back to article The case of the disappearing insect. Boffin tells Reg: We don't know why... but we must act

"Insects are at the bottom of the ecosystem," the lead author of a study into a massive decrease in collected insects told The Reg. Their loss, he added, is "likely to collapse the entire pyramid". Between 1989 and 2016, boffins used nets to fill about 1,500 one-litre bottles with flying insects from 63 conservation sites in …

  1. baseh

    Pedantry

    "feeding amphibians or mammals such as birds" - revolutionary taxonomy

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. MrDamage

        Re: Pedantry

        > ""mammals such as birds" Tits?"

        Or a brown throated warbler.

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Pedantry

          Did someone mention mammaries?

          1. WolfFan Silver badge

            Re: Pedantry

            Did someone mention mammaries?

            pix or it didn't happen

        2. Roger Ramjet

          Re: Pedantry

          Don't forget the Woodcock, Pullet and Swallow.

          1. Thoguht Silver badge

            Re: Pedantry

            What about the Teat Owl? You know, the thing you dry dishes with.

            1. ravenviz
              Coat

              Re: Pedantry

              Q. What's red and sits in a tree?

              A. A sanitary owl.

              1. Spasticus Autisticus
                Happy

                Re: Pedantry

                You horrible man, that's sick!

                But I'm sick and that made me laugh.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Pedantry

      "Insects are at the bottom of the ecosystem,"

      Revolutionary ecology as well.

      1. KG6EAR

        Re: Pedantry

        Insects at the bottom? No, this is the whole problem with how people view the world around them. There is no bottom and no top of food chain, there is only the circle of life.. You may think insects are at the bottom because they are eaten by larger creatures, but are they truly? By that strange notion, we are below insects because they feed us. That's right. No needs to pollinate the crops, no plant products to eat. We would die quickly because without pollination, crops will ail and we will starve to death eventually.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

    Jokes aside, it's not a surprise, as long as more and more gardens, fields and woods are replaced by concrete. Builders are like a cancer, they won't stop until the whole body dies.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

      It is not that - they are disappearing in the countryside too.

      IMHO some of it is pesticides, the rest Roundup and other herbicides. In fact, this is a bigger reason to ban Roundup and friends than anything else.

      All herbicide resistant crops - maise, cereals, etc are wind-pollinated. They need no insects. Maise and cereals which are not sprayed with GlyPhospate always have a sprinkle of flowers throughout. Similarly, a lawn which has been left to develop "naturally" always has quite a few daisies and 20-30% clover which ranks towards the top of the bee, butterfly, etc "wishlist".

      Unfortunately, both are very rare nowdays and the study proves it. The former is because of the endless industry push, the latter because people are idiots. The "norm" for a lawn is it to be uniform, green, rye grass only and nothing will stop your average suburbia dweller splashing a bottle of glyphosphate a week on it to keep it this way. Quite funny - he expects there to be insects after that. How about actually putting some thought on what do insects like bees actually need?

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

        "herbicide resistant crops"

        The abomination of GM, designed to sell Gigatons of herbicide.

        Now, if GM could develop some pest-resistant crops, that would serve much better

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          "Now, if GM could develop some pest-resistant crops, that would serve much better"

          Funny you should say that....

          There are really 2 use cases for GM.

          1) Monster agribusiness (whatever Monsanto are calling themselves these days, but also people like Bayer and a fair few other chems companies who happen to be located in Germany) wanting to lock farmers into their seeds, but with their seeds "Special Sauce" (C Andrew Orlwski), usually higher yield (if you use their brand of insecticide/fungicide/herbicide/anythingelse-cide).

          2) The kind done in what are basically the "National Laboratories" of various third world and Far East countries to hard wire infection resistance, insect resistance and improved nutrition into the crops themselves (while preserving their fertility).

          One is aimed at improving the lot of the farmers in those countries, the other improving the dividend to the companies shareholders.

          Same techniques, rather different goals, and rather different outcomes.

        2. Disk0
          Holmes

          Re: pest-resistant

          What are those pests you speak of, if not also part of the ecosystem?

      2. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

        I think you are slightly wrong there Mr Right Hand, most people,after getting rid of thr weeds want rid of the bugs next. Few people I have come across have the slightest clue about what bugs do and why they are important.

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      4. big_D Silver badge

        @Vorland's right hand Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

        My wife has spent the last 7 years turning the garden of the house we bought from a "golfing green" lawn to an insect and bird paradise. It certainly seems to have done some good, the lawn is covered in different "meadow" flowers and the borders and flower beds are left to grow naturally, with mainly native plants.

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: @Vorland's right hand Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

          My wife has spent the last 7 years

          You are an exception. The lawns you see around are a testament to that. Less than one in 5 has clover which is the clearest indication that it has not been herbicide treated.

          1. Tom Paine Silver badge

            Re: @Vorland's right hand Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

            I'm sure I'm not alone to find my corner of London suburbia infested with the disease of concreting over the front garden and parking a car on it. That certainly doesn't help. (OK sometimes they use geotextile and some low grade stone chippings; that's slightly less unsustainable urban drainage system but still .)

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Vorland's right hand Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

          If I did that were I live, I'd probably get an ASBO.

        3. Tom Paine Silver badge

          Re: @Vorland's right hand Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

          Entering my late 40s some sort of biological clock reached 7:30 in my head and the alarm went off. RIght! Must garden! What's a fork, then?

