Catastrophic threat to world's ecosystems as farm pesticides 'driving insect extinction'

Broadacre cropland has removed crucial habitat for insects and other animals

TAMARA VONINSKI FAIRFAX MEDIABroadacre cropland has removed crucial habitat for insects and other animals

The review, which looked at 73 studies conducted around the world, claimed that more than 40 per cent of insect species are now declining, adding that the rate of extinction is about eight times faster than the respective rate for birds, mammals and reptiles.

Insects pollinate plants and recycle nutrients, and they serve as a crucial food source for many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.

Danger: Bees are among the most threatened insect species.

Humans have wiped out about 60 per cent of the planet's animal life since 1970, according to the latest Living Planet Index. "In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none", co-author Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, an environmental biologist at the University of Sydney, told the Guardian. Scientists have long warned the the rapid loss of insects could have dramatic consequences for ecosystems around the globe, but nobody could have predicted the huge losses the researchers are now reporting.

Insects are considered vital to many of nature's ecosystems for the productive role they play, particularly in controlling populations of other organisms. "If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death", Sánchez-Bayo said.

The Buglife CEO also said intensive farming is a lot to blame for the increase in endangered insects.

'Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades.

The review highlighted four key drivers of extinction: habitat loss caused by agriculture, urbanisation and deforestation; pollution; biological factors such as invasive species and diseases; and climate change.

The study included a wide range of reports to paint the clearest picture of how insect populations are faring worldwide. This could have a potentially "catastrophic" effect on the planet.

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