A window to the world of global insect declines: moth biodiversity trends are complex and heterogeneous.
Moths are the most taxonomically and ecologically diverse insect taxon for which there exist considerable time-series abundance data. There is an alarming record of decreases in moth abundance and diversity from across Europe, with rates varying markedly among and within regions. Recent reports from Costa Rica reveal steep cross-lineage declines of caterpillars, while other sites (Ecuador and Arizona, reported here) show no or only modest long-term decreases over the past two decades. Rates of decline for dietary and ecological specialists are steeper than those for ecologically generalized taxa. Additional traits commonly associated with elevated risks include large wingspans, small geographic ranges, low dispersal ability, and univoltinism; taxa associated with grasslands, aridlands, and nutrient-poor habitats also appear to be at higher risk. In temperate areas, many moth taxa limited historically by abiotic factors are increasing in abundance and range. We regard the most important continental-scale stressors to include reductions in habitat quality and quantity resulting from land-use change and climate change and, to a lesser extent, atmospheric nitrification and introduced species. Site-specific stressors include pesticide use and light pollution. Our assessment of global macrolepidopteran population trends includes numerous cases of both region-wide and local losses and studies that report no declines. Spatial variation of reported losses suggests that multiple stressors are in play. With the exception of recent reports from Costa Rica, the most severe examples of moth declines are from Northern Hemisphere regions of high human-population density and intensive agriculture.