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Researchers discover troubling truth behind 'dramatic' change in insect populations: 'They are so important in so many ways'

The Florida Museum of Natural History reports that there are 5.5 million species of insects, and they comprise about 80% of animal life on the planet.

Insect antennas, Dramatic' change in insect population

Photo Credit: iStock

Experts from universities around the world are in agreement about some bad news for bugs. 

Air pollution is wreaking havoc on their ability to find food and mate, and the repercussions from disrupting things for the most diverse species group on the planet could be severe for us humans. 

What's happening? 

Particulate matter — a mix of solid particles and small drops of liquid — in air pollution from vehicles, industry, and other sources, is messing up the natural survival ability of industrious insects. Many of them play crucial pollination roles. 

ScienceDaily documented the research from the University of Melbourne, Beijing Forestry University, and the University of California Davis, all of which are noticing the same troubling problem: Insect antennas are getting contaminated with air pollution particulates. 

The researchers studied how air pollution impacts houseflies and found particulates from coal, oil, wood fires, and other pollution collecting on antennas. The experts also found that wildfire smoke was impacting bees, wasps, and other species. 

"While we know that particulate matter exposure can affect the health of organisms, including insects, our research shows that it also reduces insects' crucial ability to detect [odors] for finding food and mates," University of Melbourne Professor Mark Elgar said in the ScienceDirect report.

Why is this important? 

The Florida Museum of Natural History reports that there are 5.5 million species of insects, and they comprise about 80% of animal life on the planet. 

The vast majority get a bad rap as annoying creatures that bite, sting, and buzz, but museum associate professor and curator Dr. Akito Y. Kawahara said in a video clip that there's much more to this vast species group. 

They pollinate our food crops, serve as a food source in parts of the world, are used to make silk, and even help to develop drone innovations. 

"They are so important in so many ways we don't really understand," Kawahara said in the clip. 

Elgar added breaking down decaying material and recycling nutrients to the list of insect perks. 

Unfortunately, ScienceDirect reported that about 40% of the Earth's land has air pollution particles above the World Health Organization's limits, putting the bugs at risk. 

"Surprisingly, this includes many remote and comparatively pristine habitats and areas of ecological significance," Elgar said in the report. "[B]ecause particulate material can be carried thousands of kilometers by air currents."

What can be done to help? 

The Florida Museum has several ways to help make things better for bugs.

You can cultivate an outdoor space for specific insects. Attracting pollinators is a big win for bees and our food chain. 

You can pledge your support to help raise public awareness. Or, you can even go all out for bugs by doing social media posts to draw attention to the importance of insect health in the ecosystem. 

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