Can a cockroach die in a storm

"We cannot survive without insects"

Deutsche Welle: How many insects are there in the world?

Dave Goulson: Insects are the most dominant form of life on our planet. We have identified more than a million species of insects, but there could be five or ten million more. When it comes to individual animals, there are more insects than anything else - except for micro-organisms like bacteria.

Why do insects disappear?

The majority of experts agree that a combination of factors is responsible. Most have to do with how agriculture has changed over the past hundred years. We now have a kind of industrial agriculture, with very large fields and monocultures that are treated with many pesticides. This makes survival very difficult for most insects.

Why should we care about insect death?

Researcher Dave Goulson gives insects a voice

People should pull their hairs out of concern because we cannot survive without insects. Pollination is arguably the best-known example of what insects do for us. Many fruits and vegetables that we like to eat, and also things like chocolate, we would not have without insects.

Insects also help break down leaves, dead trees, and the bodies of dead animals. They recycle nutrients and make them available again. Without insects, cow piles and dead animals would be lying around everywhere.

More on this: Insect Dying: Are Bees and Beetles Getting Away From It All Around The World?

What else would a world without insects look like?

Most wildflowers need insects for pollination. So if we lose insects, we also lose our wildflowers and with them all living things that feed on these wildflowers. Insects are at the heart of all ecological processes that we can only imagine. Without them we would live in a sterile, boring world in which we would have to eat bread and oatmeal more badly than well.

What about pests like mosquitoes? Do they also serve an ecological purpose?

All insects are useful for something. They are either food for something or they pollinate something or something like that. But not every organism has to serve a specific purpose. One or two species of insect may become extinct with no noticeable effect. But the point is, as more and more species become extinct, the ecosystems slowly perish.

Researchers recently found that the number of insects in a German nature reserve has decreased by 75 percent. But that didn't necessarily affect us or our crops, did it?

The most common crops in Europe do not rely on insect pollination. Wheat, for example, is pollinated by the wind. But in other parts of the world you can already see the consequences: in parts of China they are now pollinating their apple and pear trees by hand because there are no longer enough bees to do this.

So we haven't been hit by the full force of insect death?

Exactly. The human population is growing and trying to grow more and more food. At the same time, the number of pollinators is shrinking rapidly. At some point these two developments will collide. It won't take more than ten years, I guess less.

  • The disappearance of the butterflies

    Tender elf

    The butterflies in Germany - but probably not only there - are doing badly. According to the German Wildlife Foundation, there were twice as many species thirty years ago. Since then, the number of moths has fallen by half, and that of butterflies by more than 70 percent! On the photo you can see the "Golden Eight", which was named Butterfly 2017.

  • The disappearance of the butterflies

    Sweet juice

    Butterflies love plant juices. From flowers, blossoms, bushes, as much and different as possible. But the diversity in Germany is being lost. Monocultures dominate, especially in agricultural regions, which give butterflies no chance.

  • The disappearance of the butterflies

    Culprit corn

    The maize should be to blame, or rather its enormously intensive cultivation. In 2016, three times as much maize was grown in Germany as in the 1980s. Mainly as a forage crop and more and more often for biogas plants. Most of the fields and fields are mercilessly over-fertilized. Nothing grows there that butterflies could taste.

  • The disappearance of the butterflies

    Butterflies don't like chemistry

    Pesticides also destroy diversity. Wild herbs, bushes or flowers have no chance of survival in monocultures. The sail butterfly in this picture has also disappeared in many regions of Germany. It used to be quite common.

  • The disappearance of the butterflies

    Insect death

    But pesticides don't just bother butterflies. And that is exactly the dilemma. Studies have shown that in some areas there are up to 80 percent fewer insects today than 30 years ago. Bees, bumblebees, dragonflies, wasps, flies, beetles, butterflies - all of them are struggling to survive because of intensive agriculture, pesticides and over-fertilization.

  • The disappearance of the butterflies

    Insects and birds

    This picture shows that the death of butterflies and insects is only part of the drama. Because many animals - for example birds or bats - live on insects, for some they are the most important source of food. The bee-eater in the photo mainly eats bumblebees, wasps, bees, cicadas and beetles.

  • The disappearance of the butterflies

    Not enough food

    Just recently a study came out that shows that there are also fewer and fewer birds. The population of lapwing, for example, is said to have decreased by 80 percent in Germany between 1990 and 2013. The whinchat you see in the picture by 63 percent and the godwit number by 61 percent. One reason: They find too few insects to eat.

  • The disappearance of the butterflies

    Hope city?

    It is interesting that the butterfly decline is so evident, especially in rural areas. There are often more species and more butterflies in cities than in villages. Especially in parks, in cemeteries, on urban wastelands, but even in the city center, butterflies obviously find the variety of different plants they need. And not that much is sprayed here either.

    Author: Judith Hartl

Why are bee colonies so badly affected?

The more intense landscape means that there are far fewer flowers and the flowers that are still there are contaminated with pesticides. That makes life difficult for the bees. We also accidentally spread loads of bee diseases by transporting honey bees back and forth around the world and also crossing them with one another. When a bee is sick and poisoned and hungry, it is hardly surprising when it dies.

