A little less than a year ago, the Biological Conservation Journal published results of an exhaustive study, the conclusion of which is that within the next several decades nearly half the world’s insects species will go extinct.
Knowing how a lot folks feel about insects in general, that may sound like pretty exciting news. It is exciting, but not for the reasons insect-haters think.
Instead, disappearing insect species will lead to catastrophic results for our planet’s ecosystems. The insect species seemingly most affected by climate change and the resulting pollution include beetles, butterflies, moths, bees and wasps.
That is most definitely not good news for humans or for Earth. For example, recent bee colony collapse episodes pose a dire threat to agriculture, as bees are a primary means of pollinating plants.
The study was done by researchers at the University of Sydney, University of Queensland and the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences — which means the partisan component that sullies American politics was not a part of the threatened-species discussion.
Extinction studies tend to focus on birds and mammals. Insects take a back seat in most research because, well, humans seem to have an aversion to anything creepy-crawly.
But while specific species will be disappearing, one of mankind’s biggest insect enemies will prosper as the climate warms.
As other species die off, some of the mosquito’s natural predators will vanish, resulting in an increase in the mosquito population, thus a ramping up of infection rates of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and West Nile virus.
Is the point of this editorial becoming more clear to you? It should, with the mention of West Nile virus, which is and has been a regular, unwelcome warm-weather visitor to the region.
According to Santa Barbara County records, since 2005 West Nile virus has killed eight horses, hundreds of birds — including a dozen sentinel chickens — and seven humans.
The virus is prevalent enough in this area that county officials regularly issue warnings, many of which are just plain common sense, and things that people living in tropical and sub-tropical areas take for granted.
For example, as our weather warms seasonally, it’s best to avoid outdoor activities from dusk to dawn, which is prime-time for mosquitoes. If you must venture out at night, wear protective clothing and use mosquito repellants, especially products containing DEET.
An important rule for local residents is to check your property for places where standing water tends to collect. Mosquitoes love to deposit eggs in stagnant water, but they also do it in swimming pools, bird baths, buckets, barrels — anything that will hold water for more than a few hours.
Here’s a critically important tip for Central Coast horse owners, of which there are many: Contact your regular veterinarian to get your animals vaccinated specifically against West Nile virus. If you think you may have a mosquito problem, contact the Santa Barbara County Mosquito and Vector Management District by calling (805) 969-5050.
West Nile virus is a problem county officials take very seriously. If you own horses or are exposed to mosquito-environment conditions, you also need to take this seriously.
West Nile is the most common mosquito-borne illness in the United States. About 80 percent of people infected with West Nile do not develop symptoms, but the unlucky 20 percent will experience disorientation, diarrhea, neck stiffness, headache, joint pain, tremors or worse.
Despite the political firestorm over the effects of global warming, science indicates that it is, indeed, happening, and it will require changes in the way we live.