Conservation of insects

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The greatest loss of biodiversity is expected to occur in invertebrates, especially insects. Insects represent 75% of animal and plant species worldwide. There are about 5.5 million species of insects, but only 10% have been identified so far. Above all, only 5000 species of insects cause damage to agricultural plants, farm animals or human beings.

Insect decline is a major threat to biodiversity loss because insects are directly linked to human health. For example, if we completely eliminate pollinators from our ecosystem, global deaths would increase by 1.4 million per year from non-communicable and malnutrition-related diseases. We get our essential micronutrients (such as vitamins A and C, antioxidants, lycopene, b-tocopherol and folic acid) from insect-pollinated crops, where at least 87% of major food crops depend directly insects. Therefore, insect decline is an emerging global environmental risk. It is estimated that more than 40% of insect species are threatened with extinction.

Use of insecticides

Insect-killing chemicals (insecticides) are major drivers of global insect decline, including other factors such as habitat loss and agricultural land intensification, fertilizer inputs, introduced species and climate change. These toxic chemicals have very negative impacts on insect survival (growth, development, lifespan and fertility) and behavior (choice of food plant, flight directions, place of laying, etc.)

In the agroecosystem, insects can be classified into beneficial (good) and non-beneficial (bad or harmful) insects. Beneficial insects include pollinators and the natural enemies (predators and parasites) of insect pests. Economically, the services of pollinators have been valued at over $500 billion, while the natural enemies of insect pests have been valued at over $400 billion.

Insecticides generally do not reach the targeted insect pests and significantly affect non-target organisms such as beneficial insects or other organisms. The negative effects of insecticides on pollinating insects such as bees and flies are dramatically high.

Use of insecticides in Nepal

Insecticides, especially neonicotinoids, are widely used in Nepal. They are water soluble and their prophylactic use pollutes water and soil which impacts the aquatic ecosystem. Not only insects, but the decline of various insectivorous birds is also linked to the use of neonicotinoids. Researchers found residues of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) in soil samples from Rupandehi and Biratnagar, although DDT has been banned in Nepal since 2001. Unfortunately, Nepal does not have adequate control over the use of pesticides .

Nepalese farmers are not aware of the risks associated with pesticides. Therefore, educational programs should be conducted and policies should be implemented for stricter regulation on the use of pesticides. In addition, to reduce the amount of insecticides on farmland, both government and non-government sectors should organize trainings/workshops on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) by actively involving farmers.

Effects of artificial light

It is also very important to note that artificial light at night directly impacts the day/night cycle of plants and animals. Light pollution is one of the drivers of insect decline: too much artificial light in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Currently, about 25% of the Earth’s surface is artificially lit. Different orders of insects have different impacts. Streetlights act as vacuum cleaners for nocturnal insects such as moths, as they are attracted to artificial lights, disrupting their typical surroundings and behaviors. Fireflies, which rely on bioluminescent cues to attract potential mates, find it difficult in places with an excessive amount of light. Another example is mayflies that only live and reproduce for one day. Light reflected from a sloping road can confuse them to lay their eggs on the road instead of water surfaces – this mistake alone can wipe out the population overnight. Research suggests using amber filter LED bulbs instead of white LED bulbs which attract fewer insects.

Protect insects

The Himalayan range is a very vulnerable ecosystem, especially due to climate change and loss of biodiversity. Reports suggest that the earth’s temperature will be at least 0.3 degrees Celsius higher in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region than the predicted global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius. In the context of Nepal, our biodiversity is widely threatened due to climate change, alien/invasive species, land use change, pollution, etc. For example, Nepal is one of the top 10 most polluted and polluted countries. the air affects the pollination of plants by insects.

It is essential to emphasize that insects are the providers of ecosystem services that run the world. Humanity must save the insects because the human-insect interaction is closely linked. Apart from food security, insects are used for nutrient cycling, soil formation, decomposition, biological pest control, food web maintenance and many more.

Each of us can participate in insect conservation by adopting behaviors and habits, regardless of background and occupation, that mitigate insect decline. For example, plant flowers in the garden or backyard that attract insects or grow native plants and limit the use of artificial outdoor lighting. Instead of being afraid, parents and educators should encourage children and students to change their perception of insects as beautiful animals.

Surprisingly, Nepal contributes the largest volume of published literature on the field of ecology, especially on the biodiversity of the Himalayas. For now, research should aim to better understand changes in insect abundance and diversity. Nepalese researchers and the general public must urgently call for prioritizing insect conservation to develop government policies by creating a mini-jungle for insects (and birds) by planting native wildflowers.

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