I should have cited Ed Yong

I just submitted a proposal on Monday for in-house funding for student research this summer and next year, specifically to assemble a Spider Squad to do a local survey of spider taxa and numbers. I cited the Sanchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys article as evidence that there are grounds for concern about declines in arthropod numbers, and argued that spiders are a good proxy for insect populations, because they’d also give us a perspective on those non-charismatic insects, not just butterflies and bumblebees, that form their food supply.

I just this morning got around to reading Ed Yong’s summary of the Insect Apocalypse, and I agree completely. The review suggests that it’s all bad news, that we should be concerned, and that we should be studying this more thoroughly, but that the panic over insect armageddon is grossly over-inflated. Nothing is going to make insects go extinct, short of a planet-sterilizing impact with a world-killing asteroid.

The Sanchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys review is fine, it’s real data, but it’s not necessarily representative. So what do we need to do? Fund more science!

She and others hope that this newfound attention will finally persuade funding agencies to support the kind of research that has been sorely lacking—systematic, long-term, widespread censuses of all the major insect groups. “Now more than ever, we should be trying to collect baseline data,” Ware says. “That would allow us to see patterns if there really are any, and make better predictions.” Zaspel would also love to see more support for natural-history museums: The specimens pinned within their drawers can provide irreplaceable information about historical populations, but digitizing that information is expensive and laborious.

“We should get serious about figuring out how bad the situation really is,” Trautwein says. “This should be a huge wake-up call, and we should get on the ball instead of quibbling.”

What a coincidence — that’s what I said in my proposal. We need to collect baseline data, which is what I aim to do in this first year. And then, of course (hint, hint) I should get funding to keep collecting data for years. We’ll be covered with spiders!


  1. nomdeplume says

    “the panic over insect armageddon is grossly over-inflated. Nothing is going to make insects go extinct, short of a planet-sterilizing impact with a world-killing asteroid.“ Scientists really should stop saying stuff like this. Similar statements occur in relation to climate change and other environmental issues.

    Sure “insects” are not going extinct. Will always be domestic cockroaches for example. But huge numbers of vulnerable species will go extinct. Does that not matter? Of course it does, insects are fundamental to ecosystems. And short of the asteroid, the effects of climate change, habitat destruction, industrial agriculture and forestry, and pollution are all going to certainly cause massive extinctions. No, I don’t know what percentage, but it will certainly be high.

    Statements about threats being over-inflated simply fuel politicians and corporations happy to destroy the environment and say “look, no worries, the scientists say don’t panic”.

  2. weylguy says

    We’ve lived in Pasadena CA for the past 40 years, and used to see spiders regularly in the house and garden (even found a trapdoor spider in the front yard maybe 30 years ago). And of course there was always a house spider waiting to pounce on me from its hiding place in the shower curtains. But for about ten years now I haven’t seen any at all, not one, so maybe your concern about declining arthropod numbers is legitimate.

  3. says

    Though it looks like it’s affecting birds already. There are some species that I haven’t seen at all this year and many people and some studies do agree with me, though I know that’s not the most scientific basis I’m claiming here.

  4. says

    I used to be overwhelmed with Japanese beetles and the early summer nights were full of fireflies. Fireflies are a good proxy for population because you can see the density. It’s dropping. So is the population of bats.

  5. susans says

    I live in Long Beach, CA, where I see many fewer insects (I can’t remember the last time I had to wash a lot of bugs off my windshield) and a lot fewer birds except for, I think, crows. It’s hard to tell about the crows because they hang out in such large groups.

  6. hartwick says

    The other problem is that the Sanchez-Bayo and Wyckhuys paper is not a study, it is a meta-analysis. They cited one of my papers and got the conclusions a bit wrong.

    On the other hand, it is nice (and about time) that people might be taking insect diversity seriously.

  7. Callinectes says

    I didn’t think it was required that they go extinct, only for their population to drop to lows at which their ecological contribution is effectively defunct.

  8. chrislawson says


    Do you mind sharing what they got wrong?

    One criticism I can make of the paper is that the authors seem to be conflating the number of studies on different causes of insect decline with the weight of each cause. That is, they’ve listed the impact of habitat loss vs. climate change vs. pesticides, etc., by the number of studies on each effect rather than the size of each effect. But this is a minor flaw and certainly doesn’t undermine the central message that lots and lots of studies from all over the world have observed huge losses in insect populations over the last 40 years.

  9. cherbear says

    I know that things like bird counts are used as a basis for research on bird numbers. We could do the same for insects? or is that too specialized for the home naturalist?

  10. Snidely W says

    MOAR Systematic biology!

    Report from NE Florida: Palm tree flowers in bloom are usually surrounded by a swarming mass of insects of many kinds. Last year they were nearly barren. I was shocked. I’m hoping that it was one-off from an unusually late and unusually hard frost last year, which probably gave a hard whack to the emerging insect (and lizard) populations. I’m watching closely this year.

    And putting out a bunch of native bee nesting materials.