Apocalypse

The 'Insect Apocalypse' Has Been Canceled

At least in the United States, according to a new study

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"The Insect Apocalypse Is Here," declared the stark New York Times headline in November 2018. The article focused on a 2017 German study that said the mid-summer levels of "flying insect biomass" in 63 nature preserves had declined by 76 percent over 27 years. In a 2019 study in Biological Conservation, researchers warned that we might see "the extinction of 40% of the world's insect species over the next few decades."

Big if true.

Now a new study in Nature Ecology & Evolution offers some happier news: In the United States at least, the abundance and insect biodiversity trends are "generally indistinguishable from zero." In other words, there is no detectable insect armageddon here. "This lack of overall increase or decline was consistent across arthropod feeding groups and was similar for heavily disturbed versus relatively natural sites," note the researchers. "The apparent robustness of US arthropod populations is reassuring."

The researchers came to their conclusions by parsing the data collected through the U.S. National Science Foundation's network of Long-Term Ecological Research sites. This network, established in 1980, comprises 25 monitoring locations across each of the country's major ecoregions.

The press release accompanying the study notes that the team looked into several factors that might have had a noticeable effect on insect population levels, including insecticides, light pollution, and built environments.

"No matter what factor we looked at, nothing could explain the trends in a satisfactory way," said University of Georgia entomologist Michael Crossley. "We just took all the data and, when you look, there are as many things going up as going down. Even when we broke it out in functional groups there wasn't really a clear story like predators are decreasing or herbivores are increasing."

In an April 2020 commentary in Science, two British researchers urged their colleagues against crisis-mongering through overinterpreting tentative results from very preliminary insect abundance studies.

"The temptation to draw overly simple and sensational conclusions is understandable, because it captures the attention of the public and can potentially catalyze much needed action in policy development and research arenas," they warned. "However, fear-based messages often backfire. This strategy has the grave risk of undermining trust in science and can lead to denialism, fatigue, and apathy. Embracing nuance allows us to balance accurate reporting of worrying losses with hopeful examples of wins. Hope is a more powerful engine of change than fear."

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  1. Insects make my wife’s life pure hell. They deserve to be cancelled. So the cancellation of this cancellation makes me very unhappy.

    1. Heh. If it were not for those and the occasional dead bird or rodent I would hardly have a job around here.

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  2. You believed that shit?!

  3. So an environmentalist (claiming to be a scientist) lied about data to make the world look worse so they feel mor important…. What’s the news story?

    1. Actually, no. What these two studies say when viewed together is that the US insect population is trending very differently from the EU insect population. The authors of the second study offer several hypotheses to explain the difference. Only one of those hypotheses is error/bias in the first study.

      The only thing we can say for sure is that “global” causes such as climate change can be ruled out. It simply does not fit the observed data.

      1. I have no idea about the diversity of US v European insects. But my highly scientific insect collection mechanism has shown dramatic declines in insect volumes over the last two or three decades. And in all conditions of bug-splat on windshields

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    2. Monika Kopacz, atmospheric scientist: “It is no secret that a lot of climate-change research is subject to opinion, that climate models sometimes disagree even on the signs of the future changes (e.g. drier vs. wetter future climate). The problem is, only sensational exaggeration makes the kind of story that will get politicians’ — and readers’ — attention. So, yes, climate scientists might exaggerate, but in today’s world, this is the only way to assure any political action and thus more federal financing to reduce the scientific uncertainty.”

      Former U.S. Senator Timothy Wirth (D-CO), then representing the Clinton-Gore administration as U.S undersecretary of state for global issues, addressing the same Rio Climate Summit audience, agreed: “We have got to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.”

      Christine Stewart, former Canadian Environment Minister: “No matter if the science is all phoney, there are collateral environmental benefits…. climate change [provides] the greatest chance to bring about justice and equality in the world.”

      Researcher Robert Phalen’s 2010 testimony to the California Air Resources Board: “It benefits us personally to have the public be afraid, even if these risks are trivial.”

