Moths are vanishing from our skies at night, declining in southern Britain by 40% over 40 years, a major new report published on Friday reveals. Three species have become extinct this century already, following the permanent loss of 62 species in the twentieth century.
The calamitous and largely hidden effect of human activities on these crucial insect populations has been exposed by light traps set in more than 525 sites across the country, which captured nine million moths between 1968 and 2007.
Two-thirds of common and widespread larger moths have declined over this 40-year period, with the Orange Upperwing, Bordered Gothic and Brighton Wainscot all becoming extinct in the last 10 years. Once-common species such as the V moth are now in danger of extinction after suffering a 99% decline, according to The State of Britain’s Larger Moths 2013, a new report by Butterfly Conservation and Rothamsted Research, an independent research organisation.…
The declines recorded across such a large number of species – there are 900 larger moth species in Britain – confirm scientists’ suspicions that human activity is wiping out vast insect populations, including flies, beetles and bees, all of which perform crucial, unheralded tasks in our ecosystems and food webs….
The moth-phobic may wonder what they have ever done for us, but moths pollinate plants at night, are snapped up by bats, and their caterpillars are a crucial source of food for almost all garden birds. Broadcaster Chris Packham, the vice-president of Butterfly Conservation, said: “The general public’s hearts are not going to be bleeding for the Double Dart moth, but they would be bleeding for all the birds that feed on its larvae….
Rothamsted Research’s light traps, which release the counted moths unharmed, have, however, caught a bit of good news. More than 100 species have been recorded for the first time in Britain in the 21st century, with 27 new moth species establishing a permanent home here. Some of these new colonisers are alien species accidentally introduced on non-native garden plants, but many have flown across the channel….
Thriving moths include the Jersey Tiger, a spectacular day-flying moth, and the sombre Brocade, whose caterpillar feeds on non-native holm oak. Others are human-assisted arrivals, such as the Light Brown Apple moth, an Australian species accidentally introduced in the 1930s that has begun to thrive.
Scientists believe that the prime causes of the dramatic fall in moth abundance are urbanisation, intensive agriculture’s use of pesticides and destruction of hedges, and the loss of sunlight and plants in neglected or abandoned woodlands…. Light pollution may be causing decline – bats, for instance, learn to hunt moths by street light….
Moths may also be vanishing because of increasing levels of nitrogen in the environment due to car emissions and nitrogen fertilisers. Plants such as nettles thrive in nitrogen-rich soils, crowding out other, rarer flora on which moth caterpillars may depend.
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