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The importance of insects for ecosystems is underestimated by many people
A recent survey showed that many people underestimate the importance of insects for ecosystems. This is particularly fatal because insect death has reached massive proportions in recent decades. Can't it stop?
80 percent fewer insects
The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) recently reported that humans have destroyed 60 percent of all vertebrates in the past 50 years. An even greater decline is seen in insects. "Today there are 80 percent fewer insects in the air than in our grandparents' times," says a statement from the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main. And the dying is expected to continue.
Fatal consequences for humans
Scientists have been observing massive insect mortality for years. Bee death in particular has fatal consequences for humans.
Because insects play an important role for ecosystems and agriculture, among other things, since they pollinate the flowers of useful plants and thus have a direct influence on the harvest.
However, younger and less educated people in particular underestimate the importance of insects for ecosystems.
The biologist Bruno Streit, senior professor of ecology and evolution at Goethe University and his colleagues from Bio-Frankfurt recently found this out in a survey of 1,979 people.
In an interview for Goethe University's online magazine, controversy reflects on causes and possible solutions.
"Wasps are important ecological regulators," says Streit, according to the statement, "but who thinks of them when they are sitting on the plum cake?"
According to the information, there are 80 percent fewer insects in the air today than in the days of our grandparents. Older people regret the gradual disappearance of the buzzing diversity more than younger people. Maybe because they don't know anything else.
But according to the survey, the correct assessment of insect death is also a question of education. This is what distinguishes the creeping catastrophe most from the sudden, the consequences of which can be felt directly.
"If all insects suddenly disappeared, all insect-pollinated flowering plants would disappear, and the degradation and conversion processes in the forest would largely come to a standstill," explains the biologist.
“The birds, bats, hedgehogs and shrews that specialize in insect food would largely or entirely die out,” says Streit.
Only in the course of many millions of years could a new corresponding diversity theoretically arise. "It won't get that far, but there has already been a decrease in songbirds," he adds.
Regional self-sufficiency could increase
Of course, this also has economic consequences. For example, in Chinese orchards, fruit blossom pollination is already being carried out by people on ladders.
Disputes assume that some products such as fruit will become more expensive in the short term.
"However, if the globalized global economy shrinks or collapses - a scenario that we are all currently ignoring - and the population is moving more towards regional self-sufficiency with us, the disadvantages of an irreversibly impoverished nature will certainly become apparent," warns the expert.
Because with biodiversity, genetic resources also disappear from the earth. Cultivated plants and animals are usually genetically impoverished and specialized. This increases the risk that they will fall victim to future parasite or climate stress.
Many of the little-known game species also harbor substances or abilities that could be of interest to us in the future.
Sensitize people to the consequences of insect death
For Bruno Streit and his colleagues at Bio-Frankfurt, it is a big issue how to sensitize people to the consequences of insect death.
“You can show the colors of the privet hawk, the impressive size of the stag beetle and the usefulness of the many pollinators for wild plants and our fruit,” explains the scientist.
"But people with disgust, phobias or notorious lack of interest in 'crawling animals' quickly reach the limits of their powers of persuasion", Streit knows from experience.
This is why many colleagues used the honeybee as a popular symbol. But of all people it is a bred high-performance farm animal, which - as is often assumed - places some of the currently around 500 wild bee species under regional pressure.
Radical changes needed
Can insect mortality be stopped at all? “Basically, it would still be possible to make the original insect fauna crawl and hum again. But to do that, our landscape and agriculture concept would have to be changed radically, ”says Streit.
Pessimists argue that it will not be politically feasible to prevent the endless monocultures, regulated watercourses, the fog caused by biocides and the shipment of pollutants and fertilizers through wind, precipitation and leachate.
In addition, hedges, flower meadows and other open spaces would also have to be generated at the expense of agricultural areas, which are used to a large extent for the production of cattle feed.
This would create costs, wage losses and social tensions and ultimately also reduce competitiveness on the world market.
As a compromise, Streit and his colleagues call for the preservation of as much structural diversity and low pollution as possible and socially acceptable. They are committed to strengthening the emotional connection to nature in children and adults who are still close to nature.
In addition to the traditional protected areas, they also advocate the establishment of “wilderness” areas.
"Then the non-biologist also has a chance to see and experience how nature develops," says Streit.
"Because the understanding does not arise simply by visiting the zoological and botanical gardens or museums, however valuable and important they are and remain as additional motivational aids!" Says the biologist. (ad)