May 22, 2019  
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Saving bugs, saving ourselves
Saving bugs, saving ourselves
On Thursday evening, a crowd filled the Ladd Center in Wayne for the first lyceum program of this season sponsored by the Kennebec Land Trust. Hamish Grieg of UMaine was scheduled to speak about "Maine Aquatic Insects: Ecology, Habitats, & Conservation." In other words, watery bugs. But he came down with a flu bug. So Phillip deMaynadier of the Maine Department of Inland Fish & Wildlife stepped in at the last minute to talk about "Maine’s Rare and Endangered Invertebrates: Conserving the Little Things that Matter.” In other words, saving bugs and their ilk.

Phillip presented lots of interesting and alarming data about Maine insects. It got me wondering, so I looked up a few more stats.

According to the state’s 2015 Wildlife Action Plan, Maine has about 8,000 species of insects (mayflies, stoneflies, bees, wasps, ants, beetles, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, damselflies), crustaceans, and spiders, as well as approximately 200 species of freshwater snails and mussels. All together, the state hosts an estimated 15,000 (or more) non-marine invertebrate species, representing nearly 98% of the state’s animal species diversity. Of the more than 33,840 species in Maine (of which 33,000+ are invertebrates), 18 are federally listed as Endangered or Threatened, 60 are state listed as Endangered or Threatened, and 378 are in the Species of Greatest Conservation Need category. Of course, those are only the ones we know about.

Global good news: Insects represent 70% of all animal species on the planet. They pollinate three-quarters of all the crops in the world. A 2017 study reported that in the US alone “ecosystem services provided by wild insects have been estimated at $57 billion annually.”

Worldwide worrisome news: Recent reports document that insect biomass has been falling by 2.5% a year, eight times faster than the rate of decline for mammals, birds, or reptiles. More than 40% of the world’s insect species could go extinct in the next three decades. Phys.org says, “the decline in bugs that fly, crawl, burrow and skitter across still water is part of a gathering 'mass extinction,' only the sixth in the last half-billion years."

The culprits: Habitat changes wrought by humans, such as deforestation, agriculture, draining of wetlands, use of chemicals (herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides, insecticides), climate change.

Conclusion: Next time you slap that mosquito, wipe those moths off the car grill, or swat that housefly, think about all the important things the buggy invertebrates do for our species.

~ Jym St. Pierre

Posted on Friday, March 15, 2019 (Archive on Friday, April 5, 2019)
Posted by Jym St. Pierre   Contributed by Jym St. Pierre
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