Norway to start charting insects

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Mosquitos can be a nuisance and no one likes having to swat flies or be stung by wasps, but they’re all a critical part of the ecosystem. Norwegian officials want to hang on to them, and are starting with an attempt to chart the country’s insects for the first time ever.

There are an estimated 17,000 types of insects in Norway, more than 6,000 of which have two wings. Now an effort is being made to count bugs and chart their status, to reverse declines. PHOTO: Natural History Museum, University of Oslo/Hallvard Elven/CC BY 3.0)

“We don’t know enough about the general state of insects in Norway,” Climate- and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen told newspaper Aftenposten. “We will therefore start a more comprehensive register of them.”

Elvestuen and his government colleagues were alarmed by a report released last week by the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA). It warned that the status of insects is changing “dramatically” and can even become “catastrophic.” It highly recommended a national insect surveillance effort, to help determine where and how fast the changes are occurring.

“Even though we already know what the biggest threats are for insects, we need to get a grip on them in order to follow the changes and take steps to address them,” said NINA researcher Jens Åström.

He and several of his colleagues wrote the report that was commissioned by the state environmental directorate. Elvestuen followed up by agreeing to commission an actual bug count of sorts that will get underway this spring.

Climate change a big threat
“Charting the numbers and status of insects can give us more knowledge of the situation and a better foundation for what we need to do,” Elvestuen said. He was concerned about the report’s finding that the world’s total insect population is declining by 2.5 percent per year.

“The international report has to be taken seriously,” he said. “The three biggest problems we face are global warming, plastic in the seas and the loss of biological diversity.” Southern Norway itself was reporting record warm temperatures just this week, and fears are high that the unusual weather will tempt insects out of their winter slumber, only to be killed if there’s a sudden cold snap.

Around 17,000 types of insects have been registered in Norway, with around 1,000 of them deemed as being threatened in Norway. Researchers have developed a list of which types may die out. Now NINA will explore the best methods for refining the data found so far.

Insects like these mosquitos can be caught and gathered in bottles like this. PHOTO: NINA

Asked how insects can be counted, Professor Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson at NMBU said they can be caught in various sorts of traps where they fall into collection bins. She’s been among those who worked on the new report for the directorate and ministry.

Elvestuen is optimistic that the trend of bug depopulation, which threatens pollination of many fruits and the food source for birds and other creatures, can be reversed. He said responsibility lies with the government and Parliament but that individuals, organizations and businesses can contribute.

Professor Sverdrup-Thygeson detailed various ways, such as cutting lawns less often, letting parts of gardens grow wild, planting more fruit trees, avoiding use of insecticides and having lots of flowers and keeping them blooming throughout the season. Berry plants are also important for insects.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund