Insect numbers continue to fall

New Zealand’s Bug Man, Ruud Kleinpaste.

We don’t hesitate to get a can out to zap the buggers, or pour pesticides all over our precious plants.

But they’re little things that make a big impact, and a large part of why the world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction.

The first global scientific meta-analysis, published in the Biological Conservation journal, looked at 73 studies conducted around the world.

More than 40 per cent of insect species are declining - and the rate of extinction is about eight times faster than that affecting birds, mammals and reptiles. Based on current trends, insects could be extinct within a century.

There is currently no formal research to suggest this is happening in New Zealand, however, Bug Man Ruud Kleinpaste says it could well be a glimpse into our future.

“This is something that has been going on for a long time, so this does not come as a surprise at all,” says Ruud.

“At this stage, there is no evidence that the same things are happening in New Zealand,” he says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was happening here, but maybe not to the scale you’d find in places where there are so many people and so many alterations of the environment.” 

Ruud says he knows of many scientists who are collecting data in New Zealand, but is unaware of when this data will be released.

“I know of many people who are doing splatter tests, which is one of the quickest ways of collecting our insect populations.

“By getting into your car in Tauranga and driving all the way to Queenstown, you can identify the number of species on your windscreen and the number plate and do it again each year.

“This gives you an indication of whether the insect populations are going up or down.”

Like it or not, insects run the planet alongside fungi and bacteria. If the population of insects does decline, this could affect the complete ecosystem of New Zealand.

Ruud says if we have fewer insects, birds will not have as much to eat, pollination will be at risk and, in seven years’ time, we will be under 10ft of poo, because there will be no insects to remove it.

“Insects also do seed dispersal and composting,” he says. “They are predatory, so they carry out pest control, and insects keep the balance of populations down by carrying disease.”

Currently, New Zealand has one of the least modified ecosystems on the planet he says, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t change the way we do things.

“We are quickly stuffing it up,” says Ruud. “There are too many people to the square metre, economic growth and development is taking over, we’re still not very good at keeping our native ecosystems intact and we’re still using too many poisons in New Zealand.

“Even if it’s not happening yet in such a dramatic fashion, there is no doubt that if it’s happening somewhere else, it will eventually happen here.”


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