Carrots infested with carrot fly. Source Royal Horticultural Society, fair use, low resolution image to identify the subject.

The Conversation: Reduce Agricultural Chemicals to Save Insects from Climate Change

Essay by Eric Worrall

If you have ever tried to grow a veggie garden, you will know first hand how much heartache a good drenching of bug spray can prevent. But deep greens appear to prioritise insects before humans.

Climate change triggering global collapse in insect numbers: stressed farmland shows 63% decline – new research

Published: April 21, 2022 1.12am AEST

Speed read

  • The world may be facing a devastating “hidden” collapse in insect species due to the twin threats of climate change and habitat loss.
  • UCL’s Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research has carried out one of the largest-ever assessments of insect declines around the world – assessing three-quarters of a million samples from around 6,000 sites.
  • The new study, published in Nature, finds that climate-stressed farmland possesses only half the number of insects, on average, and 25% fewer insect species than areas of natural habitat.
  • Insect declines are greatest in high-intensity farmland areas within tropical countries – where the combined effects of climate change and habitat loss are experienced most profoundly.
  • The majority of the world’s estimated 5.5 million species are thought to live in these regions – meaning the planet’s greatest abundances of insect life may be suffering collapses without us even realising.
  • Lowering the intensity of farming by using fewer chemicals, having a greater diversity of crops and preserving some natural habitat can mitigate the negative effects of habitat loss and climate change on insects.
  • Considering the choices we make as consumers – such as buying shade-grown coffee or cocoa – could also help protect insects and other creatures in the world’s most climate-vulnerable regions.

Long read

Insects are critical to the future of our planet. They help to keep pest species under control and break down dead material to release nutrients into the soil. Flying insects are also key pollinators of many major food crops, including fruits, spices and – importantly for chocolate lovers – cocoa.

The growing number of reports suggesting insect numbers are in steep decline is therefore of urgent concern. Loss of insect biodiversity could put these vital ecological functions at risk, threatening human livelihoods and food security in the process. Yet across large swathes of the world, there are gaps in our knowledge about the true scale and nature of insect declines.

Insects are facing an unprecedented threat due to the “twin horsemen” of climate change and habitat loss. We sought to understand how insect biodiversity is being affected in areas that experience both these challenges most severely. We know they do not work in isolation: habitat loss can add to the effects of climate change by limiting available shade, for example, leading to even warmer temperatures in these vulnerable areas.

Eighty-seven of the world’s major crops are thought to be fully or partially dependent on insect pollinators, of which most tend to be grown in the tropics. Cocoa, for example, is primarily pollinated by midges, a group of flies infamous for bedevilling camping trips in Scotland and other parts of the northern hemisphere. In fact, midges play a vital and under-appreciated role in pollinating the cocoa needed to make chocolate.

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There are plenty of insect species I’d like to eradicate. Imagine the relief humans and animals would enjoy, from bites and horrible mosquito borne diseases, if all the mosquitoes in the world were eradicated.

Obviously if the world killed all the pollinators we’d be in a heap of trouble, and I have a soft spot for spiders, which kill other insects. Maybe we could save the handful of midge species which do something useful, like midges which pollinate cocoa bean flowers.

But there are plenty of agricultural pests the world wouldn’t miss – like carrot fly, a subtle pest which infiltrates root vegetables and ruins them, unless you spray deadly chemicals at just the right time. Nothing seems amiss until you try to pick the mature vegetables, and discover they are all rotten (see top of page).

Yet if greens get their way, entire harvests could face this kind of ruin, if farmers are too worried about legal protection for insects to do what they know must be done to protect our food supply.

Given the rising risk of food crisis caused by the Ukraine conflict, in my opinion it would be hard to pick a worse time to agitate for a reduction in use of agricultural chemicals.

Update (EW): Fixed a few typos.

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April 20, 2022 10:32 pm
  • The world may be facing a devastating “hidden” collapse in insect species due to the twin threats of climate change and habitat loss.


No sweat. Just keep building those wind farms that slaughter insect-eating bats by the millions and we’ll be overrun with bugs.

Hans Erren
Reply to  Art
April 21, 2022 1:37 am

Not only bats, also insects themselves, they explode in the vacuum of the windfarms, drop to earth, which attracts scavenging birds, which in their turn are chopped by the windfarms, which attract more scavenging birds, which are choppped…

Dave Andrews
Reply to  Hans Erren
April 21, 2022 9:27 am

Yes. Michael Shellenberger notes in ‘Apocalypse Never’ that one German study concluded that “a rough but conservative estimate of the impact of wind farms on flying insects in Germany” is a “loss of about 1.2 trillion insects of different species per year” (Page 195)

Reply to  Dave Andrews
April 21, 2022 10:29 am

But wait, aren’t the same evironuts who promote wind generators covering the landscape also saying we’re supposed to stop eating animals and switch to eating bugs?

David Long
April 20, 2022 10:51 pm

Looks like we’ve found the next non-existent crisis to fret over. Imagine, only half as many insects. That leaves only a bazillion for each one of us!

