Insects make up about 70 percent of all animal species and pollinate crops, contribute to pest control and are important to waste control, the researcher added.
The decline is more severe than found in previous studies. "All these areas are protected and majority are managed nature reserves", a co-author of the study from Radboud University, Casper Hallmann, said.
Dr Lynn Dicks, from the University of East Anglia, UK, who is not connected with the study, said the paper provides new evidence for "an alarming decline" that many entomologists have suspected for some time.
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The meticulous sampling of flying insects over so many sites and so many years yielded a dataset that is unique in the world, de Kroon told Seeker. The study reveals a 76 percent seasonal decline, and an 82 percent mid-summer drop in flying insect biomass over the 27 years of study.
To do so, they measured the total flying insect biomass, the weight of the insect catch, by using tent-like nets called Malaise traps.
"Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth", Dave Goulson, a biologist at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom and a co-author of the new study, said in a statement. "We can barely imagine what would happen if this downward trend continues unabated." said Project leader Hans de Kroon from Radboud University in the Netherlands.
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"However", he continued, "when you get an over 75 percent decline in total insect biomass, you know this is not due to a few or vulnerable species".
This is a malaise trap in a nature protection area in Germany.
Mr Goulsen said a possible explanation would be insects dying when they fly out of nature reserves into farmland "with very little to offer for any wild creature". It is likely that the results are representative for large parts of Europe and other parts of the world where nature reserves are enclosed by a mostly intensively used agricultural landscape. "As entire ecosystems are dependent on insects for food and as pollinators, it places the decline of insect eating birds and mammals in a new context".
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While noting they had not "exhaustively analyzed the climatic variables" that may have impacted populations, such as "prolonged droughts, or lack of sunshine especially in low temperatures", they also suggested "agricultural intensification (e.g. pesticide usage, year-round tillage, increased use of fertilizers and frequency of agronomic measures) that we could not incorporate in our analyses, may form a plausible cause".