they are united on three points: the importance of insects to people; the rising threats they face; and the lack of action to preserve them.
Insects play a vital role in ecosystems and humans are particularly dependent on them for food. Where fewer earthworms replenish soil, and dwindling bee and butterfly populations struggle to pollinate crops, food supplies could drop catastrophically. The IPBES report estimated that up to $577 billion (€522 billion) in annual crop output is at risk as a result of pollinator loss alone.
In Australia, where Saunders works, raging wildfires exacerbated by climate change have lain waste to wildlife.
Sweeping through an area larger than Portugal, the fires have killed an estimated one billion animals in a matter of months, with some survivors seeking refuge in waterways and even wombat burrows to escape the heat. A preliminary government analysis last week found that fires have burned more than half the habitat of 114 threatened species.
Among them is the critically endangered Banksia montana mealybug, an insect thought to live only on a single type of shrub that is vulnerable to disease, fire and climate change. It is one of 4 insect species in a 327-strong list of vulnerable creatures that have seen at least 10% of their known habitat burned by bushfires. More are thought to have perished unseen.
"The main problem is that we have very little data on the insect species that were in these burned locations before the fire, so we have no way of knowing how many have been affected and in what locations," said Saunders.
The prospect of more intense and frequent fires in Australia — and the difficulties forests may face in growing back — has raised fears about long-term insect populations.
In Germany, where insect loss is better documented, the speed and scale of decline has shocked scientists.
A landmark study published in the journal PLOS One in 2017 found a 76% decline in flying insects in nature reserves over nearly three decades. The population loss was not limited to well-studied creatures, such as bees and butterflies, but flying insects as a whole, and was documented in areas supposedly-safe from humans.
The researchers suggested suggest agriculture and pesticides had aggravated the decline, noting that almost all the reserves were surrounded by farmland.
Last September, the German government announced a €100 million-a-year action plan that includes protecting habitats, phasing out the controversial herbicide glyphosate and reducing light pollution in an effort to counter insect loss. A quarter of the funding will go to research.
The scientists who wrote the conservation roadmap hold up Germany as a role model for other countries to emulate. But the focus on insect protection without major agricultural reform has left some uncertain.
Industrial agriculture, pesticides and monocropping pose major threats to insects — and that, in turn, endangers harvests and food supplies, according to an "insect atlas" published in January by the Heinrich-Böll Foundation, Friends of the Earth Germany (BUND) and Le Monde Diplomatique.
Germany is strong on insect protection but fails to tackle the role of farming, said Christine Chemnitz, agriculture policy expert at the Heinrich-Böll Foundation and project lead of the insect atlas. "We totally support [the protection programme] but we view it critically, because agricultural policy must urgently change too."
Reposted with permission from DW.
- Insects Must Be Saved to Prevent Collapse of Humanity, Top ... ›
- Alarming Decline of Insect Population Linked to Toxic Pesticides in ... ›
- New Report Documents Global Insect Decline - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Zahida Sherman
Cooking has always intimidated me. As a child, I would anxiously peer into the kitchen as my mother prepared Christmas dinner for our family.
Falling in Love With Food All Over Again<p>Slowly, through my most intimate relationships with friends and partners, I began to see the beauty — and rewards — of cooking.</p><p>I got tired of giving in to defeat and always bringing chips or paper products to social gatherings. I started asking my mom to send me her Christmas and Thanksgiving recipes. I even volunteered to host Thanksgiving dinner at my place.</p><p>Each time I heard my loved ones sing the praises of the foods I prepared for them, I felt a tinge more confident that I could carry out our traditions my way.</p><p>In reaching out to other relatives for their favorite recipes, I learned that they had a little help of their own. They didn't rely solely on their ancestral cooking instincts. They turned to Black chefs for guidance.</p><p>These 7 cookbooks by Black chefs have inspired my family and fed us in nutrients, joy, and spiritual sustenance. They're also helping me overcome my personal fears of cooking.</p>
Get CookingWhether you're in recovery from cooking fears like me, or are just looking to expand your culinary confidence with dishes honoring Black heritage, these Black chefs are here to support you on your journey.Turn on some music, give yourself permission to make mistakes, and throw down for yourself or your loved ones. Glorious flavors await you.
