The insect apocalypse is here. It is estimated that over 50 percent of insect species have disappeared since 1970, and currently 41 percent of insect are at risk of extinction. But new research from a team in Germany shows it’s not all black and white — rather, it’s terrestrial and freshwater.
A study published in Science found that while terrestrial insect abundance has declined by 9 percent, freshwater species have increased by 11 percent. This complicates the idea of the insect apocalypse — while many species are at risk of disappearing altogether, land use changes and conservation play a large role in the narrative of disappearing insects.
The group examined long-term insect monitoring studies, tracking insect abundance across ecosystems. They examined over 1600 sites across 166 studies in 41 countries. Studies in protected areas showed weaker trends, strongest trends were found in unprotected areas. Urbanization, agriculture, and other land use changes could all be possible drivers of terrestrial species disappearing.
Improvements in water quality over time could be a contributor to the abundance of freshwater species, suggesting habitat protection and restoration may be an effective way to combat species decline. But, it’s not a one size fits all solution. Roel van Klink, the lead author on the study, thinks insect conservation should be a priority: “Insect conservation is not necessarily different than conservation of larger species, but is more difficult, because there are so many more species of insects and they all have their needs”.