Insect populations, including bees, are on the decline. (Citizen file)

Editorial: Spring without pollinators a sign of things to come?

Insect populations around the globe have seen an alarming decline in just a few decades

They’re small but mighty — and more importantly, necessary.

There’s been a lot of concern this spring about the cold weather and how it has meant that there haven’t been very many bees and other insects around as the blossoms came out on the trees and bushes that give us our food, and in the case of farmers, our livelihoods.

These concerns are well-founded. Cold and sodden wasn’t what any flying critter would call ideal conditions. Many were left hoping that wind and human intervention could at least fill some of the gap. This has affected everything from cherry and plum trees to blueberries and apples. Only time will tell the ultimate effect on the harvest.

But we should be concerned beyond just this particular odd spring we’ve been having. Insect populations around the globe have seen an alarming decline in just a few decades. Some may have heard of the study from Denmark that found a precipitous drop in the number of insects hitting car windshields between 1997 and 2017 — a decline of 80 to 97 per cent.

Other ways that scientists are measuring insect declines include the drop in larger, more visible species, such as birds that depend on insects as a primary food source.

Of course not all insects are seeing their numbers fall drastically. Some — like mosquitoes — are thriving in the environments humans have created. It’s like imbalances we see in other species like deer and raccoons who have managed to adapt extremely well to urbanization and lack of predators.

And there’s the rub. We tend to see insects largely as pests. Think carpenter ants, cockroaches and biting flies. For gardeners, consider slugs, aphids and caterpillars. Mosquitoes, in particular, have been known to carry disease (think Zika, malaria). Not to mention those itchy bites. They are something to be squished beneath your shoe, not seen as the vital and irreplaceable part of the ecosystem that they are.

Bees, of course, are essential to our human food chain. We cannot live without them. Other flying insects are also important pollinators. Insects such as beetles are the clean-up crew, eating feces and animal remains.

Habitat loss from human encroachment, large-scale use of pesticides and insecticides, along with climate change, are thought to be the big culprits that are causing the decline in insects. This is something that should concern us all. We live in an environment where everything is interconnected. Each piece is vital.

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