April 12, 2006

Bugs Save U.S. $57 Billion Per Year

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Prof. John Losey, entomology, recently published a study showing that insect services save the United States over $57 billion a year. The study, which Losey co-authored with Mace Vaughan M.S. ’99, appeared in the April issue of BioScience.

The study focuses on four areas of insect services – wildlife nutrition (valued at $50 billion), pest control (valued at $4.5 billion), crop pollination (valued at $3 billion) and dung burial (valued at $380 million). Losey said that these four areas of insect services were chosen not because they are the most important but because the appropriate data was available for these functions. He supports gathering more data so that the value of insect services in other areas can be estimated as well.

The idea for this study can be traced as far back as 1999 when Losey wrote a paper focusing on the effects of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterium used to prevent insect damage to the corn crop. In this paper he discussed the effects of Bt-corn on the target insect, the European corn borer, as well as on non-target populations. As Losey presented his findings, people often asked him why the negative effects for non-target populations were important. This inspired him to develop a class, Entomology 344: Insect Conservation Biology, highlighting the importance of insect conservation.

The first semester he taught this class, Losey included a question on the mid-term about the economic value of insect services. That question eventually developed into his paper.

“It was a fortuitous melting of research and teaching,” Losey said.

Some of the data used for the study had been published for a long time, while other pieces of data have quite recently become available. After making adjustments to account for inflation, the team had to evaluate the data in new ways in order to make it yield new information.

“We had to put data sets together in a way far different from they ways they were originally presented,” Losey said.

There are many other important insect functions that the paper could not address. It only establishes the dollar value for the control of native pests, for instance. Losey estimates that the value for the control of foreign species could be just as great or even greater. Another important insect service that is not included in the report is the spreading of plant seeds, which indirectly produces oxygen and prevents soil erosion.

“To ensure that these insects continue to contribute to the economy, we have to think about getting a handle on invasive species,” Losey said.

This can be accomplished by modifying how chemicals are used and by providing important resources like flowering plants and nesting areas.

Even individuals can help with insect conservation, Losey said. By buying integrated pest management (IBM) produce, they can support the best pest management practices.

“The main thing is that there should be more money and effort devoted to studies such as this in order to ensure that these insect services can continue into the future and maybe even be enhanced,” Losey said.

Losey’s latest endeavor is a citizen science project that involves collecting data on the New York state insect, the nine-spotted lady beetle. This particular lady beetle has not been collected anywhere in the eastern United States in over twenty years, and researchers worry that it is possibly being replaced by introduced species. The project will enlist help of citizens who will take digital pictures of ladybugs and send them in to be identified. Experts will compile a database that includes the pictures and identifications as well as information about the locations of the sightings.

“The project allows people to participate through virtual collection instead of by actually killing and collecting the bugs,” Losey said.

Archived article by Alli Miller
Sun Contributor