I give those critters their space not only because they deserve to live as much as I deserve to live, but also because way back in middle or high school we learnt about food chains and ecosystems and that message stuck with me. We are all dependent on each other. Unfortunately, we humans have gained enough power over other life forms that we casually and easily decimate this complex relationship.
Here is a quick test, especially for the readers in the old country. When was the last time you saw a firefly in the night? Remember all those dark nights when you delighted in their movements?
Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. "We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species," which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.In this context, I don't need any data as evidence of the decline in bugs of many sorts. I have lived a life experiencing the decline. While the panda and the polar bear and rhinos grab our attention as we worry about driving species into extinction, we pay far less attention to the small fellows. The story of our life, I suppose--we always ignore the vast subaltern, as the radical postcolonial intellectuals like to talk about.
"If you're an insect-eating bird living in that area, four-fifths of your food is gone in the last quarter-century, which is staggering," says Dave Goulson, an ecologist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, who is working with the Krefeld group to analyze and publish some of the data. "One almost hopes that it's not representative—that it's some strange artifact."People tend to forget that this is what regular science is all about--scientists go through understanding bits and pieces, day after day, while the rest of us are happy to entertain ourselves with the latest that a digital screen has to offer. And then we are arrogant enough to complain that science is a waste of taxpayer dollars!
No one knows how broadly representative the data are of trends elsewhere. But the specificity of the observations offers a unique window into the state of some of the planet's less appreciated species.
Changes in land use surrounding the reserves are probably playing a role. "We've lost huge amounts of habitat, which has certainly contributed to all these declines," Goulson says. "If we turn all the seminatural habitats to wheat and cornfields, then there will be virtually no life in those fields." As fields expand and hedgerows disappear, the isolated islands of habitat left can support fewer species. Increased fertilizer on remaining grazing lands favors grasses over the diverse wildflowers that many insects prefer. And when development replaces countryside, streets and buildings generate light pollution that leads nocturnal insects astray and interrupts their mating.One doesn't have to be the cliched tree-hugging environmentalist in order to worry about all these. Unfortunately, the only thing that most of us do is to make fun of those tree-hugging environmentalists.
Paying attention to what E. O. Wilson calls "the little things that run the world" is worthwhile, Sorg says. "We won't exterminate all insects. That's nonsense. Vertebrates would die out first. But we can cause massive damage to biodiversity—damage that harms us."Yes, indeed. Remember that old quote, whether or not Jonas Salk really said that?
If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.