Pollinators populations in decline

Insect populations around the world have been declining dramatically, a phenomenon dubbed ‘insectageddon’ in the media. The ‘windshield phenomenon’ illustrates the noticeable decline in insects closer to home. Do you remember from your childhood, so many insects hitting car windshields at night that your parents had to stop to clean them off? That doesn’t happen anymore. (See Car ‘splatometer’ tests reveal huge decline in number of insects for details.)

If that means fewer mosquitoes and black flies, it sounds great, right? Wrong. Entomologist E. O. Wilson famously said that insects are “the little things that run the world”. Near the bottom of food chains, insects are essential food for many other creatures, such as birds and frogs. So, in turn, there are corresponding declines in other wildlife populations. Insects are also critical pollinators of many food crops, as well as wild plants. Without them, we’ll all be in trouble.

Why are pollinator and other insect numbers declining? Some of the major causes include pesticide use, habitat loss, and climate change. Why insect populations are plummeting–and why it matters, an article by National Geographic, provides a good summary of this issue.

Pesticides kill indiscriminately

Pesticides are designed to kill insects, and they do so indiscriminately. If you spray a plant to kill aphids, any other insect that is exposed to the spray, or its lingering residue, will also be killed, including bees and butterflies. For more on how pesticides harm pollinators, and how to deal with insect pests naturally, visit my page Don’t use ‘cides.

Habitat loss, a leading cause

I used to think that habitat loss was just an American problem. After all, Canada has a relatively small population, and a lot of wilderness. However, in southern Ontario most wild spaces have been cut, bull-dozed, plowed and paved. A Government of Ontario page on Conserving Biodiversity lists habitat loss as a serious threat to wildlife in our province. According to Tallgrass Ontario, less than 3% of Ontario’s tall grass prairie remains. Ontario Nature states that only 30% of Ontario’s original wetlands remain.

Eliminating habitat means that insects have less food and fewer places to live. Some pollinators that once called southern Ontario home, like the Rusty-Patch bumblebee and Karner Blue butterfly, are no longer found in this province. Habitat loss is considered the main cause of their disappearance. You can learn about these pollinators, and efforts to restore their populations at Wildlife Preservation Canada. Recent news stories, from the CBC and GuelphToday, highlight that the American Bumblebee is similarly at risk in Ontario.

Our remaining wild spaces are continually being chipped away, further threatening native pollinators and other wildlife. The Ontario Nature web site is a good place to keep up with current news and their efforts to combat habitat loss.