New research has shown how a warming planet could lead to widespread disruption of insect habitats, with half becoming unsuitable by 2100, even with current carbon reduction pledges. The more ambitious Paris accord target, of keeping temperature increases to 1.5C or less, would greatly reduce the loss of insect habitats according to the new study, which was detailed in a report from The Guardian.
Insects were shown to be the most sensitive group of 115,000 species analyzed in the study. Pollinators, such as bees, were found to be especially vulnerable.
Insects in general are crucial to their ecosystems, and a collapse of their habitats would cause a chain-reaction impacting the rest of life on Earth. Plants were also found to be very vulnerable to rising temperatures, while mammals and birds that can migrate were likely to fare better in changing conditions.
According Professor Rachel Warren, of the University of East Anglia, who led the research:
“We showed insects are the most sensitive group. They are important because ecosystems cannot function without insects. They play an absolutely critical role in the food chain.”
Warren explained that this balance in ecosystems is essential to fertile soil, clean water, and pollination, all of which are important to human society:
“The disruption to our ecosystems if we were to lose that high proportion of our insects would be extremely far-reaching and widespread. People should be concerned – humans depend on ecosystems functioning.”
The study was published Friday in the journal Science.
The researchers analyzed data on 31,000 species of insects, 8,000 birds, 1,700 mammals, 1,800 reptiles, 1,000 amphibians, and 71,000 plant species. In three temperature scenarios ranging from the more ambitious 1.5C Paris target, to the 2C Paris target, to the 3.2C temperature rise expected with no emissions reductions beyond current pledges, the analysis determined how each outcome would affect the available habitat for the species.
At a 3.2C increase, 49 percent of insects lost half their current range. At 2C, 18 percent lost that amount, and at 1.5C, only 6 percent.
“If you are a typical insect, you would be likely to lose 43% of your range at 3.2C. We also found that the three major groups of insects responsible for pollination are particularly sensitive to warming,” Warren explained.
While the analysis did consider migration, Warren said it was unable to account for the changes in interactions between species as part of this process, or the impacts of extreme weather.