Attention has recently been focused on the health of wild nature, first by a report suggesting that diverse UK insect populations are declining at alarming rates (Report, 11 February), and now by one showing pollinators are in trouble (Bees and hoverflies lost from a quarter of British sites, major study finds, 27 March).
While headlines implying that imminent extinction are exaggerated, as entomologists and ecologists we do think there is good evidence that insects are declining, and the ecological consequences may be serious. Insects massively outrank all other animals in diversity, numbers and biomass. Since insects underpin most non-marine food networks, serious declines would threaten the stability of wild nature, leading to reductions in numbers of insectivorous animals and those that eat them. The loss of pollinators would also adversely affect agriculture, since many crops depend on insects to set seed.
Similar reports in each of the last three years provoked a brief flurry of media attention followed by deafening silence. Most worrying of all, there has been no apparent reaction from science-funding bodies or the government. We call on the UK’s research establishment to enable intensive investigation of the real threat of ecological disruption caused by insect declines without delay.
Knowing about insects and their ways is not a luxury. The US entomologist Thomas Eisner said: “Bugs are not going to inherit the Earth. They own it now.” We dispossess them at our peril.
Simon LeatherHarper Adams University, honorary fellow of the Royal Entomological Society
Stuart ReynoldsUniversity of Bath, past president of the Royal Entomological Society
John KrebsUniversity of Oxford, formerly chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council
John LawtonUniversity of York, formerly chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council
John PalmerHouse of Lords
Paul BrakefieldUniversity of Cambridge
George McGavinUniversity of Oxford
Katherine WillisUniversity of Oxford
Michael Hassell Imperial College
Richard Laneformerly director of science at the Natural History Museum, London
Roger ButlinUniversity of Sheffield
Sheena CotterUniversity of Lincoln
Henry DisneyUniversity of Cambridge
Kevin Gaston University of Exeter
Dave GoulsonUniversity of Sussex
Rhys GreenUniversity of Cambridge
Richard Harringtoneditor of Antenna, the Royal Entomological Society’s house magazine
Jane Hill University of York
James LoganLondon School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Darren MannUniversity of Oxford
Jane MemmottUniversity of Bristol
Anne OxbroughEdge Hill University
Mike Siva-JothyUniversity of Sheffield
Peter SmithersUniversity of Plymouth
Jenni StockanJames Hutton Institute, Aberdeen
Jeremy ThomasUniversity of Oxford
Nina WedellUniversity of Exeter