INBO Research Challenges

What is causing the significant decline in pollinators and other insects?

Scientists are deeply concerned about the sharp decline of insects in recent decades. This issue also received a lot of attention in the media. Insects represent at least 80% of all biodiversity on Earth and play a crucial role as pollinators, soil conditioners and nutrient recyclers in every ecosystem. In Flanders, identifying the precise causes of the decline often poses a challenge. Presumably, the explanation lies in a combination of factors such as intensive land use, pollution, nitrogen deposition, climate change or invasive species.

INBO aims to address the issue by:

  1. Setting up a monitoring network in Flanders for various functional groups of insects (decomposers, scavengers, predators, etc.). Currently, we often rely on findings from our neighbouring countries. By means of an area-wide monitoring network, we want to find out how insects in our region are doing compared to the rest of Europe.
  2. Setting up a monitoring network for pollinators in Flanders. Currently, only diurnal butterflies and moths and some Flemish priority insect species, such as dragonflies, grasshoppers and wood-dwelling beetles, are monitored in Flanders. There is no monitoring network for pollinators such as hoverflies and wild bees. Driven by the European Green Deal and the proposed Nature Restoration Law, from 2026 every member state of the European Union must have a pollinator monitoring network that is scientifically based. INBO has already launched some pilot projects with a focus on agricultural areas. To get a better view of insect trends, we want to extend this monitoring network to other biotope types such as forests, heathlands, grasslands, dunes and urban areas (gardens, parks, road verges).
  3. Engaging in innovative monitoring methods. There is only a small group of people well versed in insect taxonomy. Therefore, we are exploring how to use innovative monitoring methods such as camera traps, environmental DNA (eDNA) and metabarcoding. With these methods, we can also employ citizen science.
  4. Increasing ecological knowledge about insect groups. For a well-founded pollinator monitoring network in Flanders, we also need ecological knowledge about the different insect groups, e.g.: which species pollinate which plants.
  5. Investigate the mechanisms behind population trends. Through applied research, manipulating various environmental variables, we can find out the effects on insect populations. Here, we want to investigate pressure factors such as nitrogen deposition, pesticides and light pollution, (micro-)climate change and urbanisation, and their possible synergistic effects.
  6. With the scientific insights, we want to meet the requirements of the proposed European Nature Restoration Law and contribute to regional initiatives such as the Flemish Wild Pollinators Action Plan, in order to formulate better management and conservation measures. We are also committed to structural cooperation with other policy and research partners, in Flanders and internationally.


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