Museum Entomologist Helps Secure NSF Grant to Tackle Insect Decline

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Museum scientist Jessica Ware, in the field in Guyana, holds a red dragonfly.
Jessica Ware with a red dragonfly in Guyana.
J. Ware/© AMNH

Museum entomologist Jessica Ware is part of a group of researchers awarded funding by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to assess the critical issue of insect decline on a global level.

Insects account for 80 percent of animal life on the planet, and they are critical to the survival of most other animals on Earth, including bats, birds, freshwater fishes, and even humans. But there is now substantial evidence that insects are declining in both abundance and diversity, posing a looming threat to nature’s ecosystems.

“In the last five or six years, there have been long-term studies finding that insects were declining by upwards of 70 percent in terms of biomass, and in some cases, actual number of species,” said Ware, an associate curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology. “This is a massive insect decline. And when you have a big part of the food chain starting to decline like that, you can expect that other members of the food chain will fall, too.”

Ware is one of five principal investigators on the five-year NSF Research Coordination Network grant, led by the University of Connecticut, which will bring together a core research team from around the world to study the status and trajectories of insect populations and communities globally.

The researchers will build a network of entomologists, conservation biologists, community scientists, agriculture and forestry professionals, policy-makers, data scientists, and other stakeholders to explore the magnitude and patterns of decline, identify the primary causes and consequences for ecosystem function and human welfare, and develop policy recommendations to mitigate and reverse the losses.

The researchers are particularly focused on recruiting biologists from tropical nations, which are home to more than 75 percent of global insect diversity, and on forging new collaborations with Southern Hemisphere colleagues.

Find out more about insect decline in the new exhibition Extinct and Endangered: Insects in Peril, now on view at the Museum.

To help understand insect decline, the team will synthesize existing data, identify knowledge gaps, and prioritize future research efforts, but will not collect new data.

“We don’t necessarily need to collect more data to take action,” said Principal Investigator and University of Connecticut Professor David Wagner. “We need data to take certain kinds of actions to understand stressors, but we absolutely can act now.”

In addition to organizing online international meetings focused on insect decline, the team is planning a series of webinars to share findings widely and increase international participation. They also will develop educational and outreach materials that raise awareness for and appreciation of insects.