          Turns out the easy / lazy way in is incredibly simple, Dig over the borders in February / March, going round anything that looks like it knows what it's doing, Buy a box or two of pollinator-friendly wildflower mix for five or six quid. (There are lots available, your friendly local garden centre will have them or look online.) Six weeks later you'll have a fabulous cottage garden / wildflower meadow look going on, and the whole lot will be buzzing with bees (who knew there were so man different-looking ones?) and other pollinators such as hoverflies, butterflies and whatnot. And because they're annuals all you have to do is wait for them all to die off in the autumn / winter, maybe sprinkle or collect some of the seed heads for next year, either dig in the dead stuff or chuck it on a compost heap / in your green bin as appropriate. Hours of fun and a much healthier place to have a fag^h break when working at home than walking round the block in some polluted, chewing-gum spattered concrete canyon.

      5. Malcolm 1

        Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

        "Similarly, a lawn which has been left to develop "naturally" always has quite a few daisies and 20-30% clover which ranks towards the top of the bee, butterfly, etc "wishlist".

        Thanks - I feel much better about my laissez-faire attitude to lawn maintenance! It certainly as a healthy diversity of clover and daisies...

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

        It is not that - they are disappearing in the countryside too....IMHO some of it is pesticides, the rest Roundup and other herbicides.

        You may be right, but the difference in use of pesticides probably gives us a very quick test of that. Ireland has the second lowest pesticide use in the EU (an order of magnitude lower than the Netherlands, Belgium or Italy. according to Eurostat), and location and prevailing weather patterns mean it is unlikely to affected by other countries use. So, if there's the same falling trend in Ireland (proper, academic research, of course), then chances are that it isn't pesticides as such, or only in some combination of factors. If the insect populations of Ireland are at the same levels as several decades ago, then there's very good reason to suspect that pesticides (although we shouldn't rule out things that have lower density in Ireland, such as vehicle or industrial emissions).

        A couple of other thoughts: Having seen efforts with farmers over many decades to be more wildlife friendly (primarily benefiting birds and small mammals), have we materially changed the predator-prey balance? And why has this problem surfaced now, after all the effective insecticides (like organophosphates, DDT et al) have been banned for years or subject to stringent restrictions? Back in the 1960s humans were dispensing those pesticides through fire hoses, using air-borne sprayers, chucking sheep dip in the river etc, and we still ended up with windscreens thickly coated with insects.

        Eeeh, lad, I can remember the day when a fly killer spray did what it said on the tin. The crap you get sold now only works by drowning them.

        1. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge

          Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

          Eeeh, lad, I can remember the day when a fly killer spray did what it said on the tin. The crap you get sold now only works by drowning them

          Mostly true, although you can still find the "good" stuff if you look properly. I have a can of that (used it twice I think; I am usually quite happy sharing the premise with unobstructive bugs). It works very well, although the instructions for inside use state that you should spray it quickly, exit the room immediately, close it thight and return only at least 1/2 an hour later and then open all windows etc.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

            Mostly true, although you can still find the "good" stuff if you look properly.

            Where, please? I'd love a can of organophosphate fly spray.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

              Mostly true, although you can still find the "good" stuff if you look properly.

              Where, please? I'd love a can of organophosphate fly spray.

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baygon which may/may not be available in your area. I used it a lot when I was in the Caribbean, but these wussy Yankees don't seem to allow it, even if it is supposed to be a SC Johnson product now. There's nothing like nice German nerve agents to clear out the building, but I can't find it in local stores and have to have people bring it in from the Caribbean for me. Bayer, the original makers, used to be IG Farben once upon a time. They made quite a name for themselves and their nerve agents during the mid 20th century.

            2. Pompous Git Silver badge

              Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

              "Where, please? I'd love a can of organophosphate fly spray."

              It's a bottle, not a can. Will this do?

              Malathion Garden Spray 500mL David Grays Aphid Scale Moth Tree Fruit Flies Pest

              1. Richard Parkin

                malathion just a brand name

                That Malathion Garden Spray does not contain organophosphate it’s just a clever brand name.

                1. Pompous Git Silver badge

                  Re: malathion just a brand name

                  "Malathion Garden Spray does not contain organophosphate it’s just a clever brand name."
                  Malathion is C10H19O6PS2. Or are you saying you could register Methylated Spirit as a brand name and sell bottles of water as Methylated Spirit?

                  1. Pompous Git Silver badge

                    Re: malathion just a brand name

                    OK, pesticides containing malathion have been withdrawn for horticultural/agricultural use in the UK. This is odd given that its mammalian/avian toxicity is extremely low. Indeed, you can still purchase Derbac-M liquid (malathion) from your local pharmacy. It's used on children and adults to control head lice, crab lice and scabies.

                    While you might think that you can consequently use Derbac-M in your garden with impunity, think again. While it's registered for use on you and yours, it is not registered for use in the garden so you would be performing an illegal act.

                    When Patrick Holden visited me in the late 1980s, he mentioned that it was now illegal for British housewives to pour their washing-up water over the rose bushes to kill the aphids. If you wanted to kill aphids with soft soap, you needed to purchase registered for use as a pesticide soft soap. It's a crazy world...

                    1. This post has been deleted by its author

              2. Tom Paine Silver badge

                Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

                I grow lupins. I like bees and such and use chemicals as little as I can get away with. This is not a good combination (but it's great news for purveyors of washing-up liquid)

                1. This post has been deleted by its author

      7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

        The "norm" for a lawn is it to be uniform, green, rye grass only and nothing will stop your average suburbia dweller splashing a bottle of glyphosphate a week on it to keep it this way.

        Glyphosate is a non-selective. Splashing a bottle of it a week will simply result in a wizened brown mat of ex-rye grass.