  4. “No matter what factor we looked at, nothing could explain the trends in a satisfactory way,” said University of Georgia entomologist Michael Crossley. “We just took all the data and, when you look, there are as many things going up as going down. Even when we broke it out in functional groups there wasn’t really a clear story like predators are decreasing or herbivores are increasing.”

    WTF kind of scientist are you? We don’t pay you to *not* explain things! Somebody cut his funding!

    1. What is hilarious is that he is basically admitting to p-value hunting. He takes a set of data and continues to manipulate it until he finds some type of small value correlation and then declares his hypothesis true. Of course all p-values will end up with false positives by the nature of the analysis. So if you simply try enough samples, you’ll get the false positive you can put in a paper.

      https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/statisticians-found-one-thing-they-can-agree-on-its-time-to-stop-misusing-p-values/

      1. Yes. I pretty much stopped looking at those. Just show me the data.

      2. Lol. Looking at different factors is not p-value hunting, dumdum.

        1. LOL.

          By definition it is dummy.

          https://blog.efpsa.org/2013/07/30/hunting-for-significant-results-dont-do-it/

          a student might create a correlation matrix of all continuous variables of her study and hope for at least one pair to be significantly related to each other.

          You really do like proving your idiocy. This is amusing.

      3. “Without risk, we gain no understanding.”

        I don’t think p-value hunting is, itself, wrong. I think the presentation of p-value hunting as significantly different from guessing is wrong. I was actually being a bit sarcastic in my statement, I actually am impressed with/laud this guy for having said “We looked through all the factors and don’t see anything.” As opposed to other sciences that *systematically* say “We looked through all the factors (in an enormously complex system that we don’t understand nearly as well as other more mature sciences) and couldn’t come up with an explanation, so it must be because of humans.”

  5. I stopped worrying about species extinction when I realized they were talking about sub-species and not species. Once upon a time, species were differentiated by their inability to interbreed – a dog and a cat were separate species, a Collie and a Labrador Retriever were not. Now there are 12,000 closely-related species of insects differentiated by minor details – there’s the Jerryskids Sideyard ant, the Jerryskids Backyard ant, and the Jerryskids Frontyard ant, for example, and you want to guess what the only damn distinction is between these three species of ant? It’s the same damn species.

    1. I stopped believing any of their species counts comparison when I realized they think it is valid to compare counts now vs when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Lots of dinosaur species are claimed to have been around for millions of years; but if all you have is incomplete bone sets, how can you tell? Then they compare butterfly and other insect species — even now vs 100 years ago, how can you tell?

      They can’t. They have no sense of changing definitions and differences in what is observed and even in what is observable.

  6. “The temptation to draw overly simple and sensational conclusions is understandable, because it captures the attention of the public and can potentially catalyze much needed action in policy development and research arenas,” they warned.

    FTFY.

  7. >>This strategy has the grave risk of undermining trust in science

    lying asshole scientists undermine trust in science.

  8. Next up – Insects carry covid, be scared.

    1. 2008, killer bees from south America, we’re all gonna die!!!
      2012, beepocolips. We’re all gonna die!!!!
      2019, murder bees arriving, we’re all gonna die!!!
      Now, covid bees coming. We’re all gonna die!!!!
      The MSM has succeeded in scaring the bejesus out of America.

      1. That was murder HORNETS not murder BEES.

    2. ” Insects carry covid”

      It seems zoonotic diseases originate in vertebrates – birds, mammals etc. Insects are employed to transfer from the animal to the person. Mosquitoes pick up the malaria from birds, fleas get the plague from rodents.

      If we start picking up diseases from insects directly, yikes.

  9. I got a fever, and the only prescription is more panic.

    1. “I got a fever, and the only prescription is more panic.”

      You need a second opinion. Mine is rest.

  10. After college, I worked for a company in Texas dealing with nuisance wildlife mitigation. In the summertime, bee hive removals from home structures were in high demand.

