Insects under threat

2017-09-04 11:16
Could this sight become rarer in years to come? A butterfly rests on a plant before flitting off and continuing its search for food.

Could this sight become rarer in years to come? A butterfly rests on a plant before flitting off and continuing its search for food. (Chelsea Pieterse)

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A massive decline in insect biodiversity has been reported in Europe, with a local entomologist warning that South Africa could face the same fate due to industrialisation.

According to a recent report by the UK Telegraph, a study by amateur German group, Krefeld Entomological Society, has seen the number of insects “plummet by nearly 80%” since 2013.

The group has been monitoring insect numbers at 100 nature reserves in Western Europe since the 1980s.

The report said that since 2006, British beekeepers have lost about a third of their managed bee colonies each year due to the loss of flower-rich grassland and the increased use of insecticides on crops.

According to the article, the flower-rich grasslands had declined by 97% since the 1930s.

University of KwaZulu-Natal entomologist Dr Terence Olckers said although the decline in insects had not been monitored in South Africa, or KZN, it would not be surprising at all if the country’s native insect biodiversity was declining.

He said there had been a decline in the country’s pollinators and it was a “major concern”.

He said it was possible that the decline and its effects were not as noticeable here as South Africa “still has more natural habitats and vegetation than elsewhere in the developed world”.

Olckers said the same factors that are responsible for the declines in Europe would be similar in South Africa.

He said the loss of natural habitats due to their conversion into industrial spaces, urban areas and agricultural lands was one of the causes.

“Pollution caused by various human activities [including agricultural pesticides, inappropriate waste disposal etc.] leads to reduced air, soil and water quality, which will all affect habitat health.

“There are also invasive alien plants that overrun natural habitats and out-compete native vegetation that provide food for native insects.

“Light pollution [for example, urban areas and sport stadiums] is another problem in that nocturnal insects are attracted to various light sources and succumb to these. The possibilities are endless.”

The decline in insects would be most noticeable around urban areas where habitat loss and disturbances are the most severe, he said.

Olckers said a decline in insects in the country might mean reductions in pollination services that are essential for the production of most fruit and vegetable crops.

“In the eyes of the general public, insects are largely considered as pests and their ecological importance is poorly understood or acknowledged, so it is quite possible that most people will not be aware of any declines in their numbers, or won’t care if there are.”

He said South Africa could be in Europe’s situation 20 years from now if the industrialisation of the country continued.

An article by News24 in 2016 said the populations of bees, butterflies and other species important for agricultural pollination are declining across the globe.

Olckers said all human-related impacts came back to the same problem — overpopulation with increasing exploitation and destruction of our natural resources, followed by increasing levels of pollution.

“Better protection and conservation of our natural resources [soil, water, vegetation, habitats etc.] should be an essential component of human society.

“A simple example for property owners would be to plant native plants instead of exotic ones in their gardens [also remove invasive species] as this will provide native insects with natural food sources and allow them to persist in urban areas.

“In essence, human society cannot survive without the services provided by insects; since most crops are pollinated by insects, we cannot produce food without insect pollinators.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  insects under threat

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