Photo by Michael Pocock.

By Esther Felgentreff, Sascha Buchholz, and Tanja Straka.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; please check back for a link to the full paper.

The topic of the insect die-off has gained increasing attention in the German public in the past years, starting with Hallmann et. al.’s 2017 article “More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas” in the scientific journal PLOS One. In Germany and beyond, the media widely covered the dramatic insect declines this study found. Because of its topicality and considering that people’s awareness is crucial for conservation efforts, we asked if the study actually induced higher awareness for the insect die-off, and if this brought along increased intentions for insect-protecting actions among the public.

To track people’s interest in the topic, we assessed Google searches including the keyword Insektensterben (insect die-off). We found a peak of searches for insect die-off in the week of the study publication. Furthermore, we found more searches including the keyword for six months after the publication than before, which suggests the raised interest was long-term.

We further investigated whether Google searches changed for keywords that address insect protection actions, such as installing an insect hotel or buying bee-friendly plants. Searches for these keywords did not change much between the summers before the study publication but increased significantly every year after. We can thus show that this one study has actually had a remarkable impact: People were not only more interested in the topic since the study came out, but also in practicable actions they could take to address insect die-off.

From our study, we draw two recommendations: Firstly, media agencies should use the open window of opportunity after shocking news about a crisis to spread information on feasible counteractions, for example, presenting tips for an insect-friendly garden in the very article that informs about insect die-off. Secondly, we advise conservation agencies and scientists to collaborate with the media to assure spread of valuable information at the right time.