Published On: Mon, Oct 15th, 2018

Report: New Study Fuels Fear of 'Bugpocalypse'

Insects are disappearing from the national forest in Puerto Rico, according to a new report published Monday — the latest indication of an alarming “bugpocalypse” around the world, The Washington Post reported.

In the new study posted by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers implicate climate change in the loss of tropical invertebrates.

“This study in PNAS is a real wake-up call — a clarion call — that the phenomenon could be much, much bigger, and across many more ecosystems,” David Wagner, an expert in invertebrate conservation at the University of Connecticut who wasn’t involved in the study, told the Post, adding: “This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read.”

According to the Post, an international team of biologists estimated in 2014 that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates like beetles and bees had declined by 45 percent. And in places where long-term data is available, insect numbers are plummeting — with one study last year showing a 76 percent drop in flying insects over the last few decades in German nature preserves.

“Scientists agreed that more people should pay attention to the bugpocalypse,” the Post’s Ben Guarino wrote.

Bradford Lister, a biologist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York who’s been studying insects in Puerto Rico’s El Yunque rain forest, told the Post researchers first went to the national reserve — the only tropical rain forest in the National Forest system — in 1976 and 1977 “expressly to measure the resources: the insects and the insectivores in the rain forest, the birds, the frogs, the lizards.”

He returned nearly 40 years later with Andrés García, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Post reported. 

“Boy, it was immediately obvious when we went into that forest,” Lister told the Post, with fewer birds, and an all-but-vanished butterfly population.

According to the Post, the dry weight of all the captured invertebrates had decreased to a fourth or an eighth of what it had been. Between January 1977 and January 2013, the catch rate in the sticky ground traps fell 60-fold.

“Everything is dropping,” Lister told the Post. The most common invertebrates in the rain forest — the moths, the butterflies, the grasshoppers, the spiders and others — are all far less abundant, he said.

The study authors also trapped anole lizards, which eat arthropods, in the rain forest, comparing their numbers with the 1970's count — and finding that anole biomass dropped by more than 30 percent, with some species totally disappeared from the the interior forest, the Post reported

Lister and Garcia attribute the drop to climate. In the same 40-year period as the arthropod crash, the average high temperature in the rain forest increased by 4 degrees Fahrenheit, the Post reported. 

“If the tropical forests go it will be yet another catastrophic failure of the whole Earth system that will feed back on human beings in an almost unimaginable way,” Lister told the Post.

The report comes in the wake of a UN report that estimated the world has a decade left to get climate change under control.

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Report: New Study Fuels Fear of 'Bugpocalypse'