More on this: Protecting bees - a challenge for research

Will the ban on using neonicotinoids outdoors save the bees?

No. Some people mistakenly believe that neonicotinoids are the main problem bees struggle with. These pesticides are harmful to bees and stopping using them is obviously a wise decision. But we currently use around 500 different pesticides in Europe. Banning three of them, and probably the worst three, is a good start - but we still have a long way to go. If you only take one pesticide out of the running, the farmer simply decides which other pesticide to use instead. We really need to look at agriculture as a whole and find a way to massively reduce pesticide use.

Not only bees, but also other insects, such as this hover fly, are important for ecology.

Which insects will suffer most from climate change?

Bumblebees are a classic example. These are large, fluffy insects that are well adapted to colder climates. You can adapt well to damp, cold temperatures and will have to contend with the rising temperatures. There are estimates that predict the European bumblebee will be extinct by the end of this century.

Will some species also benefit from climate change?

Some insects for sure. Those that reproduce quickly, and of which there are very many, can adapt well. These are also the ones that we perceive as pests and actually do not want to have. Butterflies, dragonflies and bumblebees, on the other hand, reproduce much more slowly and are less able to adapt. So we risk exterminating most of the beautiful and important insects that we like. And then all that remains is a lot of flies and cockroaches.

Prof. Dr. Dave Goulson is Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex in the UK.

The interview was conducted by Sonya Angelica Diehn.

  • Bees: What are we left with without them?

    Sugar sweet crystals

    What you see here is probably the first thing that comes to mind when we think of bees: honey. Here, the sugar crystals were made visible at 100x magnification and with the help of polarized light. For a jar of honey, bees have to visit around 450,000 to three million flowers.

  • Bees: What are we left with without them?

    Yawning emptiness

    What many are not really aware of, however: The pure, sticky honey in the jar is only a tiny part of the production spectrum of bees. This symbolic and promotional action by a supermarket should make that clear recently. 60 percent of the articles were sorted out. All products that would not exist without the hardworking insects. The shelves remained empty.

  • Bees: What are we left with without them?

    Bees know-how

    And above all: not all bees are the same. A wild bee, for example, does not produce honey, but it is a particularly efficient pollinator - and it is about them in particular when we talk about bee deaths. Bumblebees are also wild bee species. Honey bees, on the other hand, have less to worry about because they are livestock - and beehives are kept by humans.

  • Bees: What are we left with without them?

    (Not) an apple a day

    And of course there are other pollinators besides bees - butterflies, flies or birds, for example. But around a third of our fruit and vegetables are dependent on pollination by bees. These include, for example, apples, pears, strawberries, cucumbers. And we'd all hate to do without that, wouldn't we?

  • Bees: What are we left with without them?

    Small product knowledge

    But back to the supermarket. It is obvious that without bees, it is not just the fruit and vegetable shelves that will remain empty. In addition, all the foods that contain the additive E 901 are missing, which corresponds to the European approval number for beeswax. There are a lot of such products.

  • Bees: What are we left with without them?


    It is currently impossible to imagine the food industry without beeswax. For example, it is used - as here - as a coating and separating agent for fruit gums so that the gummy bears don't all stick together - lucky! The same goes for a whole range of other confectionery and baked goods.

  • Bees: What are we left with without them?

    Pretty and durable

    And why does our chocolate often look so beautiful? Not because, like here, insects are draped on it. But here, too, thanks go to the hard-working bees or E 901, which makes chocolate shine nicely. Fruit and vegetables are also often declared as "waxed" so that they lose less moisture and last longer - and look (more) appetizing.

  • Bees: What are we left with without them?

    No cocoa

    Speaking of chocolate: Without bees there won't be any more in abundance, because our bees do a great job with pollination. In an emergency, all that would remain is the extremely laborious and much more inefficient hand pollination. The same goes for nuts, by the way.

  • Bees: What are we left with without them?

    Caffeine kick for everyone

    Not only we humans like caffeine, bees too, as an experiment with caffeine-free and caffeine-containing sugar water has shown. Even after the spring had dried up, the hard-working insects were still constantly looking for a kick of caffeine. At the same time, bees also ensure our (hopefully) never-ending supply of coffee beans through pollination.

  • Bees: What are we left with without them?

    Lost diversity

    How many products end up in our shopping trolleys thanks to the efforts of the bees is still difficult to show - since the items just mentioned include various spices, marinades, dairy products or even toilet paper with a chamomile blossom scent. Some of which we are possibly less dependent on than on fruits and vegetables ...

  • Bees: What are we left with without them?

    Cheers to our bees!

    Nevertheless, it becomes clear how much we benefit from the hard work of the animals and that we would have to adjust quite a bit without the active support of the insects. We should therefore pay tribute to them not only on World Bee Day.

  • Bees: What are we left with without them?

    How to help?

    Protecting bees is not just about using pesticides as cautiously as possible in agriculture. You, too, can do something to protect the animals: insect hotels serve bees as nesting and wintering opportunities, flowers in balcony boxes and fruit trees in the meadow are a safe source of food.

    Author: Hannah Fuchs