    Before doing the job, I would explain to folks how I would exterminate the colony, clean out the hive cavity, and then treat the area to prevent return pests. The total cost was usually around $400-$600 depending on complexity. Naturally, many people would lament that they’d heard honeybees were going extinct, and I should do a live removal/relocation. I’d tell them that I would be glad to… but the cost would be at least double.

    Funny how often these very concerned folks opted for extermination once we started talking six figure costs.

    As an aside: European honeybees were/are not going extinct, and even if they were, they’re technically an invasive species. The agricultural industry would have to find a way to adapt, but natural ecosystems in North America would be just fine.

    1. The agricultural industry would have to find a way to adapt

      Some parts would. You might have to go back to the old fashioned way of eating an almond and drinking a glass of water rather than enjoying cheap and plentiful almond milk. Other parts of the agricultural industry would just replace honey more cheaply with cane, corn, and rice syrup the way they made up for the maple syrup shortfalls that the vast majority of people haven’t noticed.

  11. I remember reading something about this a few years back. The story lead with an anecdote by one of these researchers saying something along the lines of how much cleaner my car is now as opposed to so many years ago because there are no more insects to get hit while I’m driving on the interstate. To this day I’m still not sure if he thought I’d believe him over my lying eyes.

    1. Oh, apparently it has a name:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windshield_phenomenon

      There’s a very noticeable difference in the volume of bugs between urban and rural areas. This ‘phenomenon’ is likely more a reflection of population concentrating in fewer, larger urban areas.

      1. That’s a pretty skimpy wikipedia article. I hope it’s not indicative of the science reports themselves.

        Adjusted for variables such a time of day, date, temperature, and wind speed

        …. such as changing windshield angle, vehicle shape?
        Second study might be better:

        The research also found that modern cars, with a more aerodynamic body shape, killed more insects than boxier vintage cars up to 70 years old

        But it still sounds like pretty funky science.

        1. I mentioned somewhere yesterday that this phenomenon came up in a discussion board for honeybees a couple years ago. One of the folks on the thread did some pretty intensive wind-tunnel studies and demonstrated that except for a few models (such as the Prius), cars are not actually more aerodynamic these days. They’re just made to look sleek. Trucks in particular are still basically bricks pushing their way through the air.

          Despite that, there is some decent “windshield” evidence of lower insect kills than in the past. Whatever is causing it, changing vehicle shapes does not appear to be a significant factor.

          1. The bugs have learned to avoid cars.

            1. I think that’s probably the most reasonable explanation. It’s humbling because we’ve never given insects the credit for the brains to be able to learn to avoid cars. Or to propagate this knowledge across many species and generations. But I’m always interested in the special powers of other beings.

            2. Considering we’re talking about removing ‘unlearned’ individuals from the gene pool, I’d say the suggestion that they’re ‘learning’ is being generous.

              1. Insects have been around for over 400 million years and colonized land at the same time as the ancestors of today’s ferns and conifers. Out of respect for their survival and the vital role they play in our food production, a little generosity is not too much to ask. They have brains as well as genes.

          2. Not this summer in Montana. Our grasshoppers are abundant, as are flies and mosquitoes. I’ve gone through three gallons of windshield washer fluid in the last month.

        2. But it still sounds like pretty funky science.

          It doesn’t sound like science, just abject question-begging. The reduction numbers seem so high and over such unrelated time periods/road miles/vehicle shapes/population densities/measurement methods/etc. as to be spurious. The Brits saw a 50% reduction over 2 years, but the Dutch saw an 80% reduction over 20? So, by 2040 both Denmark and the UK will be insect free but the Dutch will have taken 4X as long?

          2020 saw an 80% reduction in the amount of toilet paper on store shelves! We’re headed for the toiletrypocalypse!

      2. I guess it’s another Mandela Effect symptom. I remember a lot more bugs on the windshield when I was a kid (in the 70s). It was also hot as heck then, which is one reason I doubt the global warming narrative.

