Insects could be wiped out within a century - scientists

Macleay's Swallowtail one of the butterflies found around Canberra

"Unless we change our way of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades", concluded the peer-reviewed study, which is set for publication in April.

Scientists have warned that a human-caused sixth mass extinction is now underway on Earth.

"In 10 years, you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left, and in 100 years you will have none", Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, one of the study's co-authors, told The Guardian.

"The repercussions this will have for the planet's ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least".

The report, published by Elsevier's journal Biological Conservation and circulated by ScienceDirect.com, asserts that the "biodiversity of insects is threatened worldwide". In Europe, over the past 30 years bird populations have declined by 400 million, likely a casualty of the huge decline in flying insects.

He added that while the overall message was alarming, there were things that people could do, such as making their gardens more insect friendly, not using pesticides and buying organic food.

The recent collapse, for example, of many bird species in France was traced to the use insecticides on industrial crops such as wheat, barley, corn and wine grapes.

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While large numbers of specialist insects, which fill a specific ecological niche, and general insects were declining, a small group of adaptable insects were seeing their numbers rise - but nowhere near enough to arrest the decline, the report found.

The sobering message has emerged from a comprehensive review of 73 historical reports on insect population declines which found the rate of extinction is eight times faster than vertebrates such as mammals, birds and reptiles.

Only a few species of insects - mainly in the tropics - are thought to have suffered due to climate change, while some in northern climes have expanded their range as temperatures warm.

Declines were not just hitting specialist species, for example those which rely on a particular host plant or only live in specific habitats, but also much more "generalist" species.

Insects play a profoundly important role in Earth's ecosystems. Insects are necessary to all ecosystems, pollinating plants and serving as food for other animals.

One-in-six species of bees have gone regionally extinct somewhere in the world.

Common species such as butterflies and dung beetles are among the most affected. The entire family of insects is slowly falling by 2.5% a year, according to some studies.

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