The New York Times recently featured an article written by Brooke Jarvis, ”The Insect Apocalypse Is Here” detailing citizen science research by German naturalists who compiled long-term quantitative data on the presence/absence of insects in nature reserves.
Their conclusions, based on twenty-seven years of data collection, were stunning: flying insect abundance in the reserves had dropped 75% within the span of one human generation.
The article provoked almost a thousand comments, many from people around the world confirming similar losses: the lack of bugs near lakes or rivers, in backyards or fields, or smashed onto car windshields and grills.
For decades, ecologists have been predicting significant species losses due to climate change, as wildlife responded to heightened temperatures or altered precipitation regimes by shifting aspects of their life cycles or changing their migration patterns. We knew this was coming. Yet none of us predicted the rapidity of the losses, or how extensively they would reverberate through food webs.
Yet the focus on the biological and ecological losses overlooks the other side of the human-nature interface: the cultural losses that occur when culturally significant species – plants, animals, fish, fungi, or insects featured in memories, stories, foods, rituals – disappear from landscapes and waterscapes.
As an ethnoecologist, I feel an increased urgency to emphasize the intrinsic, essential, irreplaceable ties between biological diversity and cultural diversity. To act as if there is a separation between Homo sapiens and the rest of life is ludicrous and lethal. When we lose other-than-humans, we not only lose pieces of ourselves; we threaten the fabric of our world. Cut enough holes in our safety nets and they dissolve, just when we most need them.