        1. That’s certainly possible, and wouldn’t disagree with my own experience. There’s simply fewer bugs (close to zero) inside cities, but you can still experience an insect shower if you drive somewhere sufficiently rural. That could take 10-20 minutes from a small city, but well over an hour from a big city, and you may never get there if you’re going through a super-agglomeration like I95 between DC and New York.

          Anecdotally, my conclusion is that whatever windshield effect exists reflects urbanization and urban sprawl. Rural areas remain unaffected. Someone that believe in a worldwide die-off of bugs because they don’t see bugs on their windshield is likely trapped in an urban bubble, and that was my first thought when I read that windshield effect anecdote in the article from a few years ago.

          1. I would bet that most people who are anecdotally checking their windshield over time are doing so in a pretty good rural sample. The same visit from one place to somewhere else far away – same family member, same vacation home, same route, same time of year. Long trips are usually going to be more rural and short trips would be pointless for even an anecdote

        2. I recall in my youth, you could almost tell who had/hadn’t treated which fields appropriately by the bugs flying out of them. Corn root beetle populations being the most obvious correlation and, of course, there were neat anecdotes that go along with that. For example, on calm days you could drive by such a field without a problem additionally, at night, your high beams attract insects more than your low beams and (in rural country areas) turning your lights off avoided them even further. Grasshoppers can’t live and don’t grow large in well-kept corn and bean fields. They can in alfalfa/clover/hay fields but those fields are frequently mowed/grazed and they don’t grow as big as they do in unkept pastures.

          It wouldn’t surprise me one bit to learn that entire states reduced their entire population of certain species of insects by 90% or more simply by rotating crops and/or tending pastures.

    2. Even if true, could insect be evolving to avoid asphalt below them (or some other thing that would make them less likely to get hit by cars)? Seems being smashed by cars is the sort of thing that prompts natural selection.

      1. Wouldn’t be surprising – it’s well known that European moths evolved to be darker as more and more soot built up on tree trunks, making the lighter-colored ones more visible to predators.

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  13. 75% of the insect biomass missing would be a lot of material. Where did it go?

    1. Poof!

      Like the bodies that disappear in The Avengers when Thanos snaps his fingers.

    2. Where is all the rubber from worn out tires?

      1. up against the walls coming out of the turns.

    3. Amphibians’, the canaries in the coal mine for climate change, numbers dwindle while insect biomass surges. Insect biomass, the canary in the coal mine for climate change, dwindles while insect biomass surges.

      Scientists call it ‘The Circle Of Climate Change’.

  14. Publish or perish. Publish without peer review. It’s hard to get grant money unless your hypothesis fits the popular meme. If you can add a little fear-mongering, you’ll get some attention.

    1. ” If you can add a little fear-mongering, you’ll get some attention.”

      To each his own. I’m a sucker for those detailed photos of sexy insectoid heads and shapely abdomens.

  15. “Particular insect species that we rely on for the key ecosystem services of pollination, natural pest control and decomposition remain unambiguously in decline in North America, the authors note.”

    That’s from the ‘press release’ Ron Bailey links to. My guess is that the insect apocalypse story still has legs.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if new species of insects were encroaching into urban spaces and exploiting human habits. I think for the longest time, foxes, skunks, deer, raccoons, coyotes, possums etc weren’t found in cities. Now they are not so unusual having learned human habits.

    1. I think the idea that we *rely* on nature more than nature *relies* on us or that nature as a whole *relies* on any of its members too critically is a farce.

      The idea that pollination, pest control, or decomposition wouldn’t happen without insects ignores the fact that it happened for untold eons before insects evolved and happens all over the biosphere today without insects.

      1. The idea that pollination, pest control, or decomposition wouldn’t happen without insects ignores the fact that it happened for untold eons before insects evolved and happens all over the biosphere today without insects.

        Except of course that flowering plants (mostly biotic pollinators) evolved from conifer-type plants – and only became dominant from them after forests turned into grasslands. IOW – it all happened after dinosaurs went extinct and as those insects evolved into different species that pollinate. There is no such thing as ‘humans’ who predate any of that – and those grasslands and flowering plants are the source of the vast majority of our food energy.

