Unravelling insect declines: Can space replace time?

Nico Blüthgen, Michael Staab, Rafael Achury, Wolfgang W. Weisser

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Temporal trends in insect numbers vary across studies and habitats, but drivers are poorly understood. Suitable long-term data are scant and biased, and interpretations of trends remain controversial. By contrast, there is substantial quantitative evidence for drivers of spatial variation. From observational and experimental studies, we have gained a profound understanding of where insect abundance and diversity is higher - and identified underlying environmental conditions, resource change and disturbances. We thus propose an increased consideration of spatial evidence in studying the causes of insect decline. This is because for most time series available today, the number of sites and thus statistical power strongly exceed the number of years studied. Comparisons across sites allow quantifying insect population risks, impacts of land use, habitat destruction, restoration or management, and stressors such as chemical and light pollution, pesticides, mowing or harvesting, climatic extremes or biological invasions. Notably, drivers may not have to change in intensity to have long-term effects on populations, e.g. annually repeated disturbances or mortality risks such as those arising from agricultural practices. Space-for-time substitution has been controversially debated. However, evidence from well-replicated spatial data can inform on urgent actions required to halt or reverse declines - to be implemented in space.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0666
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Arthropods
  • biodiversity loss
  • lag effects
  • land-use intensity
  • space-for-time substitution
  • time series


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