Featured Image Caption: Ants are just some of the insects that are finding it harder to find places to grow and thrive in their now everchanging habitats. (Image Source: “Ants” by poppy, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Reference: Harvey, J. A., Tougeron, K., Gols, R., Heinen, R., Abarca, M., Abram, P. K., … Chown, S. L. (2022). Scientists’ warning on climate change and insects. Ecological Monographs, 93(1). https://doi.org/10.1002/ecm.1553
With every summer that comes and goes, we can all appreciate how the climate is changing. It isn’t just the temperature or weather that are varying day by day, but the trends in these factors, in other words, the climate. We experience these changes whenever we interact with the outdoors, and we find ways around its inconveniences, but have you ever stopped and wondered how these changes affect organisms that can’t run away from this warming climate by simply staying indoors and turning on the AC?
Although we may not see it, insects are crucial to the functioning of ecosystems worldwide. As pollinators, they facilitate the reproduction of numerous plant species, ensuring the production of fruits, vegetables, and seeds that many species, including humans, eat. Insects themselves also serve as food for a wide range of animals. Some even contribute to nutrient recycling and decomposition by breaking down organic matter, and some are natural pest controllers, preying on agricultural pests and helping to regulate populations. Overall, their ecological importance lies in their diverse and interconnected roles, promoting biodiversity, supporting food production, and sustaining the delicate balance in almost all ecosystems. Sadly, climate change has really taken a toll on their populations for a few reasons.
So, Why Is Climate Change So Hard On Insects?
Along with habitat loss and pollution, climate warming is highly affecting insect survival as it pushes many species beyond their thermal tolerance. Additionally, as we build our cities, we not only eliminate their habitat, but make it harder for them to survive. As we seal off surfaces with tiles and concrete, we create heat islands, which are urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas. With minimal vegetation with low diversity and the lack of bodies of water, we make it almost impossible for insects to thrive. Add in pesticide use in suburban and rural areas, and you get yourself a world with fewer and fewer insects, which isn’t as great as it may sound for those afraid of bugs and critters.
Image Caption: With the decrease of suitable refugia, insects are not only fighting for shelter with insects of different species, but they are also fighting amongst their own species for a chance at survival . (Image Source: “Fight!!!” by Ovidiu Gînfălean, licensed under CC BY 2.0).
There Are Still Things We Can Do To Help
A large group of more than 40 ecologists got together to express their concerns for the future of insects, but also to identify and suggest some factors that may support insects in the warming decades to come. Starting with increasing structural complexity and density of vegetation, they push us to hold those in charge of policymaking accountable for their role in insect conservation. By reducing sealed pavement and increasing natural soil cover, we could reduce the heat in urban areas.
If you or someone you know has a yard, talk to them about planting wild native plants, always keeping a balance between trees, shrubs, and herbs. Additionally, we could save lots of insects by keeping weeding to a minimum or doing it manually. This wouldn’t exactly be rewilding, but it could be pretty close to it. In this way, we can slowly claim back the biodiversity that industrialization, pollution, and climate change have robbed from us.
It is crucial to prioritize the protection of insects for the sake of our planet’s health and our own well-being. By fighting for the conservation of insect populations, we can maintain the intricate webs they contribute to, ensuring the pollination of crops, the functioning of ecosystems, and the sustainability of food production. Embracing conservation efforts that preserve and restore insect habitats, reduce pesticide use, and promote sustainable urbanization will not only benefit these remarkable creatures but also safeguard the delicate balance of our shared planet.