        1. Except of course that flowering plants (mostly biotic pollinators) evolved from conifer-type plants – and only became dominant from them after forests turned into grasslands. IOW – it all happened after dinosaurs went extinct and as those insects evolved into different species that pollinate. There is no such thing as ‘humans’ who predate any of that

          Holy Shit this is so messed up you might as well be arguing for creationism. I seriously would bet that there are probably a number of well-read creationists that could dress down your inaccuracies. I mean, for fuck’s sake, could you make it more obvious that you started with your conclusion and worked backwards while ignoring gross swaths of biological facts?
          I think the most basic brain fart is the assertion that flowers = pollen. Both conifers and grasses don’t flower but still pollinate and did so. Your idiocy is really astounding. Pollen as we know it predates flowers by ~60M years and pollinators in the fossil record by ~100M years and even further if you limit your assertion to what we would recognize as modern, wide-spread pollinators. FFS, pollen goes back into the fossil record to the point where it’s indistinguishable from spores. Plants were pollinating for millions of years while arthropods were still trying to figure out how to walk on land and breathe oxygen. You might as well have said “Birds evolved from dinosaurs and flowering pollinators existed after the dinosaurs became extinct so hummingbirds are necessary for pollination.”

          and those grasslands and flowering plants are the source of the vast majority of our food energy

          Not since the Pre-Columbian Era and most likely not even then and, even then, this is once again removed from your unbelievably stupid assertion that pollinators are the only way that pollinators pollinate despite the fact that the vast majority of our food supply comes from fields largely free off pollinators and that even for crops that do require pollination, active pollinators only provide fractional (and well documented) increases in yeilds.

          I mean, holy shit, Creationists retarding themselves for their belief in a higher power is at least respectable, if not understandable. But you aren’t doing that. You’re worse, you’ve retarded yourself and are attempting to retard others for no other reasons except your own. How utterly disgustingly stupid.

          1. “Plants were pollinating for millions of years while arthropods were still trying to figure out how to walk on land and breathe oxygen. ”

            The successful arthropods were probably collecting pollen from day one, wingless even.

      2. “I think the idea that we *rely* on nature more than nature *relies* on us or that nature as a whole *relies* on any of its members too critically is a farce.”

        It’s the human habit of relying on a handful of crops pollinated overwhelmingly by insects whose populations are unambiguously in decline that is concerning. I would have thought that deserves a mention in an article about insect apocalypse.

        1. It’s the human habit of relying on a handful of crops pollinated overwhelmingly by insects whose populations are unambiguously in decline that is concerning. I would have thought that deserves a mention in an article about insect apocalypse.

          You’re actively expending energy to be this retarded, right? Are you trying to convince all the allergy sufferers that live in cities, miles away from farms and in the relative absence of large groups of pollinators that we need more pollinators and/or that plants can’t pollinate without them. You’re worse than stupid.

          You’ve lost the argument. And I don’t mean the science is settled, I mean nobody except retarded children who think for more than a minute about your argument can easily recognize it as between incorrect and a lie. You need to come up with a better one.

          1. “You’re worse than stupid.”

            Except I’m not arguing for more pollinators. I’m suggesting that declining numbers of insects where they have played a vital role in sustaining the life style we embrace is a cause for concern. I get it that you think any concern is preposterous.

        2. Seriously, when we were all kids, parents used to worry that kids wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between cartoons and reality. The majority of normal kids and even a lot of not-very-normal kids were confused at how stupid you’d have to be for that to be true.

          Well, I (don’t) hate to be the one to tell you that the Bee Movie isn’t a documentary.

  16. So this is like the bird apocalypse a few years ago that turned out not to be true? Or the spotted owls and old growth forest nonsense that also turned out not to be true? Color me surprised.

    1. Google is replete with articles as recent as last year about a dramatic decline in numbers of birds in North America. A decline of 3 billion from 1970 numbers, is one result. What made you think these reports are untrue?

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  18. Bring back DDT and we can achieve the ‘Insect Apocalypse’!

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