• Over the past 50 years, an “unnoticed apocalypse” may have killed off half the planet’s insects.
  • Climate change, loss of natural habitat and exposure to pesticides are causing declining insect populations.
  • There are five things humans living in cities can do to help protect insect populations.

Have you noticed there are fewer creepy-crawlies around these days? Significantly fewer. In fact, over the past 50 years, an insect apocalypse may have killed off half of the planet’s bugs, according to a new report.

Scientists at the UK's South West Wildlife Trusts report that, while few people are aware of this mass extinction, it poses a serious threat. They estimate more than 40% of insect species could permanently disappear.

Climate change, loss of natural habitats and overexposure to pesticides are among the factors contributing to the decline of insects, including once-common species of flies, butterflies, beetles, bees and numerous others. More than two-thirds of all caddisfly populations have disappeared in the past decade.

Insects are a vital food source for birds and larger animals and are essential for pollinating crops and wildflowers.

If the current rate of decline continues, it could have profound consequences for the planet and everything that lives on it – including humans.

In urban areas, it is often more challenging for insects to thrive. But there are some practical things we can all do to help.

1. Grow plants

Many of the flower-rich habitats bees and other pollinating insects need have disappeared. It’s up to us to replace them, especially in towns and cities, which can be challenging environments for these creatures.

Even a small space, such as a window box or a balcony, can be transformed by adding a few plants. If you have a garden, fill it with herbs or flowers that attract pollinators. Where space is tight, growing a vertical garden on external walls or rooftops is a good solution.

How does the World Economic Forum encourage biological diversity?

How does the World Economic Forum encourage biological diversity?

In the last 100 years, more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields, and all of the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits.

These trends have reduced diversity in our diets, which is directly linked to diseases or health risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and malnutrition.

One initiative which is bringing a renewed focus on biological diversity is the Tropical Forest Alliance.

This global public-private partnership is working on removing deforestation from four global commodity supply chains – palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.

The Alliance includes businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous people and communities, and international organizations.

Inquire to become a member or partner of the Forum and help stop deforestation linked to supply chains.

2. Create insect sanctuaries

Another way to counter habitat loss is to build or buy a bug environment, such as a ladybird tower, butterfly house or bee biome.

In areas where space can be in short supply, these small structures help encourage beneficial insects, boost biodiversity and provide a great way for children to observe nature close up.

Massive insect decline threatens collapse of nature
The global insect population is declining – but these creatures are essential to nature.
Image: Statista

3. Eat organic food

Organic fruit and vegetables don’t contain artificial fertilizers, which can damage insect habitats.

Produced using only natural fertilizers, organic produce is unlikely to contain traces of the chemical pesticides that can seep into non-organic foods.

4. Turn off outside lights

Moths and other insects are attracted to artificial light, which can be their downfall. As well as decreasing biodiversity by leading insects away from their natural habitats, artificial light often causes them to burn to death.

Half of all insect species are nocturnal, so they depend on darkness and natural light from the moon and the night sky to guide their movements, find food and reproduce. Light pollution disrupts breeding patterns and decreases the chances of survival for many insect species.

5. Go green in the garden

The chemicals used in fertilizers and pesticides are often deadly for insects, and can make their way into water sources, like ponds or rivers, and eventually into the ocean. On the other hand, they also prevent large crop losses and so, according to the World Health Organization, will continue to play a role in agriculture.

At home, however, consider using natural products, such as grass clippings, recycled food leftovers or compost made from organic waste, as bug-friendly alternatives. Or simply leave the little critters alone and wait for a natural predator to come along.