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Six simple measures against insect decline

Keeping our environment livable is important to us. However, we are often left with the feeling that we have no influence and can do nothing against environmental pollution and species decline. But even with simple measures in everyday life it is possible to help saving the biological diversity.

The natural interdependence of animals and plants can be impressively seen in the effects of the global decline in insects. Bee mortality, for example, shows that even high-tech industrial agriculture depends on insects for the fertilisation of fruit trees and field plants.

Insects play an important role in the ecosystem:

  •     they are the prey for countless animal species,
  •     they contribute significantly to the fertilisation and dispersal of plants,
  •     they dispose of much plant and animal waste.

How can we contribute to the survival of insects and biodiversity in everyday life?

1. Convert green spaces back into natural habitats for insects and small animals!

Most green spaces and lawns in western gardens and cities are 'biological deserts' that show little biodiversity. In principle, many insects only need small areas to survive. However, a natural supply of different grasses and wild plants is a must.

Already the conversion of 10% of lawns into natural green spaces would be a great gain for insect diversity! This renaturation would also save water, fertiliser and pesticides. The federal government has recognised this and is promoting in many municipalities the rededication of high-maintenance green spaces and roadsides into near-natural meadows.

2. Plant native plants in gardens and on balconies!

Insects in our regions prefer native plants. They have developed strong, naturally evolved relationships with our native plants, with which they have lived together for millions of years. Many insects are therefore dependent on native plants as food sources and breeding grounds.

Around 95% of all songbirds feed their offspring on locally occurring insects. Studies have shown that there is a direct link between the decline of certain bird species and the disappearance of local plants and their insect populations. Therefore, native plants also ensure the continued existence of our songbirds. By the way, even on balconies or flat roofs, wonderful flowering wildflowers can be sown. Besides their beautiness they serve as a food source for nectar-sucking insects.

The beauty of a garden is not shown in the immaculateness of its lawn, but in the diversity of its plants and animals. 

3. Do not use pesticides and herbicides!

Who hasn't experienced it: the weeds stubbornly grow exactly where we don't want them to. The ant trail runs right across our patio seating area and we would love to do without the mosquito concert in the evening! Such troublemakers can quickly push our patience to the limit. Then we reach for the spray can and weed killer to finally get rid of the stubborn evil.

However, this 'peace' comes at a high price. While we fight mosquitoes, flies or ants with pesticides, we spread chemicals that also damage the rest of our insect fauna. At the same time, dangerous insect species, such as the malaria-carrying mosquito, are becoming increasingly resistant to the pesticides used.

The 'warfare agents' used are now found in practically all regions of the world. The chemicals are deposited in plants and animals and ultimately end up in our food. The chemicals do not remain in a limited area. In some urban environments, the concentration of pesticides and herbicides is already higher than in the region where the chemicals were applied. The effort to rid our drinking water of these pesticides and 'weed' killers is already now enormous and treatment is becoming increasingly difficult. We are poisoning ourselves - just for a little convenience!

4. Reduce night-time light pollution!

The worldwide nocturnal illumination of our planet can be seen impressively on night flights or satellite photos. Even away from large towns and cities, it is hard to see more than a handful of stars in the sky on a clear dark summer night these days. Why is that?

Since the 1990s, there has been a sharp increase in the use of nocturnal light sources both inside and outside of towns and cities. Responsible for this nocturnal light pollution are not only public street lights, but quite significantly also private households and businesses. Everywhere there are nocturnal light sources - far too often exclusively for the decoration of gardens and buildings. For many insects, this means that their natural nocturnal behaviour is affected. Artificial light attracts insects where they easily lose their natural instincts or become pray. The decline of nocturnal insects in Europe is already demonstrably higher than that of comparable diurnal species.

The remedy is to avoid unnecessary light and use shielded light sources with a yellow or reddish colour spectrum. This light is less attractive for insects. The "electric insect killers" often used against mosquitoes in summer are also problematic. They kill mostly harmless insects and should be avoided at all costs. We humans also benefit from darkness at night. Sleep researchers have long confirmed that a naturally dark environment is a prerequisite for good sleep.

5. Avoid chemicals and road salt in nature!

Natural rivers and streams and their riparian zones are populated by a large number of different insect species. They need clean water and are extremely sensitive to chemical cleaners and preservatives, such as those used on cars, patios and building surfaces.

Rain washes the chemical cocktail with the water into the sewage system, where it can only be incompletely cleaned and is eventually discharged into natural surface waters. The heavy metals and many other pollutants such as carcinogenic hydrocarbons, phosphorus and nitrogen thus introduced cause massive damage to the ecosystem. In some countries, tar-based joint sealants are now banned on roads, as is the winter thawing of roads with salt.

By using particularly environmentally friendly detergents or cleaning agents sparingly, an important contribution to environmental protection can be made in every household. Consistently ecologically produced cosmetics and body care products also help reduce water pollution.    

6. Accept insects as useful members of our ecosystem worthy of protection!

Rarely do we have real respect for animals - unless we know them well and live with them. In many countries insects have a bad reputation and people are hardly aware of their importance and many qualities. Prejudices about spiders, for example, are widespread and often reinforced by the media. In most cases, ignorance is simply the reason for the dismissive attitude towards these useful animals. However, this does not have to be the case!

In Japan, for example, insects are far less frowned upon than here.They are an integral part of the culture. Here, insects appear animated in popular films and in quiz shows or are given to children as stuffed animals. This friendly acceptance is also possible in our culture as it's shown by the popular character of Maya the bee.

It is high time to confront the fears and prejudices against insects with more education and information. Interesting and exciting ways to encounter these animals in a different way are, for example, zoos or aquariums. They show the diversity and beauty of insects and their usefulness in our environment. Mobile phone applications such as the app "iNaturalist" can easily help identify specimens and learn more about their respective species.

Whether you think of them as prey animals, waste disposers and helpers for science, or simply admire them for their beauty - insects are really fascinating creatures!


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