Van Deynze, B., S. M. Swinton, D. A. Hennessy, N. M. Haddad, and L. Ries. Neonicotinoids, more than herbicides, land use, and climate, drive recent butterfly declines in the American Midwest. bioRxiv doi: 10.1101/2022.07.29.502042
Mounting evidence shows insects are in decline globally. Habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides have all been implicated, but their relative effects have never been evaluated in a comprehensive large-scale study. We harmonized 17 years of land use, climate, multiple classes of pesticides and butterfly data across 60 counties in five states in the US Midwest. We find community-wide declines in butterfly abundance to be most strongly associated with pesticides in general and the use of neonicotinoid-treated seeds in particular. This included the abundance of the migratory monarch (Danaus plexippus), whose decline is the focus of intensive debate and public concern. Insect declines cannot be understood without comprehensive data on all putative drivers, and the 2015 cessation of neonicotinoid data releases in the US will impede future research.
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