- 18 Cookbooks for Building a Diverse and Just Food System ... ›
- 19 Individuals and Groups Building Stronger Black Communities ... ›
- 8 Cookbooks We're Reading This Fall - EcoWatch ›
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded its list of potentially toxic hand sanitizers to avoid because they could be contaminated with methanol.
- Here's How to Clean Your Groceries During the COVID-19 Outbreak ... ›
- Why Hand-Washing Really Is as Important as Doctors Say - EcoWatch ›
- If You're Worried About the New Coronavirus, Here's How to Protect ... ›
- Vodka Won't Protect You From Coronavirus, and 4 Other Things to ... ›
By Tara Lohan
The conclusion to decades of work to remove a dam on the Middle Fork Nooksack River east of Bellingham, Washington began with a bang yesterday as crews breached the dam with a carefully planned detonation. This explosive denouement is also a beginning.
The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
A Plan Comes Together<p>The Middle Fork dam is not a pool dam built for water storage. Much of the time, water flows over the top until dam operators drop a floodgate to divert water to new locations. That water travels about 14 miles through tunnel and pipeline to Mirror Lake, then Anderson Creek, and to Lake Whatcom before finally being delivered to residents' taps.</p><p>Before removing the dam, engineers had to move the water intake 700 feet upstream and situate it at an elevation that still enabled city water withdrawals throughout the year, regardless of flow conditions.</p><p>They also needed to make sure that the rushing water didn't sweep up fish and accidentally send them through the water-supply system.</p><p>"The solution required a fairly complex design in the intake structure, including a fish exit pipe out of that structure to put fish back into the river in a way that meets current environmental permit standards," explains LaCroix.</p>
Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
Restoration Success<p>Despite local authorities' championing dam removal on the Middle Fork, the project has largely flown under the radar, overshadowed in the Pacific Northwest by heated discussions about a much larger potential project — removing <a href="https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/feds-reject-removal-of-4-snake-river-dams-in-key-report/" target="_blank">four federal hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River</a>, a major tributary of the Columbia River.</p><p>Proponents of dam removal there see it as the best chance for recovering threatened salmon populations, including Chinook, which could help starving Southern Resident killer whales. Those dams also provide irrigation water, barge navigation and hydropower, so there's been more pushback against removal efforts.</p><p>Previous dam removals around the country, however, have proved successful at aiding fish recovery and river restoration.</p><p>Most notably the 1999 demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/edwards-dam-removal/" target="_blank">Edwards Dam on Maine's Kennebec River</a> restored the annual run of alewives, a type of herring essential to the food web. The fish run has gone from zero to 5 million in the two decades since dam removal. Blueback herring, striped bass, sturgeon and shad have also extended their reach. And the resurgence has brought back osprey, bald eagles and other wildlife, too.</p><p>The overwhelming success of river restoration on the Kennebec helped to spur a nationwide dam removal movement that's now seen 1,200 dams come down since 1999. Last year a record <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/conservation-resource/a-record-26-states-removed-dams-in-2019/" target="_blank">90 dams</a> were removed in 26 states, including <a href="https://therevelator.org/cleveland-forest-dam-removal/" target="_blank">20 dams in California's Cleveland National Forest</a>.</p>
Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
- 4 Exciting Dam-Removal Projects to Watch - EcoWatch ›
- Jump-Starting the Dam Removal Movement in the U.S. - EcoWatch ›
- Boom: Removing 81 Dams Is Transforming This California Watershed ›
- Sea Level Rise Is Speeding up Along Most of the U.S. Coast ... ›
- Protecting Mangroves Can Prevent Billions of Dollars in Global ... ›
- Flooding Risk for U.S. Homes: Millions More Are Vulnerable Than ... ›
- 300 Million People Worldwide Could Suffer Yearly Flooding by 2050 ... ›
- Sea Level Rise Could Put 2.4 Million U.S. Coastal Homes at Risk ... ›
By Katie Howell
A new tool called The Food Systems Dashboard aims to save decision makers time and energy by painting a complete picture of a country's food system. Created by the Johns Hopkins' Alliance for a Healthier World, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Dashboard compiles food systems data from over 35 sources and offers it as a public good.