Addressing global challenges with unconventional insect ecosystem services: Why should humanity care about insect larvae?

Juliano Morimoto Borges* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
4 Downloads (Pure)


Ecosystem services are essential for the health of current and future generations and key to the sustainable development of our societies. The role of insects in providing ecosystem services has been increasingly recognized, becoming the focus of several management and conservation initiatives world-wide.
However, ecosystem services framework traditionally overlooks the full range of services that can be provided by insects, largely because services provided by life stages other than the insect adult are often neglected.
In this paper, I first review the traditional ecosystem services primarily attributed to insects, namely edible insects and mass-rearing for biological control. Next, I provide a collection of unconventional ecosystem services provided by insect larvae which highlights the importance of considering life stage-specific services in a holistic view of the ecosystem services framework.
In particular, I discuss recent advances that revealed how insect larvae can degrade plastic, which is one of humanity's greatest environmental pollutants, and how larvae can be used to produce biofuel to help overcome the increasing contribution of the fossil fuel industry to climate change. I then discuss how toxic compounds produced by the larvae of some insects provide potential new medicines for clinical treatment and lastly, I discuss a unique example of how the larval stage of insects is entrenched into the cultural values of Aboriginal communities in Australia.
In conclusion, by acknowledging life stage-specific ecosystem services provided by insects, this paper raises awareness of unconventional services that can underpin innovative solutions to contemporary global challenges, which can ultimately help create more sustainable and culturally diverse societies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)582-595
Number of pages14
JournalPeople and Nature
Issue number3
Early online date26 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2020

Bibliographical note

I would like to acknowledge: Mr Phil Duncan (‘Uncle Phil’) for invaluable mentorship on Australian Aboriginal culture and for authorizing the use of the dreamtime story in this paper. Dr Vera Williams Tetteh (‘Mom’) for countless discussions about the similarities of Latin American and African cultures and for showing me unshakable belief in the strength of those from discriminated cultures. Without these experiences, the broad perspective of this manuscript would never have been attained. I also acknowledge Mrs Anuska Nardelli for authorizing the use of Lonomia obliqua's photos and two anonymous reviewers and the editors for very helpful comments on the early versions of the manuscript.


  • caterpillars
  • climate change
  • edible insects
  • ethnobiology
  • grubs
  • indigenous culture
  • maggots
  • renewable energy installations


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