Warming Climate

The study published in Nature is the first to identify that an interaction between rising temperatures and land use changes, is driving widespread losses in numerous insect groups across the globe.


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Lead author Dr Charlie Outhwaite (UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research, UCL Biosciences) said: “Many insects appear to be very vulnerable to human pressures, which is concerning as climate change worsens and agricultural areas continue to expand. Our findings highlight the urgency of actions to preserve natural habitats, slow the expansion of high-intensity agriculture, and cut emissions to mitigate climate change.

They found that in areas with high-intensity agriculture and substantial climate warming, the number of insects was 49% lower than in the most natural habitats with no recorded climate warming, while the number of different species was 29% lower. Tropical areas saw the biggest declines in insect biodiversity linked to land use and climate change.

The researchers found that in areas of low-intensity agriculture and substantial climate warming, having nearby natural habitat buffered the losses: where 75% of the land was covered by natural habitat, insect abundance only declined by 7%, compared to a 63% reduction in comparable areas with only 25% natural habitat cover. Many insects rely on plants for shade on hot days, so a loss of natural habitats could leave them more vulnerable to a warming climate.

The researchers say that insect declines due to human influences may be even greater than their findings suggest as many areas with long histories of human impacts would have already seen biodiversity losses before the start of the study period, and the study also did not account for the effects of other drivers such as pollution.

UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research scientists are at the forefront of research into human impacts on the planet, such as by developing the science underpinning the IUCN’s Red List that quantifies extinction risk, and discovering that changes to land use may be increasing the risks of disease outbreaks like Covid-19 that jump from animals to humans. The centre’s new interdisciplinary People and Nature Lab is developing innovative approaches, such as citizen science programmes and employing artificial intelligence, to tackle these urgent global challenges and foster a more sustainable relationship between people and nature.

The research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Royal Society.


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