Washington [US], November 12 (ANI): A group of 70 experts have warned that if nothing is done, the effects of climate change on insects will "dramatically diminish our potential to establish a sustainable future based on healthy, functional ecosystems."
The researchers created a dire picture of the short- and long-term implications of climate change on insects, many of which have been in a state of decline for decades, by citing data from all across the world.
Some insects are already in danger of going extinct due to global warming and extreme weather, and scientists predict that the situation will get worse if current trends continue. Others will experience effects on their fertility, life cycle, and interactions with other species. Some insects will be forced to relocate to cooler climates in order to survive.
Such drastic disruptions to ecosystems could ultimately come back to bite people, explained Anahi Espindola, an assistant professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and one of the paper's co-authors.
"We need to realize, as humans, that we are one species out of millions of species, and there's no reason for us to assume that we're never going to go extinct," Espindola said. "These changes to insects can affect our species in pretty drastic ways."
By recycling nutrients and feeding other animals higher up the food chain, such as humans, insects play a crucial part in ecosystems. In addition, pollinators like bees and butterflies play a significant role in the production of most of the world's food supply, and robust ecosystems help control the spread of pests and disease-carrying insects.
The group of scientists warned that these are just a handful of the ecosystem functions that climate change may endanger. Many insects are ectotherms, which means they can't control their own body temperature as mammals can. They may react to climate change more strongly than other animals since they are so reliant on outside factors.
Insects can adapt to climate change by expanding their range or moving permanently to regions with lower temperatures. Espindola and other researchers highlighted a study that predicted that if the world warms by 3.2°C, the ranges of nearly half of all bug species will shrink by 50 per cent or more. The range of 6 per cent of insects will be impacted if global warming is kept to 1.5°C, which is the Paris Agreement's target.
Espindola contributed to the parts of the research that discuss range shifts since she investigates how animals react to environmental changes through time. According to her, a species' ability to adapt and thrive may be hampered by genetic variety if its range is drastically altered.
On the other hand, climate change may make some insects more pervasive -- to the detriment of human health and agriculture. Global warming is expected to expand the geographical range of some disease vectors (such as mosquitoes) and crop-eating pests.
"Many pests are actually pretty generalist, so that means they are able to feed on many different types of plants," Espindola said. "And those are the insects that -- based on the data -- seem to be the least negatively affected by climate change."
The group made the observation that additional human-caused factors, such as habitat loss, pollution, and the introduction of exotic species, frequently amplify the effects of climate change. When these stressors are present together, insects have a harder time adjusting to environmental changes.
Although insects are already noticing these effects, there is still time to take action. The paper outlined actions that the general public and policymakers can take to safeguard insects and their habitats. Six areas were identified as needing "transformative action" by scientists: the gradual phase-out of fossil fuels, the reduction of air pollutants, the restoration and long-term protection of ecosystems, the promotion of primarily plant-based diets, the transition to a circular economy, and the stabilisation of the world's population.
The Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam's Jeffrey Harvey, the paper's principal author, stated in a statement that immediate action is required to safeguard insects and the ecosystems they support.
Harvey added, "Insects are hardy little organisms, and we should be grateful that there is still time to fix our mistakes. "Policies to stabilise the world's climate must be implemented immediately. In the interim, we may all work together to improve the insect-friendliness of urban and rural landscapes at both the governmental and individual levels.
The paper offered suggestions for how individuals can contribute, such as managing public, private, or urban gardens and other green spaces in a more environmentally-friendly manner, such as including native plants in the mix and avoiding pesticides and significant changes in land use when possible.
Espindola emphasised the importance of inspiring neighbours, friends, and family to conduct similar actions, claiming that doing so is a simple yet powerful approach to increasing one's impact.
"It is true that these small actions are very powerful," Espindola said. "They are even more powerful when they are not isolated." (ANI)