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

          Glyphosate is a non-selective.

          It is not, but grass is significantly more resistant to it naturally. As a result you have idiots walking around with THIS:

          https://www.amazon.co.uk/Weedol-Lawn-Weedkiller-Gun-Extra/dp/B01N9X5GV5/ref=sr_1_1?s=outdoors&ie=UTF8&qid=1508507042&sr=1-1&keywords=Weedol+Gun

          That is Glyphosphate diluted to a point where it kills clover and other "weeds", but leaves grass alive.

          I was just 5 seconds short of blowing a fuse and shovelling it up the arse of the "professional lawn doctor" hired by the lady next door which was spraying it EVERYWHERE on her lawn.

          There are quite a few other combinations which in addition to the less nasty nasties also have glyphosphate. Weedol is not alone here.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

            1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

              Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

              Personally I don't understand the whole desire for a grass lawn having grown up mowing the better part of two acres most weekends as a kid. I much prefer the low maintenance of things like clover, creeping thyme, low growing sedums, hazelwort, moneywort, creeping buttercup, hen and chicks, etc. All are relative low growing so keeping spaces open to highlight taller varieties. Sure it takes care in the beginning to select plants appropriate to the environment and getting them established but the ability to finally lose the lawnmower is bliss. Of course it requires also being fee from the tyranny of a homeowners association or a city which mandates a crisp green lawn.

              1. Pompous Git Silver badge

                Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

                "Personally I don't understand the whole desire for a grass lawn having grown up mowing the better part of two acres most weekends as a kid."
                Me either. Mind you, 30 odd years ago I discovered that sheep make very tasty lawnmowers :-)

                Props for mentioning some of the many alternatives to grass. Unfortunately, the alternatives aren't suited to high-traffic areas.

              2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

                "Of course it requires also being fee from the tyranny of a homeowners association or a city which mandates a crisp green lawn."

                Call it a flower bed. Put a small square of Astroturf in the middle if someone insists on there being a lawn in the garden.

          2. Pompous Git Silver badge

            Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

            @ Voland's right hand

            Glyphosate kills grasses. Clover is resistant to glyphosate; it gets knocked back, but recovers. Spray your lawn with glyphosate regularly and you will end up with a lawn consisting of clover.

            Some of the nasty effects attributed to glyphosate are due to the surfactant (wetting agent) mixed with it, for example killing frogs.

    2. jmch Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

      Judging by the bloody huge amount of flies and mosquitoes that managed to work their way indoors this summer there isn't a significant lack of them...

    3. ElReg!comments!Pierre Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

      Or perhaps German instects are wising up and avoid traps. Took them long enough, too!

    4. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Maybe if they collected less insects, there would be more around...

      Although that isn't such a problem, where the studies are carried out, they are already protected areas.

      Heavy industrial farming is probably the biggest problem, along with general air pollution.

      The news here (Germany) last night ran the story and the emphasis was more heavily on the use of pesticides and turning traditional open fields into agricultural fields, with crops that aren't suited to the insects.

      One positive effect of the German policy on agriculture is that there are little to no gene manipulated crops here. Consumers have come out strongly against them and there is a growing trend to organic fruit and veg.

  3. TRT Silver badge

    Starship Troopers...

    without the deep space battle cruisers. :(

    1. Mike Moyle Silver badge

      Re: Starship Troopers...

      More "Dust" by Charles Pellegrino, I would say. Cover blurb tag line: "Good news: The bugs are gone. Bad news: We're next!"

      Chilling, and highly recommended.

      https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/376650.Dust

  4. FIA

    Stupid insects

    So, the take home message is it's taken 27 years for insects to learn to avoid giant nets.

    Looks like the rise of our insect overlords isn't so imminent after all.

    I for one will sleep better in my bed tonight.

    (Until the ecosystem collapses of course, then it's kill or be killed....)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stupid insects

      Might explain why we've seen so few insects this year we didn't even bother attaching the window nets!

      Even the wasps barely put in an appearance. There's been an unmistakeable sharp drop in the flying stuff over the last 5 years or so. Even the mosquitoes only put in a token appearance, despite living close to a river.

      Our garden was still stuffed full of bee colonies, spiders, hover-flies, butterflies etc. It's pretty wild out there.

  5. Timmy B Silver badge

    I'd like to see more

    I've had a brief flick through and will read more later tonight but on first look I would like to see the same sites checked frequently and not just at the start and end of the experiment. As a amateur ecologist and keen outdoorsman I often see some years when some insect species are very thin on the ground only to come back the next year in huge numbers. We don't know, from only having two samples from 7/8 sites if one of them was a particularly good or bad year for a common species. I'd really liked to have seen a breakdown by species and not just biomass (it may be there and I've not read it yet).

    Whatever, we need to take care of the insects or we're all doomed. I see light pollution, over development and intensive farming as areas we need to change for the better. Oh - and we need fewer people...

    1. JimC Silver badge

      Re: I'd like to see more

      Dunno, Biomass is almost more important. I'm quite happy with the concept that species A is abundant this year and species B is abundant next year, but if the total biomass is down that means there's something that affects all insects. The car front/bike helmet spatter empirical observation also suggests a big fall in populations.

      1. Timmy B Silver badge

        Re: I'd like to see more

        @JimC

        " if the total biomass is down that means there's something that affects all insects. "

        Not if a very large proportion was a particular species or type of insect. What if one year moths did great and they are on an off year and one site had 95% moths (unlikely figures I know - but you get the gist).

