By Meg Deak
Technology today is providing solutions to many of the world’s problems. However, declining insect populations is a pressing problem with consequences that technology can’t yet solve. According to the University of Huddersfield, an insect has functions in ecosystems that cannot be replicated by technology or any other innovation. These functions include pollination, acting as a food source and recycling of wastes. These are key ecosystem functions, that both people and the environment depend on to survive. This means saving insect populations is incredibly important, for the health of both people and the planet.
A group of conservation biologists explains that because of the important role insects have in the environment, when we lose insects we lose much more than species. With disappearing insect populations, we lose biodiversity and see consequent homogenization, lose large parts of the tree of life, and see a loss of networks of fundamental parts of biotic interactions.
We are causing the decline in insect population through habitat loss and degradation, use of polluting and harmful substances, the spread of invasive species, global climate change, direct overexploitation, and co-extinction of species.
In the coming decades, biologists expect at least one million species will face extinction, one half of these species being insects. Since drivers of insect extinction are largely human caused, it is imperative that we start taking steps to stop the damage we are causing.
To help insect populations thrive, scientists have come up with ways individuals can help insects survive from their own backyards. Lawns take up a large percentage of greenspace, and habitat loss is a big concern for insect populations. Making your lawn into a healthy ecosystem is a great way to help insect populations survive.
The Big Three Changes
Cut Your Grass Less Often, Or Replace it Entirely
Cutting grass less frequently, or giving up grass in your yard altogether, is a great way to help insect populations, particularly pollinators. While a perfectly green yard may look aesthetic, the yard is a monoculture. There are no flowering plants, and no habitat for pollinators. Cutting grass less frequently allows flowers to bloom, attracting more pollinator species.
The ideal “insect friendly” yard, would have native plants in place of a monoculture of grass. This way, the environment could revert to its natural habitat, with a predator-prey ecosystem emerging. However, it is difficult for many people to get past the aesthetic of this kind of yard. This is history’s fault. Perfectly manicured lawns date back to medieval times, where manicured lawns were a sign of prosperity. Today, lawns still function as a symbol of status because of the immense amount of water, fertilizer, and time needed to get a perfectly green, manicured lawn.
Ticks are another worry preventing people from letting their lawn get too “unmanicured”. However, according to research, mowing your yard less often won’t lead to an increase in ticks. This is hypothesized to be because the environment is too dry, and ticks need 100 percent humidity for at least part of the day.
Ultimately, what the research shows us is not to let the fear of ticks or defying the status quo get in the way of letting your yard go a little wilder. Not only is it less work for you, but it provides a place for insects to thrive and survive.
Plant Native Species
Planting native plants in your backyard is another way to help insect populations. Native plants are plants that have evolved in a certain area. These plant species have coevolved with insect species and are adapted to the environment they are native to. Insects that have coevolved with these plants cannot survive without them. Many insects, such as butterflies, moths, and bees, are dependent on very specific native plant species. These plants provide nectar for a diversity of species.
Entomologist Doug Tallamy shows the important relationship between insects and native plants through his research on caterpillars and oak trees. While native oak trees support over 500 caterpillar species, the commonly planted ginkgo tree (from Asia), only supports 5 caterpillar species. Caterpillars are a food source for many birds. One chickadee brood will eat 6,000 caterpillars when they are raised. This shows the importance of having native plants in your yard, the impact will be seen on insects and the entire ecosystem.
Since native plants are adapted to the local environment conditions, they also conserve water, help combat climate change and are low maintenance. Considering this, planting native plants in your backyard is a great way to help the insects and help the environment thrive. In order to see what plants are native to your area, you can use the Canadian ecozone map. The map can help you see what plants and animals are native to your area.
Avoiding pesticides on your lawn seems obviously beneficial to insect populations. Due to the intensive use of pesticides and a lack of proper risk assessments, pesticides have become a main contributor to declining insect populations. Scientists agree that, even if insects aren’t directly killed from pesticide toxicity, the long-term impacts of pesticide use will end up killing insects. The pesticide buildup in insects is a significant threat to insect populations due to chronic exposure. The effects of bioaccumulation often go undetected for weeks and are harmful to the physiology and behaviour of insects.
According to, insect ecologist, Richard Gill’s research, after weeks of exposure, a bees’ brain, and ability to learn is negatively impacted by pesticides. He also found that over the period of a few weeks’ colony growth was slowed. Gill’s research illustrates the negative long-term effect of pesticides on insect populations. By avoiding pesticide use in your backyard you can feel good knowing that you are thinking about the long-term health of the insects and ultimately the planet.
Little Changes with Big Impact
Leave Old Tree Stumps and Dead trees alone
Research shows that dead trees are an important habitat for insect populations. Some insect species burrow under the dead wood, and other insects, like bees, bore into the dead wood for the winter months. Keeping dead trees around your yard provides a home for insects to take up residence.
Just like us, insects need to drink water to survive. However, often times insects drown in large pools of water like bird baths and pools. If you fill a shallow dish with water and put rocks in the dish, insects can quench their thirst without drowning.
Leave Patches of Soil Bare
Some insects use soil for housing, and bare patches are important for building their homes. For example, many native bee species build their nests in the ground by tunneling in soil. By leaving bare patches of soil in your yard, you are providing space for insects to build their homes.
Take Climate Change Seriously
Climate change is more than changing global temperatures. The issue encompasses a variety of ecological responses to environmental changes. These include changes in insect species, species extinction and other unpredictable effects. Admitting climate change is a problem and becoming aware of how your actions contribute to the problem is the first step towards a solution.
Respect the Tiny Critters
There is a lot to respect about insects, the tasks they preform such as pollination and waste reduction are irreplaceable yet integral to the functioning of a healthy planet. Having respect for the tiny critters is a big step you can take towards helping them. When you have respect for something you value it more in your decisions. The landscaping choices for your backyard require you to make a choice between aesthetic and the lives of insects. Cultivating a little respect for the tiny critters will empower you to make the choices in your backyard that value insects and ultimately save their lives. By making these choices to change how we landscape our backyards, together we can help save declining insect populations.