1. The importance, diversity, and conservation of insects
Curiosity alone concerning the identities and lifestyles of the fellow inhabitants of our planet justifies the study of insects. Some of us have used insects as totems and symbols in spiritual life, and we portray them in art and music. If we consider economic factors, the effects of insects are enormous. Few human societies lack honey, provided by bees (or specialized ants). Insects pollinate our crops. Many insects share our houses, agriculture, and food stores. Others live on us, our domestic pets, or our livestock, and yet more visit to feed on us where they may transmit disease. Clearly, we should understand these pervasive animals.
Although there are millions of kinds of insects, we do not know exactly (or even approximately) how many. This ignorance of how many organisms we share our planet with is remarkable considering that astronomers have listed, mapped, and uniquely identified a comparable diversity of galactic objects. Some estimates, which we discuss in detail below, imply that the species richness of insects is so great that, to a near approximation, all organisms can be considered to be insects. Although dominant on land and in freshwater, few insects are found beyond the tidal limit of oceans.
In this opening chapter, we outline the significance of insects and discuss their diversity and classification and their roles in our economic and wider lives. First, we outline the field of entomology and the role of entomologists, and then introduce the ecological functions of insects. Next, we explore insect diversity, and then discuss how we name and classify this immense diversity. Sections follow in which we consider past and some continuing cultural and economic aspects of insects, their aesthetic and tourism appeal, and their importance as foods for humans and animals. We conclude with a review of the conservation significance of insects.