Global Warming Could Trigger Insect Population Boom
The gradual warming of the planet’s climate has profound effects on every living organism, and insects are no exception. The last few decades have shown that most bug populations are declining everywhere, which poses a significant threat to humanity and its future.
Still, scientific data shows that certain insect species are booming and expanding their geographic range, while some key beneficial bugs are disappearing rapidly and could become extinct within the next 50 years.
Why are there such seemingly contradictory reports?
Let’s find out below!
The rapid decline of insects in the recent decades
Even though bugs are among the most numerous lifeforms on the planet, due to various factors, their numbers have been dwindling rapidly in recent decades. So much so that ⅓ of all species have become endangered, and if the trend continues, all insects could disappear within the end of the century.
That can spell disaster for humanity and the future of the planet. Some scientists have even concluded that the sixth species extinction may have already begun, and if we don’t make some major changes soon, it might be too late to reverse the process.
The top reasons for the decline in bugs populations are:
- Intensive farming (with pesticides and fertilisers) (46.6%)
- Biological factors (16.4%)
- Development (10.7%)
- Deforestation (8.8)
- Human interference with rivers and wetlands (6.3%)
- Climate change (5%)
The conversion of insects’ natural habitats into farmlands and the use of pesticides are the biggest reasons for the population decline. On top of that, many beneficial insects indispensable to humans and the environment are also disappearing, which can have devastating consequences worldwide.
The species on the endangered list include:
Still, not all bug populations are declining. Global warming has also led to the spreading of various invasive species like mosquitoes, termites, and cockroaches, all of whose populations are booming. Certain freshwater species’ numbers are also rising by 11%. However, they make up only 2.4% of the total insect population, which doesn’t even begin to balance the scales out.
The importance of bugs
Pollinators (like bees, butterflies, and beetles) play indispensable roles in agriculture and plant reproduction, as they pollinate at least ¾ of all greenery worldwide. Besides that, they provide numerous services for the planet and humanity’s well-being.
Here are the most important functions they perform:
- Insects serve as the basis of the food chain. Without them, we can expect much fewer fish, small mammals, and birds.
- Insects feed on certain pests and keep their populations in check.
- Bugs are also responsible for soil fertilisation. Many of them are scavengers who feed on dead bodies, preventing diseases from spreading and bringing nutrients back into the ground.
- Bugs are part of the food chain and are eaten by fish, birds, small mammals, and even humans (African, Asian, and South American cultures).
- Certain species like silkworms have played a huge role in the world’s economics. Others produce substances for the honey and wax industries.
Global warming’s effects on insect populations
Climate change is already affecting all living beings negatively. Not only do heat-related deaths and the intensity of natural disasters increase, but some scientists estimate that if the insect population decline continues, all bugs could become extinct within a century.
Should it happen, that will be a global disaster of unimaginable magnitude and threaten humanity’s existence as we’re thoroughly dependent on bugs.
How rising temperatures affect bugs
Temperature regulates insects’ physiology and metabolism. An increase in temperature increases physiological activity and, therefore, metabolic rates.
This means insects will have to eat more to survive. Scientists warn that each temperature increase by one degree will result in 10-15% more crop losses, which are some serious numbers, and could mean world hunger within a decade or two.
Bugs who produce methane and contribute to global warming
Although the burning of fossil fuels produces most of the greenhouse gases, certain insects are known to produce methane and thus aid global warming. Oddly, most of these bugs are pests, so taking proper preventative measures to limit their populations will aid the environment.
Insects who are major producers of methane include:
How rising CO₂ levels affect plants (and how that indirectly affects insects)
CO₂ levels are already high, and they’re expected to continue rising. This affects plants primarily because it worsens their nutritional quality and alters their biochemistry. Providing less nutrition for bugs (and in combination with higher metabolic rates due to the warmer climate) will cause the little creatures to eat more.
On top of that, fewer plants mean less oxygen and more CO₂, so the process will quickly become a vicious circle.
The population boom of certain pests worldwide
Global warming has aided the spreading of invasive species like mosquitoes, cockroaches, and termites.
The widening of malarial zones in the last decades and the booming population of mosquitoes worldwide will put many more people at risk from dangerous diseases. The biting bloodsuckers are known to spread deadly pathogens such as malaria, Zika virus, Japanese encephalitis, Nile fever, and many more.
Homeowners in malarial zones can protect themselves by either hiring professional pest control or by eliminating all sources of stagnant water around the property, wearing long-sleeved clothes, and using DEET sprays.
Rising temperatures will also cause termite populations to boom in the coming decades and expand their geographic range. A warmer and wetter climate will also extend their lifecycles, as they will not die off in the winter, which will be another reason why their numbers will increase dramatically. This will increase the number of infestations and cause lots of structural damage if not caught early.
Biodiversity’s role in the ecosystems
Global warming has led to a steady rise in temperatures in the rainforests, the most biologically diverse places in the world, leading to a collapse in the food chain. This already has negative effects and has led to many species being threatened of becoming extinct. Ultimately, less biodiversity means fewer pollinators, worsening soil quality, erosion, and more diseases.
This makes protecting insects and their natural habitats crucial for the survival of all organisms.
Losing biodiversity will lead to famine and economic collapse, and threaten human health and well-being. Sadly, our dependence on insects will become apparent to most people only when the numerous benefits they provide decrease dramatically. However, by the time we notice that, it might be too late to reverse the process.
The entire planet’s well-being and every living organism depend on insects’ existence and the numerous benefits they provide.
Global warming, conversion of the land into intensive agriculture, and the use of pesticides will decrease the number of beneficial insects worldwide. That will lead to a collapse in the food chain, famine, and a boom in certain pest populations, thus increasing health risks, economic uncertainty, and population collapse worldwide.
Taking steps to protect insects’ natural habitats and biodiversity will prevent a global catastrophe and begin to restore and heal thousands and thousands of years worth of ecological balance.
All it takes is the will to act.