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  • Writer's pictureScience & Environment

A Bugless Life

Current conservation policies are not enough to protect the UK’s insect population biodiversity.

By Holly Ferguson

Photo courtesy of Photorama from Pixabay.

Life without bugs may seem very unlikely, and maybe even not a huge change, but the research collected by Dr Juliano Morimoto and former University of Aberdeen student, Natalie Duffus has shown that the current conservation policies are failing to protect insects. The research article ‘Current conservation policies in the UK and Ireland overlook endangered insects and are taxonomically biassed towards Lepidoptera,’ has been published in the Biological Conservation journal. It came about as Natalie’s honours thesis, as she already had a keen interest in insect conservation, which was then monitored by Dr Morimoto, a lecturer of biological sciences at the University of Aberdeen.

They created a new quantitative method to analyse and compare current UK conservation policies to insect fauna. The pair looked at the various British, Irish, and Northern Irish conservation legislation including the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as well as lists of insects most at risk of extinction in the UK. From this, they were able to analyse whether the insects most at risk of extinction are protected by conservation policies, if the policies protect specific insect groups over others, and if insects have the same standard of protection as other animals.

A large proportion of the insect population is vulnerable to extinction even with these policies in place.

Overall, the findings showed that current conservation policies are not enough to protect insects. A large proportion of the insect population is vulnerable to extinction even with these policies in place. When analysing the respective Acts, it was seen that most legislation caters to mammals and other animals living in the UK and is not specific to insects and their specific needs and lifestyles. It cannot be expected that the same standards and laws protecting, for example, badgers, can be used for insects. Additionally, they found that within the policies and legislation there is a bias towards butterflies and moths. They have a preferential status compared to other insects yet neither has a more important role within our environment than any other insect, like a bee which pollinates. Additionally, insect species more at risk of extinction are not given the same consideration within conservation policies as they are not written to prioritise protecting the most vulnerable insects. Their research concluded that current conservation policies are not protecting insects and that the insects most at risk are still endangered.

While insects may seem like a small part of life as a whole, their position within our society is vital. With pollination, nutrient cycling and waste cleaning roles, insects find themselves at the base of the food pyramid. Pollination is a necessary step for crop growth and without it, food security would be in jeopardy, which would have obvious, direct effects on us as humans. Thus, they are beyond necessary for human life. Aside from our needs, levels of insect biodiversity indicate how our ecosystems are surviving, and show the condition the environment is. There is great concern for large declines in insect populations within the academic community, and extinction is recognised as a real threat to all species, especially bees and beetles.

Dr Morimoto and Natalie’s hopes for what is to come from their research is firstly, that there will be government and legislative action to change the policies and Acts that are made to protect insects, making them more specific to their needs. This is the most effective and likely to be successful way of protecting species at risk of extinction as greater efforts need to be made to conserve their environments and lifestyles. They hope to generate some change by inviting researchers to contribute to writing a policy guideline to submit to parliament, as it is not currently known whether there are any plans for revisions of the legislation. Secondly, to raise awareness of the current situation of insects and that conservation policies are not effective. The main message they’d like readers of the article to take away is that insects are of huge importance to humans and our society, and it is necessary that action is taken to have the best chance at saving and conserving insect populations.

So even if you think that all ‘creepy-crawlies’ are not a part of your day to day life, you should now be aware that they are in fact essential, and just as they help us, it is our responsibility to protect them. Dr Morimoto and Natalie’s research will hopefully be the beginning of changes within insect conservation.

To get in touch to see how you can get involved, head over to their twitter accounts: @ju_morimoto and @NatDuffus


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