        For example the field at the end of my garden will some wetter years have an abundance of daddy long legs to the degree that they are pretty much all you see for a period of time. They would certainly slew the results in terms of biomass.

        Interesting to note that the surrounding areas farming ownership and pesticide polices don't seem to be mentioned as far as I could see.

    2. jmch Silver badge

      Re: I'd like to see more

      "As a amateur ecologist and keen outdoorsman I often see some years when some insect species are very thin on the ground only to come back the next year in huge numbers"

      Some plants and insects have breeding cycles with a priime number of years, I believe the evolutionary advantage is to flower at a point where there are less predators or competitors. This could be causing the effect you describe... in any case professional entymologists will have accounted for any natural cycles

      1. cirby

        Re: I'd like to see more

        "professional entymologists will have accounted for any natural cycles"

        You don't know many actual scientists, right?

        While that seems to be the sort of thing they'd do if they were all interested in getting to the truth about the subject, there's no guarantee of it. A few minutes of skimming Retraction Watch will disabuse you of most of your romantic ideas about modern science.

        1. kryptonaut
          Boffin

          Re: I'd like to see more

          "Professional entymologists"

          Are they really good at spelling bees?

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: I'd like to see more

            "Are they really good at spelling bees?"

            And understanding their origins?

      2. Timmy B Silver badge

        Re: I'd like to see more

        " in any case professional entymologists will have accounted for any natural cycles"

        I don't see how they can be if they are just totalling biomass and not looking at species. I am also aware of cycles that may be at issue. As I said - I need to read more, But the idea of just collecting a block of insect weight doesn't make sense.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I am also aware of cycles that may be at issue.

          Like the 7 and 13 year cycles of locusts here in the US?

          1. Pompous Git Silver badge

            Re: I am also aware of cycles that may be at issue.

            "Like the 7 and 13 year cycles of locusts here in the US?"
            If they are anything like the cicadas of Australia, those numbers are educated guesses.

            Australian cicadas' lifecycles

      3. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: I'd like to see more

        "in any case professional entymologists will have accounted for any natural cycles"

        Not necessarily. Jim Steele gives examples of bad research in his excellent

        Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist's Journey to Climate Skepticism. One of the cases he describes is a conservation effort in the UK. To save the insects, farmers were forbidden to graze sheep where they bred. The longer grass lowered the soil temperature below that the breeding cycle of the insects needed to survive.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Professional entymologists

          Yeah, I heard that one before. Do you want to come inside and see my flies?

    3. Citizens untied

      Re: I'd like to see more

      Actually, the number of people isn't the problem so much as what they are up to. If more (or all) people were as dedicated to sustainability and ecology as they are to economics, I expect the world would become a more habitable place for all,

    4. Palpy
      Thumb Up

      Re: I'd like to see more [data]...

      If I read the introduction to the paper correctly, insects were trapped every year for 27 years, in 63 different locations, for about 8 months each year.

      "Here, we investigate total aerial insect biomass between 1989 and 2016 across 96 unique location-year combinations in Germany, representative of Western European low-altitude nature protection areas embedded in a human-dominated landscape (S1 Fig). In all years we sampled insects throughout the season (March through October), based on a standardized sampling scheme using Malaise traps."

      At first blush, it sounds like a pretty large study, and good science.

      "Weather effects explored were daily temperature, precipitation and wind speed, as well as the number of frost days and sum of precipitation in the preceding winter. Habitat effects explored tree and herb species richness, as well as average Ellenberg values for nitrogen, pH, light, temperature and moisture, per location-year combination. Land use effects explored the fractions of agricultural area, forest, grass, and surface water in a radius of 200m around the plot location."

      The penultimate paragraph of the paper (too long to quote here) is suggestive ("The decline in insect biomass, being evident throughout the growing season, and irrespective of habitat type or landscape configuration, suggests large-scale factors must be involved...."), but the researchers appear not to be jumping directly to any conclusions.

      Which is how science should work.

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: but the researchers appear not to be jumping directly to any conclusions

        It's the Star Wars effect. If they all lived happily ever after (and there was a Once Upon a Time in the particular case of Star Wars), then there would be no sequels or prequels (opportunities for additional funding for further research).

      2. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: I'd like to see more [data]...

        "Land use effects explored the fractions of agricultural area, forest, grass, and surface water in a radius of 200m around the plot location."
        Bee foraging distance is 3–6,000m. Most insects are less, but 200m seems a rather tiny distance to choose. Similarly, land-use effects extend well beyond 200m. If there's cooking of the books, that's the place to start looking.

  6. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    Seems like these insects know something we dont.

    "So Long And Thanks For All The Fish"

    1. defiler Silver badge

      Not convinced the insects would thank anybody for the fish.

      1. Timmy B Silver badge

        @defiler

        "Not convinced the insects would thank anybody for the fish" - you've never seen maggots on an old fish? Yummy....

  7. tony72

    I've read this book

    I don't recall who it was by or what it was called, but I read a sci-fi book which covered the dying off of insects worldwide. It was pretty scary; according to said book, without fungus gnats, we would be pretty much overrun by fungi, so what crops didn't fail due to lack of pollinators would be taken out by fungi, and everybody would starve and die.

    I don't know if I need to warn about spoilers in a book I can't name, by an author I can't remember, but spoiler alert! In the book, however, the cause of the die off was some sort of shared genetic time-bomb, and the eventual solution was to jurassic-park some fossilised insects whose genetic clock had thus been paused for a long time, and so wasn't on the same cycle as the insects that were dying off. Presumably the cause and solution of our die-off is somewhat different.

