Lhe estimates follow one another and all point to the same observation: that of a massive and rapid collapse of insect populations in Europe, a possible prelude to an environmental catastrophe on a scale that is difficult to imagine. The Kent Wildlife Trust and The Invertebrate Conservation Trust (or “Buglife”) released the results of a study on Friday, May 6, suggesting the loss of nearly 60% of flying insects between 2004 and 2021 in the United Kingdom. This is not a problem for entomologists alone: in addition to their intrinsic value, insects form one of the bases of the food chain of terrestrial ecosystems, pollinate crops and recycle nutrients in the soil.
Although particularly striking, such a collapse, in just seventeen years, does not surprise scientists. It is consistent with the orders of magnitude of results obtained in recent years in other Western European countries. The originality of the work piloted by the two British foundations lies rather in their protocol: the authors, led by ecologists from the Kent Wildlife Trust Lawrence Ball and Paul Tinsley-Marshall, used the data obtained and transmitted by thousands of volunteer motorists with their smartphone.
The principle is simple. An application, Bugs Matter, allows volunteers to count the number of impacts of insects, during a trip, on the license plate of their vehicle. The volunteers fill in the type of vehicle, ensure that their plate is clean before departure and the application then records the characteristics of the journey (starting and ending points, average speed, landscapes crossed, type of roads taken, time and date of travel, weather, etc.). Upon arrival, a photo of the small frame – or “splash meter” (splatometer, in English) – attached to the front license plate allows you to count the number of insects hit during the trip. What objectify the “clean windshield syndrome”, which increasingly troubles motorists – especially those of a certain age.
However, the program did not run continuously and only three measurement points are available. In 2004, data from nearly 15,000 trips, totaling almost 1.4 million kilometres, was collected, or just under 200,000 insects struck. The average number of invertebrates encountered for each kilometer traveled was compared to data obtained in 2019 and 2021, with around 600 trips totaling 16,000 kilometers and 3,300 trips respectively, representing some 195,000 kilometers of UK roads travelled. In 2004, a license plate hit an average of 0.15 insects per kilometer, compared to around 0.062 in 2019 and 2021.
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