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30.10.2019 – 19:08

Technische Universität München

Insect decline more extensive than suspected

TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY OF MUNICH

Corporate Communications Center

phone: +49 89 289 10510 - e-mail: presse@tum.de - web: www.tum.de

This text on the web: https://www.tum.de/nc/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/details/35768/

High resolution images: https://mediatum.ub.tum.de/1522699

NEWS RELEASE

Insect decline more extensive than suspected

Causes of insect decline and biodiversity loss to be found at the landscape level

Compared to a decade ago, today the number of insect species on many areas has decreased by about one third. This is the result of a survey of an international research team led by scientists from the Technical University of Munich (TUM). The loss of species mainly affects grasslands in the vicinity of intensively farmed land - but also applies to forests and protected areas.

Various studies have already demonstrated that there are far fewer creatures chirping, buzzing, creeping and fluttering in German meadows today than 25 years ago. "Previous studies, however, either focused exclusively on biomass, i.e. the total weight of all insects, or on individual species or species groups. The fact that a large part of all insect groups is actually affected has not been clear so far," says Dr. Sebastian Seibold, a scientist with the Terrestrial Ecology Research Group at TUM.

In a large-scale biodiversity study, an international research team headed by scientists at TUM surveyed a large number of insect groups in Brandenburg, Thuringia and Baden-Württemberg between 2008 and 2017. Now the team has published its analysis in the scientific journal "nature".

Insects affected both in grasslands and forests

The researchers collected more than one million insects at 300 sites. They were able to prove that many of the nearly 2700 investigated species are in decline. In recent years, certain rare species could no longer be found in some of the regions studied. Both in forested areas and grasslands, the scientists counted about one third fewer insect species after 10 years.

"Before our survey it was unclear whether and to what extent forests were affected by the insect decline as well," says Seibold. Since 2008 they measured a decrease of approximately 40 percent in insect biomass in the forests they studied. In grasslands the results were even more alarming: at the end of the study period, the insect biomass decreased to only one third of its former level.

"A decline on that scale over a period of just 10 years came as a complete surprise to us - it is frightening, but fits the picture presented in a growing number of studies," says Wolfgang Weisser, professor of Terrestrial Ecology at TUM and a co-initiator of the cooperative project.

The decisive factor: the immediate surroundings

Every type of forest and grassland site studied by the team was affected: sheep pastures, meadows that are mowed and fertilized three to four times per year, forestry dominated coniferous forests and even unused forests in protected areas. The researchers identified the biggest losses in grasslands surrounded by intensively farmed land, where the most heavily impacted species were those unable to travel far.

In the forested areas, by contrast, the hardest-hit insect groups were those that cover long distances. "To decide whether it is a matter of the more mobile forest-dwelling species having more contact with agriculture, or whether it has something to do with living conditions in the forests, further study will be needed," said the former TUM researcher Dr. Martin Gossner.

Standalone initiatives have little prospect of success

"Current initiatives to address insect losses are overly concerned with the cultivation of individual plots of land and operate independently of one another for the most part," says Dr. Seibold. "To stop the decline, however, our results indicate that more coordination is needed at the regional and national levels."

Publication:

Seibold, S., Gossner, M.M., Simons, N.K., Blüthgen, N., Müller, J., Ambarli, D., Ammer, C., Bauhus, J., Fischer, M., Habel, J.C., Linsenmair, K.E., Nauss, T., Penone, C., Prati, D., Schall, P., Schulze, E.-D., Vogt, J., Wöllauer, S. & Weisser, W.W.

Arthropod decline in grasslands and forests is associated with drivers at landscape level

Nature, Oct. 30, 2019

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1684-3

More information:

The study was carried out under a Germany-wide cooperative project, the Biodiversity Exploratories. This open research platform is financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Researchers from and the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (Jena, Germany), the Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL (Birmensdorf, Switzerland), the Universities of Bern (Switzerland), Düzce (Turkey), Salzburg (Austria), as well as the Universities of Darmstadt, Freiburg, Göttingen, Marburg, TU Munich and Würzburg, in Germany were involved.

The scientists in the project are exploring such issues as the possible interactions between different elements of biodiversity - for example between plant and insect diversity. The project is also exploring the effects of different forms of land use on biodiversity and the processes within an ecosystem.

In this context, Dr. Martin Gossner reported another important discovery in 2016, that was also published in Nature: Intensified land use results in a homogenization of species. In other words, the same species are present everywhere.

https://www.tum.de/nc/die-tum/aktuelles/pressemitteilungen/details/33571/

Related press releases:

https://www.tum.de/nc/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/details/35295/

https://www.tum.de/nc/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/details/34427/

https://www.tum.de/nc/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/details/34323/

https://www.tum.de/nc/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/details/34004/

https://www.tum.de/nc/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/details/32997/

https://www.tum.de/nc/en/about-tum/news/press-releases/details/33329/

High resolution images:

https://mediatum.ub.tum.de/1522699

Contact:

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang W. Weisser

Technical University of Munich

TUM School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan

Chair for Terrestrial Ecology

phone: +49 8161 71 3495 - e-mail: wolfgang.weisser@tum.de

web: http://www.toek.wzw.tum.de/index.php?id=2&L=1

Dr. Sebastian Seibold

phone: +49 8161 71 3713 - e-mail: sebastian.seibold@tum.de

The Technical University of Munich (TUM) is one of Europe's leading research universities, with around 550 professors, 42,000 students, and 10,000 academic and non-academic staff. Its focus areas are the engineering sciences, natural sciences, life sciences and medicine, combined with economic and social sciences. TUM acts as an entrepreneurial university that promotes talents and creates value for society. In that it profits from having strong partners in science and industry. It is represented worldwide with the TUM Asia campus in Singapore as well as offices in Beijing, Brussels, Cairo, Mumbai, San Francisco, and São Paulo. Nobel Prize winners and inventors such as Rudolf Diesel, Carl von Linde, and Rudolf Mößbauer have done research at TUM. In 2006, 2012 and 2019 it won recognition as a German "Excellence University." In international rankings, TUM regularly places among the best universities in Germany. www.tum.de

Additional press releases: Technische Universität München
Additional press releases: Technische Universität München