    1. THMONSTER

      Re: I've read this book

      Is the book called Dust by Charles Pellegrino?

      1. tony72

        Re: I've read this book

        @ THMONSTER - that's the one!

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: I've read this book

        "Staple foods are wind pollinated."
        Potato flowers are self-pollinating, but we don't grow potatoes from true seed. Yams, cassava, sago, meat, milk, cheese and fish are also staple foods where wind appears irrelevant to reproduction.

        Don't eat Amanita muscaria or its close relatives. They are all toxic, and often fatally so. Some of them resemble Agaricus campestris so you might seek guidance before assuming those field mushrooms are safe to eat.

  8. wiggers

    "Most locations (59%, n = 37) were sampled in only one year, 20 locations in two years, five locations in three years, and one in four years" also "Our data do not represent longitudinal records at single sites, suitable to derive location specific trends"

    Looking at Table 1 it seems the sampling was very irregular and sporadic. I'm not sure how you can draw any conclusions from this! And in Fig 2, is it my eyes or does the black trend line appear to be right at the top of the blue bars?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So is there a drop in the animals that feed on these insects as well?

    1. tiggity Silver badge

      Without good enough data hard to tell - from a quick skim of that, data is not good enough for anything other than saying more data is needed.

      e.g. from my own garden observations, this was a bad year for bees, numbers and species both way down on normal sightings, but I have no clue if due to weather or something else. If numbers recover in future years then most likely weather related.

      As for declines in Predators ...

      In garden I have seen a drop in bat numbers over the years, but (as I do not trap moths) I have no idea if number of moths has fallen.

      I have seen the bizarre sight of a tawny owl catch (and eat) a bat in the garden, and if we assume I was not extremely lucky to see that but instead that at least one local owl has a hunting strategy that targets bats, & potentially other local owls have learned the skill, then given low breeding success of bats (disease, bad weather (less food) when hunting can be an issue, as can very long and cold winters) extra predation could cause a marked dip.

      But I have no moth number data, so all just guesses, the only certain thing I know is one local owl once killed one local bat, which is of little use!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Mines the opposite this year, had a bees nest in the side wall and neighbours got one above upstairs window at the front. My partner is scared of bees so summer (what we had) has been fun, not as fun as when they set up home in the front porch roof mind.

        We had bats in a tree at the back but they chopped it down so didn't see them last year but happy to say they have now moved into a tree a few doors down and regularly fly over, cat has caught one and been told off but it was fine and I had the pleasure of letting it go, their wingspan is surprisingly large for their small size.

        Had 2 big frogs in the garden this year, don't have a pond, I'm sure someone can explain that one because I can't?

        Not seen the hedgehogs for a good 3 years and not seen the local foxes for about 2, previously saw them a lot but a lot of people have had fences done.

        Not seen as many squirrels as previous years though.

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          "Had 2 big frogs in the garden this year, don't have a pond, I'm sure someone can explain that one because I can't?"
          Frogs only need water for breeding. Gardens, providing they are not too dry, can be excellent hunting grounds for insects. I even have them in the greenhouse once the tomato plants are tall enough to shade the soil..

      2. DJ Smiley

        Once one of my cats came in with a Bat in his mouth. I have _no_ clue how he managed to catch it, I presumed it was hurt in some way, but I took it outside (in a bucket as I had no clothes to hand) lifted it up and it did fly off....

        So, while we're down one bat, we're not out yet ;)

      3. Richard Jones 1
        WTF?

        @ tiggity Re Bats

        I live about 400 yards from a canal and river, for the first time in 25 years we have bat roost on a wall of the house. Every morning there was so much bat poo I thought that it must have been a plague of rats, then I found a dead bat close by and investigation suggested that for some reason they had roosted with us just for a week or so. Did they kill off a plague of insects and then die off themselves? Somehow I doubt there is any easy theory, though good, i.e. expensive, no axe grinding study might give an answer. Its the same with insects, alien species are a known story whether it is alien earthworms or harlequin bugs they affect local species.

      4. graeme leggett

        "not good enough for anything other than saying more data is needed"

        Good enough to say "more research is needed". Which is usually followed by "I have a project idea on this subject. I would like funding for it"

      5. Pompous Git Silver badge

        "But I have no moth number data, so all just guesses, the only certain thing I know is one local owl once killed one local bat, which is of little use!"

        Don't be so certain. As a fellow agricultural researcher once said to me: "Every worthwhile research project begins with an observation by a farmer." So all it takes is for a scientist to ask "Why is it so?"

        BTW, bats are voracious insectivores. A drop in bat numbers leads to an increase in insect numbers all other things being equal. (Which they never are in biology).

  10. myhandler

    On the Guardian page on this report someone linked to a study suggesting electro magnetic radiation disrupts insects bio mechanics - I have no idea how valid the study is but :

    https://ehtrust.org/science/bees-butterflies-wildlife-research-electromagnetic-fields-environment/

    (one of the reports cited there is by a certain Cucurachi, C - he's hopping mad about it)

    - joking aside if this has some truth to it it should be front page news

  11. Solarflare
    Trollface

    "We don't know why... but we must act"

    "Between 1989 and 2016, boffins used nets to fill about 1,500 one-litre bottles with flying insects from 63 conservation sites in Germany"

    Maybe they need to set the insects free? 1.5ML of flying insects has got to add up...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Windscreen splatter

    no one thought of the obvious?

    Cars are far more aerodynamic now, unlike the slab cars are the 70's and 80's.

    The insects most likely are just being thrown over the top....

    However doesn't explain the few numbers in a bottle. Unless of course they are becoming more tea-total, avoiding the demon drink.

