Maine Launching Urgent Effort To Survey Insect Population Following 'Stunning' Declines Globally

Mar 8, 2019

Maine is launching an urgent effort to assess the state's insect populations.  The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is undertaking the initiative after new studies showed a steep decline in populations of insects across the globe.

A ringed boghaunter, a type of dragonfly, is on Maine's threatened species list. New studies showed a steep decline in populations of insects across the globe, putting such species in danger of extinction.
Credit Flickr

Recently, scientists took a look at three decades of insect surveys in two very different parts of the world - Germany and Puerto Rico - and came to disturbingly similar conclusions:  populations of insects in both areas had declined dramatically.

"If these declines are real - as real as they seem to be, and as widespread as they seem to be - it has really serious implications for...for life on earth, ultimately," says Phillip deMaynadier, a wildlife biologist and supervisor with Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IF&W).

deMaynadier says that when he saw the studies, he was alarmed.

"They both point at something on the order of 75 to 80 percent declines," he says. "I'll say that again, because it's so easy to rattle off numbers without letting them sink in, but 75 to 80 percent decline in flying insect biomass, at both locations."

In addition, a team of Australia-based scientists recently analyzed insect surveys from across the globe, in a study published in the journal Biological Conservation. Their conclusion: 40 percent of the world's insect species are in danger of extinction. 

"It was very shocking for me," says Sarah Haggerty, a wildlife conservationist with Maine Audubon.

Haggerty says the studies point to habitat loss, and pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals as possible culprits. But she says the study in Germany, in particular, suggests that climate change, or other unknown factors, could be killing off insects.

"In about 27 years, they saw a 75 percent decline in insect biomass. That was just a stunning number," Haggerty says. "On top of that the studies were being done in protected lands. So this is a huge decline in areas where they're supposed to be more protected."

Haggerty says that's why the bird advocacy group is teaming up with state wildlife officials to try to figure out what's happening with Maine's insect populations.

"In the next couple of weeks we'll be reaching out to some entomologists and ecologists around the state," she says, "to find out what sort of data are out there. "

Phillip deMaynadier says there are anecdotal signs that insects in Maine are struggling.

The cobblestone tiger beetle, one of the insects in Maine that is in danger of extinction.
Credit Flickr

"We do have a bunch of insects - butterflies, mayflies, dragonflies, beetles, snails, bees - that are on our endangered and threatened and special concern list that we're keeping close tabs on, and that we know are very close to being - well, potentially blinking out in the state," he says.

And the list of insects in trouble has been growing steadily since the 1970's, he says. 

In addition to partnering with Maine Audubon, deMaynadier says IF&W is reaching out to entomologists and academic institutions for any existing data on insects. Going forward, he says, the goal is a long-term survey that will include trained citizen scientists.

It's expected to take several months to get a snapshot of how Maine's insect populations are faring, and much longer to determine whether they are also in rapid decline. 

Originally published March 7, 2019 at 2:38 p.m. ET.