Expert warns of 'huge decline' in Canada's bug population
It’s not the kind of thing that might bug you after a summer of biting mosquitoes, unwelcome wasps and buzzing flies, but experts say Canada is running out of bugs – and that’s a bad thing.
Agriculture Canada scientist Jeff Skevington, who works with the Canadian National Collection of Insects, says the country has lost a significant amount of its insect biodiversity in recent years based on the results of annual collection samples. That means a lot of the insects at the bottom of our food chain are dying out, which could have an unexpected, but noticeable impact on the lives of humans.
“There are hundreds, probably thousands of species that have just disappeared from the collection – things that haven’t turned up for years,” Skevington told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.
Skevington acknowledges that pest insects are the first ones that spring to mind for most people, but he says those are a minority of the overall insect population.
“Most insects are benign or actually beneficial,” he said, pointing out that many will keep other pest insects, such as crop-killing aphids, in check. Without those predator insects, an out-of-control aphid population could mean major trouble for Canada’s agricultural industry.
“The whole ecosystem’s going out of balance,” Skevington said.
He says there’s a variety of reasons for this change, including loss of habitat and new insecticides. But Skevington says climate change is perhaps one of the most impactful reason bugs are dying out. He cited recent temperature fluctuations in spring, for instance, as a major problem that some bugs simply can’t endure.
“Quite often you’ll have really big warm spells so you get a flush of insects coming out, followed by a cold snap,” he said. Those cold snaps can interrupt a bug’s lifecycle and severely impact their populations.
“These are huge declines,” Skevington said.
Research in other parts of the world show it’s a widespread issue, he added, citing one European study that showed an 80 per cent decline in biomass at a nature reserve over 30 years, despite there being no changes made to the reserve itself.
“Lots of wetland species seem to be most affected, even though the habitat in Europe hadn’t changed,” he said.
Skevington says more studies are needed in Canada, particularly in the east, where the decline is most evident.
“We’re pretty worried,” he said.