October 5, 2020 The Importance of Insects Each day at every site we visit, our crews observe an amazing variety of insects in our ecological restorations. For instance, we see butterflies, dragonflies, moths, ants, bumble bees, mason bees, carpenter bees, grasshoppers, aphids, ambush bugs, and many others, all of which play key roles in the ecosystem, and clearly show the importance of insects in Minnesota. We don’t just observe these insects by themselves, isolated, but in a natural setting with other insect species and the native flowers and grasses that they call home. Aside from the super cool geeky ecological aspects of insects, why should we care? What impact do these six legged critters have on our environment and our way of life? A majority of our human population goes about their daily lives and never thinks about insects, unless they find one in their house or they are swatting at a mosquito in their backyard. Even though they are out of mind, the importance of insects in Minnesota, and to our global ecology, is paramount. Although there are many, many more, below we highlight the three essential functions of insects in our ecosystem. 1. Food Production The most obvious benefit of insects is how they provide us with a large portion of our food via pollination. Many different species of insects pollinate our food plants, including bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, moths, and others. The most important pollinators for our food production are bees. It is estimated that more than 1/3 of all food produced is pollinated by bees, and there are many different species of bees responsible, not just the well-known honeybees. Besides food crops, insects also pollinate other important plants that we use every day, like herbs, forage plants for cattle, and plants we use for medicine. Predatory insects are also important at keeping crop pests in control. This is a natural way to remove problem insects from our fields. Insects themselves are also becoming an increasingly important food staple in many countries. High in protein and other important nutrients make selected insects sensible items to place on the menu. Their mass production is also substantially less harmful to the environment than cattle production. 2. Waste Disposal A less obvious but very important benefit is the ability of insects to act as nature’s waste disposals. They break down animal waste, dead organisms, plant material, and other organic material and help the decomposition process. The final product, oftentimes, is rich, valuable soil which we all depend on. The benefits of these decomposers are often taken for granted, but without them waste products would build up in our ecosystems, causing a catastrophic disaster. 3. Food Web A third benefit of insects is how they fit into ecological systems and food webs. Countless animals including birds, fish, small mammals, and others count on insects as their sole food source to survive and feed their young. Even more animals supplement their diet with insects. Without insects, entire food webs would fail and ecological systems would not be able to function. Reasons for decline There are multiple factors that are contributing to the decline of our insect populations on a global scale. A few of them include habitat loss, pollution, climate change, disease, and insecticides. Species loss has been shown to appear in areas mostly dominated by agriculture. This may be due to habitat loss and the broad use of pesticides on these specific landscapes. What we can do The super exciting thing about insect conservation is that we can make a huge difference in our own backyards and neighborhoods. We can create excellent beneficial insect habitat by introducing a variety of native plants in our yards. This really basic conservation activity will attract and support countless insect species. We can also stop using insecticides that specifically or collaterally impact beneficial insects. Supporting local, state, and national organizations that advocate for policies that conserve insects, plant habitat for insects, and educate the public on the importance of insects in Minnesota. Think about advocating for a shift in farming practices that use fewer chemicals and provide buffers that create insect habitat. Some of these steps are easy and straightforward. Lastly, next time you are out in the backyard or on a walk, take a minute to observe the insects and consider the benefits of insects in our everyday lives. If you want to get your weekly insect fix, check out our Instagram page for some really impressive insect shots in natural areas. Please let us know what you think about this issue and ideas on how we can turn the tide on insect population declines on our Facebook Page. We are always thrilled to post and share your insect and natural area photos.