Friday, May 19, 2006

Insects as Evironmental Architects

Here's the unedited text from an article I just wrote for the Stanley Park Ecology Society:
“If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.” E.O. Wilson

When we look at our natural environment, it is easy to take what we see for granted, as though the world of trees and flowers, ants and bees has always existed in its present configuration. In actuality most seed bearing and flowering plants, as well as colonial insects like termites, bees and ants are tremendously novel.

Three hundred million years ago, cycads, horse tails and palm trees were the typical plant forms and dragonflies 60cm long were the dominant land predators. Abundant insect life, including a proliferation of super sized cockroaches, allowed amphibians to spread rapidly when they began to invade the swamps and rivers of Earth. A succession of invaders lead the way to our arrival as one of Earth's current dominant lifeforms. We would not be here without the simpler creatures that have become food for more sophisticated predators. All life on Earth is interdependent.

The relationship between plants and pollinators is a symbiotic one. Seed bearing plants rely heavily on insects to reproduce. Many fruit bearing trees target insects specifically with beautifully coloured, sweet-smelling blossoms. Pollination is required for fruit to germinate. In exchange, the insects feed on sweet nectar. On a summer day in Stanley Park, pollinating insects are active throughout the forest, gardens and fields, and are a joy to observe.

Insects are largely responsible for the pollination of crops like corn and wheat. Even our livestock depend on grains as a primary food source. Without pollinators, world food stocks would dwindle rapidly. Yearly, output from crops like grains would decrease by one third. The political stresses of a starving global population would be very harmful to cultural development.

1 comment:

Michel Gagne said...

Insects are amazing. No doubt about that!