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December 15, 2018   
Bugs Worth Big Bucks  May 02, 2006

According to Cornell University entomologist John Losey, insects arenít just pests to be eliminated; many of them also perform beneficial functions. Losey is co-author of a study that calculated the dollar value of some of those insect services at more than $57 billion in the United States annually. The research, which appeared in the BioScience was co-authored with Mace Vaughan, conservation director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

The study found that native insects are food for wildlife that supports a $50 billion recreation industry, provide more than $4.5 billion in pest control, pollinate $3 billion in crops and clean up grazing lands, which saves ranchers some $380 million a year. Using published data, Losey and Vaughan compared the values of each service at current levels of function to theoretical levels if they were absent. For wildlife nutrition, they used census data annual spending for observing or hunting wildlife, and what portion of the animals depend on insects for nutrition.

For pest control, they looked at the amount of damage now incurred by pests, and, knowing that 65 percent of pests are controlled by other insects, calculated the losses if predators or parasites werenít going after their prey. For pollination, they looked at the value of the crops known to be insect pollinated and subtracted the value of those pollinated by domesticated honeybees.

For rangeland cleanup, they estimated the losses if dung beetles did not clean nearby plants and cattle environments and calculated how much fertilizer would be needed to compensate for nitrogen not being returned to the soil promptly.

The analysis did not include such important insect services as decomposing carcasses, garbage and trees; producing honey, shellac, dyes and other products; being used in medicine or as a source of food for animals other than those used in hunting, fishing and birding; and providing a direct source of food for humans. Based on the analysis, Losey and Vaughan call for greater investment in research on the ecological functions of insects so that the services they provide can be conserved or even enhanced.

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