Without insects, we’d be doomed. It’s time to make a happier home for them.
This article appeared in the Washington Post on February 20, 2020.
By Douglas W. Tallamy
Unfortunately, we humans are now in a position to declare victory in our long war on insects. The United Nations’ Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has found 1 million plant and animal species, mostly bugs, to be at imminent risk of extinction. Industrial agriculture, millions of miles of road hazards, unnecessary lights, overuse of pesticides, habitat elimination, tens of millions of acres of sterile lawn and the widespread displacement of native plants have caused a 45 percent decline in insect populations just in the past 40 years.
To understand how terrifying this is, you need only look to a 1987 article from the journal Conservation Biology, in which the biologist E.O. Wilson laid out a worst-case scenario. If insects were to vanish, he explained, so would nearly all flowering plants and the food webs they support. This loss, in turn, would cause the extinction of reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals: in effect, nearly all terrestrial animal life. The disappearance of insects would also end rapid decomposition of organic matter and thus shut down nutrient cycling. Humans would be unable to survive. At the time Wilson wrote that, most of us were too interested in discovering new ways to kill bugs in our homes, lawns, crops and forests to think about how we might coexist with these essential creatures. Now we’re facing the consequences.
The good news is that there is nothing inevitable about insect decline. Each one of us can work to bring back those populations by collaborating on what I call the “Homegrown National Park,” a collective preserve built in and out of our own private yards.