In Australia, trillions of insects were wiped out as a result of the Black Summer fires that took place in late 2019 and into 2020. It is also possible that the fires caused multiple extinctions during that time, Yahoo News reported.
Not long after the fires finally went out, experts discovered that about three billion animals were killed or impacted by the inferno. Now, scientists from LaTrobe University believe 60 billion invertebrates perished on just the rainforest floors, as compared to insect deaths in areas that were not burned, Yahoo News reported.
However, when the entire bushfire zone was analyzed, the amount of insect casualties skyrocketed. According to Heloise Gibb, professor at La Trobe University, the number is in the trillions.
“If we scaled up across the whole of the burnt landscape and assumed it was a similar number affected, we think it could have been six trillion invertebrates lost,” she told Yahoo News Australia.
Professor Gibb’s modeling focuses solely on macro-invertebrates, disregarding smaller insects such as mites and springtails, even though these tiny creatures constitute 95% of all invertebrates found in leaf litter.
“If you include all of those really small ones, it scales up to 120 trillion (across the burn zone),” said Professor Gibb.
Although they may not be very popular, insects play a vital role in our food chain. Insects are eaten by small animals like birds, amphibians, and fish, who are then eaten by larger predators, including humans.
A reduction in insect populations can affect all animals up the food chain and is suspected to be a cause of a recent drop in bird populations around the globe.
Predatory insects also fulfill the role of chemical-free pesticides by preying on pests that pose a threat to our crops. This approach reduces pest-control expenses, boosts agricultural yields, and can save billions of dollars each year for the agricultural sector, according to at least one study.
Professor Gibbs told Yahoo Australia that when she went into the forest after the fires were finally quelled at the end of 2020, there was plenty of regrowth but no sounds from wildlife or insects.
“A lot of birds feed on insects, so if they’re missing, the forests are quiet,” she said. “Those species won’t come back unless there are invertebrates to eat.”
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