    1. MrKrotos
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: Windscreen splatter

      My motorbike helmet visor saw no difference this year with regards to fly splat rate!

      ESC image as thats the closest to what my visor looks like when I get home most evenings

  13. MrKrotos
    Joke

    Isnt it obvious? Its all the immigrant insects taking all the jobs!

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All things considered...

    The vast majority of replies here made fun of the article. I won't speculate as to is validity without a lot more study. But IF it is true, then this is very serious. Not worthy of laughter at all. Much more serious than anthropomorphic global warming. It is akin to the oceans dying. BTW, virtually every fishery worldwide is slowly but surely collapsing. If you want to see a mass extinction in the near future, THESE events will cause it. Carbon is FAR from the biggest danger to humans. Instead of a Paris accords on the environment, there needed to be a Paris accords on the ocean protein. And if insects become threatened, then so are the ecosystems that would collapse without them.

    1. John 110
      Angel

      Re: All things considered...

      "The vast majority of replies here made fun of the article."

      I don't think most of the replies are actually making fun of the article.

      This is the Register.

      We read and comment on articles highlighting all sorts of horrendous catastrophes (and this one is terrible), it's only our sense of humour that keeps us going.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: All things considered...

        "We read and comment on articles highlighting all sorts of horrendous catastrophes (and this one is terrible), it's only our sense of humour that keeps us going."
        And some of us even know the difference between anthropogenic and anthropomorphic :-)

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: All things considered...

          BTW, virtually every fishery worldwide is slowly but surely collapsing.

          Which is near universally agreed to be directly caused by huge overfishing by massive ships that decimate stocks in one area, and then have to move somewhere else to wreck things there.

          https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/apr/02/eu-fishing-west-africa-mauritania

  15. Lysenko

    Worst case MVP (Minimum Viable Population) for insects hovers around the 100k mark, which means in almost all cases 99.99% losses are not extinction events or, if they are, it is due to intra-specific competition and/or terminal maladaptation (some butterflies) rather than sterilization of the ecological niche. That's why there's only been one mass extinction of insects in planetary history.

    Incidentally, MVP for humans is about 5000 so, as long as the survivors are close enough to breed, you can wipe our 99.99993% of us and we won't go extinct. It may already have happened.

    1. graeme leggett

      perhaps it's the knock on effect the are concerned about.

      Take hypothetical bird - "the yellow-winged ground duster"

      The ground duster (lovely plumage by the way) eats two insects. From March to July the larva of the Red backed caterpillar and from August to November the Blue legged Beetle. The latter fattens it up so it can survive until March rolls round again.

      Did you know the Red backed caterpillar is a farming pest? Nibbles the growing buds of Unobtainium vulgaris (a useful crop) destroying it. But their numbers are usually not excessive.

      Now one year the Blue legged beetle population drops, precipitously. Yellow-winged dusters (you remember them? - #Connections ) can't find enough food in November and most are dead come the New Year. Consequently the Red-backed population explodes in Spring - crop gone. Finito. Not a sausage.

      1. Lysenko

        I wasn't contesting the potential for (potentially exponential) cascading effects, I just meant that the (eco)system as a whole is extremely robust and self-correcting over the medium term, particularly where insects are concerned. We tend to view everything in the context of our own lifespan, but that's meaningless for most other species. "Generations" are what count when adaptation to a changing environment is involved.

    2. Duffy Moon

      "You can wipe our 99.99993% of us and we won't go extinct. It may already have happened."

      If the human population dwindled to 5000, almost every other species on the planet would breathe a sigh of relief.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        "If the human population dwindled to 5000, almost every other species on the planet would breathe a sigh of relief."
        During the last glaciation atmospheric CO2 fell to ca. 160 ppm. At 150 ppm photosynthesis stops in C3 plants. There are plants from that time in the La Brea tarpits that had lost the ability to generate sufficient energy for reproduction.

        Thanks to humanity boosting "carbon pollution" photosynthesising plants will survive the next glaciation. It's likely they would not had we not returned the carbon in fossil fuels to the atmosphere.

        It's also worth noting that there are many plants dependent on humans for their survival, Zea mays for example.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We don't know why... but we must act

    Interesting statement that. I have to ask, is it another way of asking for more money?

    Maybe it would help if they considered the effect of the increase of bird mincers subsidy farmers wind farms on the environment.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      is it another way of asking for more money?

      I doubt it. It is well known that most high quality scientific research can always be done for free, using equipment made entirely from household refuse, in the spare time of ex-scientists who now have to work at different jobs entirely.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: is it another way of asking for more money?

        "It is well known that most high quality scientific research can always be done for free"
        Quite a lot of research is, if not free, done on the cheap. My nephew was into the last stage of his PhD and looked as if he was about to die of starvation. The pay was less than a typical labourer's. Then someone else published the results of an identical piece of research so his supervisor told him he'd have to choose another research project; his 4 years of work was all for nought. He told his supervisor to fuck himself and gave up on becoming a research scientist.

        1. Paul Kinsler

          Re: PhD ... someone else published the results of an identical piece of research

          Hmm. While this might make the PhD project unpublishable[1], I don't see why the PhD couldn't perhaps have still been awarded - a PhD project is intended to demonstrate the ability/capacity to do independent research, and there is no indication from your (admittedly rather brief) story that that wasn't true.

          [1] Even then, two people will rarely do things in exactly the same way, with the same set of side investigation results, emphasis, etc - so even if not the intended ground breaker, I'd be suprised if /nothing/ was publishable (although that would depend on what sort of research - the situation could well be game-over if it was a mathematics proof, but not if an array of experimental/simulation results).

