In a corner of Hertfordshire, in one of the oldest agricultural research institutes in the world – the Rothamsted Research Institute, founded in 1843 – entomologist Chris Shortall spends his days counting and categorising mounds of moths, aphids and beetles. In fact, that is exactly what he has been doing ever since he joined the Rothamsted Insect Survey (RIS) in 2003 – a branch of the Rothamsted Institute that has been dedicated to the tracking and study of all types of bugs in the UK since 1964. The RIS has existed for almost 55 years, making it the longest-standing insect monitoring facility of its kind in the world. It has over 80 traps spread around the country to sample insect populations every day – over the years, this has come to a total of up to 250,000 samples available, containing about 120 million insects.
For entomologists like Shortall, this is a goldmine. And it has become all the more relevant in recent years, as successive scientific papers have warned about the catastrophically declining insect numbers across the planet. Earlier this week, a scientific paper reviewing 73 of the most comprehensive studies into insect decline concluded that 40 per cent of insect species are declining with the total mass of insects falling by 2.5 per cent every year.
Some of the most recent research was conducted in the Puerto Rican rainforest and found that 98 per cent of ground insects had disappeared in the last 35 years. That came on top of a study published in 2017, which concluded that flying insect populations in nature protection areas around Germany had declined by up to 82 per cent in the past 27 years.
Source: WIRED, 12 Feb 2019