Philly expert offers insight on studies that raise fear of 'insect apocalypse'

Molly Daly
January 01, 2019 - 4:00 am
A recently published study based on 27 years worth of samples from German nature reserves shows a 75 percent reduction in the abundance of flying insects.

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) —  A recently published study based on 27 years worth of samples from German nature reserves shows a 75 percent reduction in the abundance of flying insects. That, along with a handful of other long-term studies, raises fears that we may be in the midst of an "insect apocalypse."  

Jon Gelhaus, Drexel University professor and entomology curator at the Academy of Natural Sciences, says data is not yet available on whether or not the Philadelphia region is affected. 

"We don't have the data now, but we're looking at what studies we can carry out that would be comparisons to past studies we have done on insect diversity and abundance," said Gelhaus.  

Right now, he's analyzing recent samples taken in the Pine Barrens to compare with traps collected there 12 years ago.

"We won't have any data until end of winter, I think," Gelhaus said. 

As for what may be driving the declines observed in the German study, Gelhaus explains that "they weren't areas that you'd expect have had a lot of pesticide use, but maybe these pesticides are moving through systems that we don't quite understand. It could be climate change. It could be a multitude of factors."

Gelhaus says, although insects are often thought of as pests, in reality, they provide vital services including pest control, waste cleanup, pollinators, and for many species of birds, reptiles and mammals, the sole menu item. 

"These are extraordinary creatures. They make up most of the diversity of life on Earth," he added. 

And if we lost them, we'd be in a world of trouble.