Reply to  David Long
April 21, 2022 10:26 am

Of all the beneficial aspects of insect life to other life, I think this was the least valuable contribution:

Insects are critical to the future of our planet. They help to keep pest species under control .”

And all this time I thought insects were pests.
Seems we need to keep lots of insects around to eat all the insects we keep around.

April 20, 2022 11:18 pm

Yet if greens get their way, entire harvests could face this kind of ruin, 

At least that would solve the problem with feeding vegetarians/vegans. Once that species has died out, the rest of us could get back to living free of their preaching 😉

Floyd Looney
April 20, 2022 11:19 pm

Insects will be here after we all leave

Reply to  Floyd Looney
April 21, 2022 12:33 am

Agreed, despite our best endeavours, the cockroach continues to thrive.

Joel O’Bryan
April 20, 2022 11:23 pm

make no mistake, destroying global agricultural output is the goal for deep greens. follow through their likely policy outcomes, not their cheap words.

Frank from NoVA
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
April 21, 2022 4:54 am

Eliminating humanity is the goal. Destroying energy, agriculture and everything else that supports humanity are the means.

Gunga Din
Reply to  Frank from NoVA
April 21, 2022 9:50 am

“Humans have grown like a cancer. We’re the biggest blight on the face of the Earth.” – Ingrid Newkirk, national director, PeTA 1990.

April 20, 2022 11:44 pm

Grow bags are a great tool for limiting bug damage in a home garden without the need for chemicals. I countersink the bags about half way into the ground. That also reduces water needs.

Reply to  goldminor
April 23, 2022 11:20 pm

Which is great on the local scale, so good for you. Now go out and do it on a commercial scale. Try a quarter section on first, see how that goes for you.

April 21, 2022 12:02 am

Climate stressed farmland?

Not in the UK it isn’t

They are ‘imaginative’

April 21, 2022 12:35 am

This is terrible news. Aren’t we supposed to be eating bugs instead of beef?

Ed Zuiderwijk
April 21, 2022 1:02 am

Just ask the people of Sri Lanka what happens when you elect an idiot greenie as president who rules that agriculture will go organic. That is: no fertilisers and no insecticides. Result: massive food shortages within a year, riots in the streets and people being shot.

Greenies have no idea where and how their next meal comes from.

Last edited 1 year ago by Ed Zuiderwijk
Hans Erren
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
April 21, 2022 1:39 am

Remember the « great leap forward » in China and the famine in Ukraine in the 1920s

another ian
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
April 21, 2022 2:35 am

And if you are partial to Sri Lankan tea stock up while you can

April 21, 2022 1:12 am

God I hate this insectageddon nonsense. They never discuss exactly which insect species (there are millions) are ‘disappearing’ or why we should care, except to invoke pollinators, and even then they seem to think all bees are honeybees. Are less bugs squished on your windscreen when you go for a drive in the country now then when you were a kid? Well, maybe, but mostly that is because of the aerodynamic design of modern automobiles. You can thank fuel efficiency standards for that – and maybe fewer outbreak of insect pests because of more efficient chemicals too.

that climate-stressed farmland possesses only half the number of insects, on average, and 25% fewer insect species than areas of natural habitat.”

Duh? Isn’t that the goal of agriculture – food plants, not insects. Actually I’m surprised that farmlands have retained 75% of the insect diversity of ‘natural’ habitats. That is pretty impressive.

There is no doubt that habitat destruction and industrial agriculture hammer insect diversity. They destroy the diversity of everything. But how, exactly, would a warmer world with more CO2 and thus more vegetation be bad for insects?

Habitat destruction is bad for everything, including us, but misdirection of this valid worry to climate change is another scam.

Tropical Lutefisk
Reply to  DaveW
April 21, 2022 1:51 am

I work for a largish produce company in the SE. No shortage of insects in our fields. Actually its probably gotten even buggier because we are continually having our best pesticides banned and discontinued. Seems about the only pesticides being approved by the EPA these days are biologicals. Sure, some are very effective, but many are not effective or don’t maintain their effectiveness. Seems their mission is to save the bugs and starve the humans. In reality it could lead to more land being tilled under to overcome the yield loss. Not sure how that saves the planet.

another ian
Reply to  Tropical Lutefisk
April 21, 2022 2:38 am

I saw an item back in BC where the journalist was reporting the problems a friend had with termites in his house.

Comment was “We party on things stronger than he can get used for their eradication”

Hans Erren
April 21, 2022 1:33 am

Reduce windfarms to Save Insects

Joao Martins
April 21, 2022 3:04 am

Martin Luther King Jr, in 1963 (60 years ago!):

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

April 21, 2022 3:16 am

ho hum – “A group of American researchers calculated that yields of the three most important grain crops – wheat, rice, and corn – lost to insects will increase by as much as 25% per degree Celsius of warming, with countries in temperate areas hit the hardest”

Boff Doff
April 21, 2022 3:51 am

Crop yields need to fall to prove CAGW is killing people. This is just a step in that quest. That their ultimate objective is a Malthusian utopia should be borne in mind.