          1. Pompous Git Silver badge

            Re: PhD ... someone else published the results of an identical piece of research

            @ Paul Kinsler

            I gave the purported reason. The actual reason, according to my nephew, was that my nephew accepted an invitation to present some preliminary results at an overseas institution (a rather august one at that). The limited number of paid overseas trips funded by the employer of both my nephew and his supervisor meant the supervisor missed out on his annual paid vacation overseas. This has nothing to do with science per se and everything to do with the politicz of science.

            1. Paul Kinsler

              Re: PhD ... limited number of paid overseas trips funded by the employer ...

              A (PhD) graduate student isn't an employee, they're a student[1]. They should expect to defer on matters of spending to the responsible academic and/or PI of the relevant research grant (although often in the UK, as I understand it, the studentship has built-in travel money, but the student still needs the spending to be signed off - they have to ask). Even postdocs have to ask for an ok for spending from the PI.

              The supervisor in this case may have been all kinds of terrible, since there are indeed terrible supervisors out there. But nothing you've said, except for your loaded descriptions, supports that. This travel story you present also sounds rather like a jaundiced view of a not unremarkable situation - supervisor with limited budget decides not to spend the last of the (their) travel money on a graduate student.

              [1] Although they may /also/ be an employee of the institution, if e.g. they do paid teaching work, they're not (IME) an employee /because/ they are a graduate student (which is not to say they have no rights).

              1. Pompous Git Silver badge

                Re: PhD ... limited number of paid overseas trips funded by the employer ...

                @ Paul Kinsler

                As I understand it, my nephew was an employee of the CSIRO, as was his supervisor. The offer of the trip to the UK was made by his supervisor's superior(s) and he accepted not realising the consequences. His supervisor was not responsible for the budgetary allocation; he was just the usual recipient for overseas trips that just happened to be in the region of the world he had been born in. Presumably his superiors decided otherwise on this occasion.

                Promotion to a position with a more reasonable salary was conditional on my nephew completing his doctorate.

  17. detritus
    Mushroom

    My personal suspicion over recent years has been aimed squinty-eyed at vehicle emissions — I've no doubt the wholesale abuse of neonics has an impact, but if airborne particulates are killing n-thousand macro fleshies every year, presumably they're having an impact on smaller oxygen exchange systems too?

    As well as their emissions, cars encourage the absolute dissection of countries with their roads and motorways which I've again wondered at the impact of. If fields and vales are increasingly cellularised between roads, then they become like those south sea atolls which batter attempts to leave, dashing bodies across sharp coral walls, winds and waves preventing escape.

    The root cause could be so many things. It probably is...

  18. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    Insect populations over ....

    Okay - I get that they've seen a change in overall numbers in their collection schemes. However a rather quick skim of this, I won't call it a proper study. Period. There is no consistency in the data collection.

    From my backyard, I've seen *far* more dragonflies this year that I've seen in dozens of years, and we've actually had more than a few monarchs fly by (and I haven't seen a monarch in my neck of the woods for 8 years or so) and well, the rest of the bug population is outrageous, although that may have more to do with the rain we've seen than anything else. This is of course anecdotal, not scientific. What I will note is that between myself and one other person on the block, we've managed to talk all but *one* household out of subscribing to those Lawn Care Company schemes that spray crap left right and centre over the last 5 years. Perhaps that has something to do with it.

    As for the GMO crops being wind pollinated.... Ummmmmm. There are a couple of grain stock that are wind populated (i.e. don't *require* an external pollinator) -- but that function is native to the stock and has nowt to do with the GMO part of the equation. The issue *I* have with Monsanto is the combination of the patent and their use of 'we detected the gene in your seeds, so pay us anyway' bullshit. I've seen the GM work that the north african farming collective is doing and have to laud them for the practicality of their approach, *and* the fact that they will happily share the seeds with anyone that would like them, given that they've some to spare (and from what I hear they were short stock this year).

  19. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Technology is at fault

    Most of the insects are staying indoors playing computer games and conversing via social media instead of interacting with the real World. There are still a few hard-working insects such as bees, but you won't see many at present because they are on strike - their union is calling for shorter flowers and more honey.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: Technology is at fault

      "There are still a few hard-working insects such as bees, but you won't see many at present because they are on strike"
      Not true! They just decided there's no place like comb sweet comb and they're having a well-earned rest.

    2. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: their union is calling for shorter flowers and more honey.

      Very good.

      I think they are waiting for the Sales...

      https://i.ytimg.com/vi/40P6DMJo_7c/maxresdefault.jpg

      https://i.imgur.com/ucCHqOV.jpg

      (Opposite Westminster Cathedral BTW. Looks like he's not wearing gloves, eek)

  20. Luigi D'Goomba

    It's an exodus

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vDCfuMliEdY

  21. DougS Silver badge

    Good news and bad news

    The bad news is that it doesn't seem to have affected annoying insects like flies, they seem to be as numerous as every as far as I can tell.

    The good news is that insects breed very quickly, so if we can figure out why (overuse of pesticides in agriculture no doubt plays a major role) and correct it, the insect population should rebound fairly fast. A lot faster than the several decades it took for bald eagle populations in the US to rebound after DDT was banned, at least.

    When I was a kid I remember seeing a bald eagle was a huge deal. Now the area is lousy with them, if I go a few miles to one of their favorite spots along the river that cuts through town right now I can see 30 or 40 at once.

