New report sheds light on agriculture’s relationship to insect populations

    24 August 2020

    The past few years have seen an increase in misleading media stories blaming modern agriculture for a reported “insect apocalypse”. Now, a wide-ranging study* by German researchers is shedding light on these “insect apocalypse” claims.

    Researchers at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Leipzig University and Martin Luther University have analysed almost a century of data from 166 long-term insect surveys from across the globe.

    Their key findings show terrestrial insects are declining much less rapidly than other studies had suggested and freshwater insect populations are increasing. In stark contrast to sensationalised media reporting, crops like corn, soybeans, sorghum, cotton, wheat, alfalfa and hay, are associated with increases in insect populations.

    The team of German researchers’ finding that farmland actually contributes to increased insect populations flies in the face of headlines calling out modern agriculture, including the use of synthetic pesticides and GM crops, for causing the purported declines. As these insect population increases apply to existing farmland only, agricultural technologies that increase yield – therefore eliminating the need to clear more farmland – only further the prospects of insects.

    Attempting to feed the growing world with only low-productivity food systems like organic and pesticide free could have devastating impacts on the environment. Shunning no-till farming (chemical weed control rather than soil ploughing) with its proven sustainability benefits would almost certainly result in the conversion of forests, grasslands and other habitats into farming cropping and pasture, resulting in habitat destruction for insects.

    As agriculture relies so heavily on bees and other insects for pollination, their health remains front of mind for the plant science industry when developing the next agricultural innovations.

    *van Kling et al. (2020). Meta-analysis reveals declines in terrestrial but increases in freshwater insect abundances. Science 368.


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