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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.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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You may have heard about the hole in the ozone layer, which hovers over Antarctica. It has shrunk over time thanks to policies that curbed the use of ozone-depleting chemicals. In the nearly 40 years that NASA has kept track, it has never been smaller. That's the good news.
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By Kristeen Cherney
Skin inflammation, which includes swelling and redness, occurs as an immune system reaction. While redness and swelling can develop for a variety of reasons, rashes and burns are perhaps the most common symptoms. More severe skin inflammation can require medications, but sometimes mild rashes may be aided with home remedies like aloe vera.
When Aloe Vera for Redness May Treat Irritation and Inflammation<p>Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory properties that may help <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/home-remedies-for-rashes" target="_blank">soothe skin rashes</a>. As a bonus, aloe is also thought to have antimicrobial capabilities, which may in turn help to prevent infections. Additionally, aloe vera gel is known for its ability to help moisturize your skin without leaving any residue that heavy creams sometimes can.</p><p>While aloe vera can't cure any skin disease or treat every single instance of skin inflammation, here are the instances where it could possibly help:</p><h3>Burns</h3><p>Aloe vera gel is perhaps best known for its ability to help treat burns. If you've ever had a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/skin/aloe-vera-for-sunburn" target="_blank">sunburn</a>, you may have used an OTC gel to help reduce itchiness, redness, and overall irritation. The same concept may apply to mild heat or chemical burns.</p><p>To use aloe vera for burn treatment, apply it liberally to the affected area multiple times per day. You may know it's time to apply more if your skin starts feeling hot. Aloe vera is safe to use until symptoms of your burn start to improve after a day or two.</p><p>While aloe vera may provide temporary burn relief along with a cooling effect, it won't reverse any damage that may have been done to your skin. It also isn't an appropriate treatment for <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/burns" target="_blank">more severe burns</a>, which can include symptoms such as boils, blisters, and peeling skin.</p>
When Aloe May Worsen Symptoms<p>Aloe can help alleviate symptoms of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/rashes" target="_blank">skin rashes</a> that are mild in nature. However, it's not considered an effective treatment for more serious inflammatory skin conditions. Aloe vera may also—in rare cases—cause skin inflammation. Don't use aloe vera if you have an allergy to it.</p><h3>Can aloe vera cause a skin rash?</h3><p>While considered safe for most people, there is a risk of an allergic reaction to aloe vera. In such cases, you might see signs of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/contact-dermatitis" target="_blank">contact dermatitis</a>, which can develop when your skin comes in contact with an irritating or allergenic substance. Symptoms may include:</p><ul><li>redness</li><li>hives</li><li>itching</li><li>skin rash</li></ul><p><span></span>If you've never used aloe vera before, you should conduct a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/allergy-testing#testing" target="_blank">patch test</a> to make sure you're not allergic. This involves applying the gel to a non-conspicuous area of skin, such as the inside of your elbow. The downside is you have to wait at least 24 hours to see if any irritation develops. If no such reactions occur, then it should be safe to use the product on your skin rashes.</p>
Can Aloe Vera Make Eczema Worse?<p>Aloe vera won't likely make eczema worse unless you're allergic to it. The greater risk is relying on aloe for eczema treatment when it may not actually work. Aloe vera gel could temporarily alleviate feelings of burning, but it can't treat the underlying causes of your eczema rashes.</p><p>Sometimes eczema rashes may bleed due to scratching. You should not apply aloe to broken skin, as this can increase burning sensations.</p>
When to See a Doctor<p>Aloe vera can help soothe certain cases of skin inflammation, but most effects are temporary at best. If your symptoms last longer than a few days, get progressively worse, or spread throughout your entire body, then it's time to see a doctor to evaluate your skin rash.</p><p>A doctor may also refer you to a dermatologist, who specializes in the treatment of skin disorders. They can help diagnose the cause of your rashes and help treat the underlying source of inflammation, rather than the symptoms alone.</p><p>You should also see a doctor if you experience any negative reactions after using aloe gel. This could indicate an allergy to aloe vera. If you suspect an allergic reaction, stop using aloe right away.</p><p><em>Never </em>take aloe vera gel or cream, aloe latex, or whole-leaf extract orally.</p><p>Seek immediate medical care if you suspect your rash <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/skin-infection" target="_blank">is infected</a>. Signs may include fever, blisters, and pus-filled lesions in your rash. Extremely painful rashes also require medical attention.</p>
Takeaway<p>Due to its ability to soothe inflammation and wounds, aloe vera can be a temporary solution to treat the symptoms of a mild burn or skin rash. However, aloe vera isn't a viable treatment option for more severe burns or severe inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema and rosacea. Stronger medications are needed for more severe skin rashes.</p><p>While rare, aloe vera may also cause an allergic reaction in some people. Always conduct a skin patch test for use, and discontinue any aloe gel products if you notice any new rashes.</p>
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