    1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: I remember seeing a bald eagle

      When I were a lad you could look out the window and the most commonplace bird you were likely to see was the humble sparrow.

      Look out the window now and it's all parakeets and magpies.

      How soon before the bald eagles arrive, I wonder?

  22. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Windows

    No one has fingered mobile phones yet?

    It's only a matter of time as everyone will insert $FAVROITE_SCARE into it.

  23. Round-up

    Everyone knows it is Monsanto's pesticides that is killing them off.

    Why play dumb.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      "Everyone knows it is Monsanto's pesticides that is killing them off."
      The world's leading pesticide manufacturers Syngenta, Bayer, Dow and DuPont, and BASF presumably aren't. Has it occurred to you that you might be fucked in the brain?

  24. normanicus

    I've been saying it for years but I'll say it again. Ever since we started putting our rubbish into plastic sacks the number of insects has diminished. Back in the dirty old galvanized dustbin days each of them must have hosted a million bugs, tiny flying ones mostly. I also suspect the change in urban bird distribution is down to this. I suspect that rubbish treatment has become much more aseptic too.

    I can even remember that out in the country the school had non flushing toilets which surely would have been a haven for all kinds of bugs.

    Should we get dirtier again? We might even be more healthy for it.

  25. ChaosFreak

    Maybe now the Eco-idiots will embrace GMOs?

    This would seem to be a huge call to action for agricultural scientists to use gene splicing and editing to engineer crops that can resist insect attack without the need for pesticides.

    But you'll hear very few "ecologists" embrace that approach. They'll just start screaming "Monsanto is evil!" even though the vast majority of GMO research is done by non-profit institutions.

    As the article rightly states, organic is only an answer for those who can afford Whole Foods (aka "Whole Paycheck"). So I guess we need to starve 3 billion humans to save the insects, because GMOs are "evil"...

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: Maybe now the Eco-idiots will embrace GMOs?

      "This would seem to be a huge call to action for agricultural scientists to use gene splicing and editing to engineer crops that can resist insect attack without the need for pesticides."

      No need to use gene-splicing; plants already got there without it.

      Tomato’s Chemical Weapons From the article: "Tomato plants are capable of detecting defensive chemicals that their neighbors release into the air—and they use those same chemicals to fashion their own deterrents for the invaders, according to a study published last week (April 23 2014) in PNAS. A team led by Junji Takabayashi of Kyoto University in Japan studied how tomatoes respond to cutworms, a moth caterpillar, and a common pest.

      “Plants can synthesize a wide array of chemical weapons,” study coauthor Kenji Matsui of Yamaguchi University told Chemistry World, “and the involvement of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in plant-plant communication has already been reported.”

      (See “Plant Talk,” The Scientist, January 2014.) The researchers found that a plant infested with cutworms produces a compound called HexVic. Moreover, infested plants released another compound, (Z)-3-hexenol, which their neighboring plants took up and converted to more HexVic.

      Plants downwind of infested plants were able to kill nearly 50 percent of invading cutworms. (Chemical-naive plants can usually fend off about a third of invading cutworms.)"

      "As the article rightly states, organic is only an answer for those who can afford Whole Foods (aka "Whole Paycheck"). So I guess we need to starve 3 billion humans to save the insects, because GMOs are "evil"..."
      Here in Australia, Uncle Tobys Vita Brits are available using organic wheat, or conventional. The price difference is less than 5%. In my local village, locally grown organic veg costs about the same as conventional veg purchased from the local supermarket that comes from the mainland. How does that equate to starving billions to death?

      When I was involved in agricultural research, it was far from unknown for the control plots that received no pesticide to generate produce that was perfectly acceptable in the marketplace. Since there was a decrease in cost compared with the treated plots, surely "pesticide-free" (what most people think organic is, but isn't) should cost less.

  26. KG6EAR

    Just saying its chemicals is far too narrow of scope to the problem to be useful.

    Two additional modern things may be killing/distrurbing bees:

    1. Cellular and microwave communications are disruptive to the nervous systems of small insects like bees. You don't see them building nests on microwave towers, do you? Many studies fault high frequency radio waves as being a major component to "bee colony collapse". Microwave radiation is well known in its ability to heat water molecules like the oven in most modern kitchens. But people refuse to put 2 and 2 together to understand that boiling water in your tissues with a cell phone next to your brain is cooking your brain slowly and its not a good idea. Its even more devastating to much smaller creatures. People want to believe lies of "safety" published by studies funded completely by the cell phone companies themselves, so if you can't get them to give up cellphones for their own health, how could you even start arguing for curtailment of broadcast microwave radiation just for bees? That makes this problem if its found to be a significant contributor to the bee hive colony collapse problem especially problematic to deal with.. it would be yet et "inconvenient" truth for industry leaders who don't care to put their profiteering above the public welfare viciously deny exists with tons of paid fake news stories and false research data spam all over the Internet and send their paid hacks to debate against the truth anywhere the issues comes up.

    2. "Smart" Meters like those installed all over the United States and other countries doubtless which have two-way communication with the power company. A Southern California Edison representative confirmed this to one of my friends who runs a bee rescue business that it was a good thing for her to get rid of her smart meter in light of having the bee business (but this wasn't her reason and she didn't know about this).. so she pressed for more details and the rep said the start meters emit a signal that is intended to kill insects and keep them out of their metering equipment!

    So in summary, two significant issues impacting bee life spans and ability for them to function correctly are being silenced by two major industries: cellular telecom and electric utilities, That's very formidable opposition Otherwise, we'd be hearing about these more relevant environmental impacts.

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