Matthew Sykes
April 21, 2022 3:53 am

There are many many more insects at the equator than the poles.

Warming is good. Insects like warm.

Pesticides are a different issue though, clearly they are there to kill insects.

April 21, 2022 4:21 am

“within tropical countries – where the combined effects of climate change…..”

The tropics have hardly had any shift in climate of any sort.

Temperatures are pretty much what they were 30-40 years ago.

How can something that just isn’t happening, cause anything !

Trying to Play Nice
Reply to  b.nice
April 21, 2022 6:15 am

In this case, the tropics have the most climate change. When talking about melting glaciers, polar bears and losing permafrost then the poles have the most climate change. How else could every place on Earth have the most climate change?

April 21, 2022 4:33 am

…spiders, which kill other insects.

Spiders are arthropods, but not insects. Insects have six legs, spiders have eight.

April 21, 2022 5:20 am

“…spiders, which kill other insects.” Which implies that the author thinks a spider is an insect.

Reply to  Roger
April 21, 2022 10:35 am

To me they’re all bugs. And spiders are the creepiest.

Yes, I’m an arachnophobe.

April 21, 2022 5:55 am

If only the so called “greens” were the only ones to suffer from their insanity.

Jim Gorman
April 21, 2022 5:55 am

What a pitiful study. Of course cropland is going to have fewer insects that natural areas.

For one, the insects that flourish in natural areas have been genetically engineered through eons of selective breeding to do exactly that on flora that is naturally there.

Two, why do these “scientists” think non-native species can overtake natural flora? Maybe because they have no natural enemies (insects).

Three, when you only plant one species of crop, you naturally eliminate ALL the insects that would be there normally living on other varieties of flora.

Four, and probably most important. This study has no data on the survival temperature range of each and every species of insects. There is no information about which species will flourish with higher temperatures and which will be damaged. Nothing but generalities about “global warming” damaging everything, everywhere. This isn’t a study, IT IS NOTHING BUT OPINION.

william Johnston
April 21, 2022 7:16 am

Sounds like a new version of Lysenkoism.

April 21, 2022 8:46 am

What a load of tosh!

Cocoa, for example, is primarily pollinated by midges, a group of flies infamous for bedevilling camping trips in Scotland and other parts of the northern hemisphere. In fact, midges play a vital and under-appreciated role in pollinating the cocoa needed to make chocolate.”

These researchers first equate beneficial midges with the blood sucking midges of the north.
Like the blood sucking researchers they themselves are.

I presume, since it isn’t defined in the article, that UCL is a UK university?

A very disappointing silly alleged research.
All of the researchers involved in this nonsense should spend the next five years farming with the Amish.

Dave Andrews
Reply to  ATheoK
April 21, 2022 9:36 am

University College London.

Reply to  ATheoK
April 23, 2022 11:27 pm

Excellent point. The Diptera are remarkably diverse. But the authors seemingly are entirely ignorant of that. “Midges” is a very generic term. We here in Canada, like Scotland (presumably they’re thinking Skye which they backpacked after their bachelor’s degree) have ample species of midges. Relatively few are biting midges, the vast majority are not.

I suspect we are dealing with “researchers” rather than researchers. Kids who have journalism degrees and feel they “know” science without any background at all. Liberal arts and all that.

Jim Gorman
Reply to  buggs
April 24, 2022 5:59 am

Or, physical science majors that have never spent one minute hiking, camping, hunting, farming or anything else that actually involves participating in nature. Would “lab midges” be appropriate, lol?

michael hart
April 21, 2022 8:54 am

So, in other words, we are actually making a small amount of progress in stopping the little b’stards from eating all our food and killing us with communicable blights, infections, and diseases.
Yea. Go humans.

April 21, 2022 9:03 am

“climate-stressed farmland possesses only half the number of insects,”

How do I get my land to be climate-stressed?

Insects in decline? Not around here. Wouldn’t mind doing away with squash bugs completely…

Gunga Din
April 21, 2022 9:44 am

“The life of an ant and that of my child should be granted equal consideration.” – Michael Fox, Vice President, Humane Society of the United States (Not the actor).

That’s an old quote but the insanity is just as new.

April 21, 2022 11:18 am

What’s the current population of termites in the world? Anybody know? Is it increasing with the current greening of the earth?

Studies have shown that termites emit 10 times the CO2 that humans do. Science 05 Nov 1982: Vol. 218, Issue 4572, pp. 563-565 DOI: 10.1126/science.218.4572.563

So, if we eliminate 10% of the worlds termites, all climate worries about human CO2 emissions evaporate. And there will still be plenty of termites left.

Imagine, the climate crisis solution and worldwide job creation all in one by controlling insects.

April 21, 2022 3:15 pm

The upside of insect annihilation is that we will be free of the Green demands to eat them and can go back to beef and chicken.

April 21, 2022 5:54 pm

Yep, typical green rubbish. Isn’t it interesting how they conveniently forget to mention wind turbines, which are squashing tons of insects? Those immoral retards would rather starve the populations.

Michael S. Kelly
April 22, 2022 9:23 pm

Insects is best.

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