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February 15, 2019
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February 15, 2019

On a razor’s edge

By Simone Delochan,

The theme was repeated across news media in October 2018: ‘Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations…’; ‘Human pressures have shrunk wildlife populations’; ‘60% of wildlife population has been wiped out by human activity in 44 years’. Then the furor disseminated. The source of the sensational headlines was a report published in that month by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in its Living Planet Report 2018.

This report (see below) is published every two years and brings together “a variety of research to provide a comprehensive view of the health of the Earth”. It paints a dire picture.

The Executive Director of Science and Conservation at WWF draws an analogy to the same decline in human population, a 60 per cent decline would be “equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa,aEurope, China and Oceania (New Zealand, Papua Guinea, Fiji etc). We are, he says, sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff.

More recently, a declared mass extinction is happening right now: 40 per cent of the world’s insect species are in decline according to a study undertaken by Dr Francisco Sanchez-Bayo, an honorary associate at the University of Sydney and published recently in Biological Conservation.

In Germany, the study saw a 75 per cent decline in insect biomass over 27 years. In Puerto Rico there are reported losses of between 78 and 98 per cent over 36 years. The decline is so dramatic that Dr Sanchez-Bayo suggests that at current rates there may be no insects in those regions within a decade.

Dr Sanchez-Bayo deliberately sounds an alarm because extinction of insect biomass can see an ecosystem collapse. Insects play an important part in the ecosystems through pollination and “are also an essential element in the food chain that supports life on our planet. When the insects go, the frogs, birds and mammals don’t have food.” (‘Insect population and species decline a ‘wake-up call’, scientists say’, “It’s like Jenga. The insects are at the bottom. If you pull those things from the bottom the whole tower will collapse,” says Dr Sanchez-Bayo.

The insect loss is attributed to the use of pesticides and fertilisers in farming, climate change, habitat loss, and biological factors, including pathogens and introduced species. The Earth is, and consequently we are, on the razor’s edge. The Chief Executive at WWF commented succinctly on the situation: “We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it.”