Why are insects important?

Everyone must have heard of the “Save the bees” movement but not everyone knows why we must save the bees and many other insect species. Many people still view insects as pests, nuisances and bugs. However, the role they play in ecosystems is essential.

Firstly, insects maintain the food web, which humans heavily rely on. Without insects, producers (plants) would not be pollinated and secondary consumer, that rely on insects as a source of food, would die out. This is referred to as interdependence; because different species in a population rely on each other. Therefore, when one species in an ecosystem is disrupted, that usually means all of them are.

This is a food web. If the population of algae was disrupted, the consumers (chiton, limpet, zooplankton) would decline in number. This could have a knock on affect on the secondary and tertiary consumers too.

Insects play a key role in promoting plant growth. This is due their ability to pollinate, aerate soil and decompose waste.

1. Pollination

Insects take nectar from flowers for their own benefit, however in the process, they also take pollen. Pollen is taken from the flower’s androecium (male part of the plant) at the anther (whilst the pollen is made in the filament of the androecium). The insect flies and once it reaches a new flower, the pollen sticks to the gynoecium (stigma) of the new plant. Through this pollination (sexual reproduction in plants) occurs. Plants can then mature a fertilised ovary to form fruit. Thus, through the insects’ delivery of pollen, crops grow.

Insects have evolved specialised characteristics to be able to pollinate this way. Many insects have fine hairs on their legs which picks up pollen and prevents pollen from falling off during flight. In addition, insects have a long proboscis (mouthparts) which allows them to reach down into taller flowers to get nectar and pollen.

Here is a butterfly’s tongue which is curled up when it is not being used.

Honeybees have pollen baskets that carry lots of pollen.
Here you cam see a bee with pollen stuck to it’s hairs.

2. Soil Aeration

Insects help soil aeration by creating holes in the soil. This is important because it allows air to be replenished with air from the atmosphere. It also means water and nutrients can reach deeper into the soil, providing benefits for plant growth.

Waste Decomposition

Insects maintain the soil further through their role as decomposers. They recycle dead matter, creating the top soil. Top soil is nutrient rich which is needed for sufficient plant growth.

Insects are important for the health and growth of plants which is why the agricultural industry needs to embrace then. Some have even started to mass produce insects to sell to farmers to improve crop yields and soil fertility.

Unfortunately, there are a small minority of insects that are pests but not all should be categorised as such.

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