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Perspective: Where have all the insects gone?

Jack Kaminski

Chestnut trees were once the giants of American forests. They numbered in the billions, but were almost all killed by a blight in the early 20th century. No one alive today remembers the glory days of the chestnuts.

At the other end of the size spectrum, today the world is losing insects at an alarming rate. In 2019, a UN assessment found that half a million insect species around the world are under threat of extinction. The causes are believed to be largely from habitat loss and overuse of insecticides.

Insects do a lot for us. They pollinate much of the food we eat. In this time of growing food insecurity, we are losing bees, flies, midges, butterflies and wasps, all pollinators that are essential for so many of our foods. Imagine a world without apples, blueberries, cherries, spices, and chocolate.

Insects are part of a chain of life that is vital for keeping forests and grassland ecosystems healthy. Without the dung beetle, dead things don’t become rich compost for the land.

We can all help by growing more plants for pollinators. On a larger scale, scientists are encouraging farmers to leave some of their land uncultivated to provide essential insect habitat.

The loss of chestnut trees left a hole in our forests - and now no one remembers what those forests looked like. We can’t let butterflies and apples disappear, to be forgotten by future generations.

I’m Deborah Booth and that’s my perspective.

Deborah Booth retired in Fall 2014 from NIU, where she was the director of External Programs for the College of Visual and Performing Arts.