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Hans de Kroon
Radboud University, The Netherlands
Insect loss in the Anthropocene
Observations in German nature reserves over almost 30 years have revealed that the biomass of flying insects has decreased by 75%. Three years after his study aroused science and public, De Kroon reflects on the general validity of this finding, what it reveals on the threats of biodiversity and whether restoration measures are adequate.
Ecological communities vary greatly in time and in space which places high demands on the datasets suitable for estimating reliable trends. The German Krefeld data is unique and showed that insect decline was universal, seen in all habitats with different environmental conditions, and could not be explained by changes in landscape configuration or climate change over the years. Further analyses of the hoverfly communities show that the common species strongly decline in numbers, and that a significant number of moderately common species have gone extinct over the years. A number of other studies over the last three years confirm these results. Major insect loss may jeopardize ecosystem functioning at large including pollination services, food provisioning and soil processes.
Based on current knowledge, there is likely not one single underlying cause for the insect decline, calling for a multifaceted action plan for insect recovery. In many countries, landscape restoration plans and agricultural reform have been initiated. De Kroon pleas for solid monitoring schemes to evaluate restoration measures and to increase our yet preliminary insight in the processes maintaining biodiversity in the current era.
Hans de Kroon obtained his PhD at the University of Utrecht in 1990, followed by postdocs in the USA at Indiana University and the Smithsonian Institute. He returned to Utrecht with a Royal Academy Fellowship, worked at Wageningen University for 6 years before he was appointed as Full Professor of Plant Ecology at Radboud University in 2000. De Kroon served as an editor for number of scientific journals, was elected as a member of the Academia Europaea (2019) and chairs the Netherlands Ecological Research Network.
Much of his early research career focused on ecological strategies of plant species, particularly on the physiology and ecology of roots. Over time, he became interested in community processes, how different species interact and how these processes contribute to the maintenance of biodiversity. De Kroon’s approach is partly experimental, partly observational deriving trends from long-term data obtained a.o. from citizen science. In recent years he has been involved in projects on the ecological status of wild flower communities, birds and insects working with a variety of governmental and non-governmental organisations. From this overview he erected the research consortium ‘Healthy Landscape’ at Radboud University, in which a variety of scientific disciplines collaborate towards a sustainable recovery of the landscape for biodiversity, farmers and the wider public.