Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Modern Insect Mass Extinction

From National Geographic News comes THIS ARTICLE by John Pickrell:

A new study says that the vast majority of species on the verge of extinction is in fact humble insects. The study estimates that up to 44,000 bugs of all varieties could have been wiped off the face of the Earth during the last 600 years. And hundreds of thousands more insect species could be lost over the next 50 years.Only about 70 insect extinctions have been documented since the 15th century, possibly because many insects have been poorly studied.

An 1877 U.S. federal entomologist's report included this drawing of a Rocky Mountain locust. The now extinct locust, which migrated across the U.S. plains in vast swarms, was considered by some to be the single largest barrier to westward expansion in the U.S in the 1800s.

Image courtesy Missouri State University
"Most extinctions estimated to have occurred in the historical past, or predicted to occur in the future, are of insects," argues entomologist Robert R. Dunn of North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

The finding is significant, because insects play vital roles in plant pollination, decomposition, and soil processing. They also form essential links in ecological chains as plant-eaters, predators, and parasites.

The loss of keystone insect species—those on which a large number of other species depend—could be especially detrimental for ecosystems and people. "Most entomologists I know have some species they haven't seen in years, but [they don't] have the time or money to look for them," said Dunn, who reports his findings in the current issue of the journal Conservation Biology.

Read the rest of the article HERE. Color images from HERE.