As plant-based eaters, we spend lots of time thinking about and discussing the animals that get eaten by humans. Cows, chickens, fish, and those adorable lambs. We proclaim their value, celebrate their virtues, and implore others to treat them humanely. We argue that we do this for the sake of the animals themselves, and also for the sake of the planet. But if we're serious about protecting our planet's fragile ecosystem, we must start with the insects. Those creepy, crawly things make up the vast majority of animal species on this planet, and they play a key role in every ecosystem on Earth. (And while technically spiders are not insects, they're arachnids, they also play an important role in our natural world.)
An article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science entitled "Eight simple actions humans can take to save insects from global declines" offers (as the title suggests) a list of things we humans can do to help insect populations. The authors begin by pointing out some of the many ways in which insects support ecosystems. Among them: "The majority of flowering plants, the dominant component of most terrestrial ecosystems, depend on insects for pollination and hence reproduction. As consumers of waste products, insects are essential to the recycling of nutrients." So, all those cute cows, clucking chickens, and adorable lambs would not be able to survive without the work of insects.
Why are bugs under threat? Because humans have wrought such substantial change to the environment the insects can no longer survive. In addition to the general spread of industrialization and accompanying pollution, and the conversion of large untamed land areas for agriculture, we have systematically targeted insects for eradication.
It should be pointed out, however, that not every type of insect species is in decline. Certain species are actually thriving, because we are creating conditions that favor them. Cockroaches, for example. Nothing wrong with cockroaches, particularly, but a world in which cockroaches dominate is not a world that is ideal for human habitation.
So, how can we help the insects? The article lists eight actions, most of which are obvious and easy. Here are some of them. (You can read the rest of the suggestions, and more, in the full article here.)
- Reduce (or eliminate) pesticide and herbicide use
- Convert your lawn into a diverse, native habitat
- Reduce use of exterior lighting
- Reduce runoff of soaps, solvents, de-icing salts
- Educate others about insects and their value
So, next time you see a fly buzzing around your kitchen, think of its role in our ecosystem and maybe shoo it gently outside!