Scientists have been sounding the alarm about a dramatic drop in insect populations for some time now. Even laypeople have noticed that their windshields don’t catch nearly as many bugs now as just a few years ago.
Strangely enough, even as insect numbers plummet, insect pests seem to be doing more damage than ever to plants. That’s the finding of a new study by researchers at the University of Wyoming.
The study took a long view of insect herbivory, examining fossil leaves from as far back as the Cretaceous Period, 67 million years ago, for signs of damage from hungry bugs. At the other end of the timeline, researchers examined preserved leaves in present-day herbarium collections.
The results? Fossil leaves, from the dinosaur era through the time of mastodons and saber-toothed tigers, showed less insect damage than leaves from modern times.
Within the modern period, the increase in insect damage to plants continued. Leaves collected in the early 2000s, researchers reported, showed higher levels of damage than those from early in the 20th century.
The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.