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Dramatic declines in insect numbers could see 40% of species die out in the “largest extinction event on Earth” for millions of years.

Scientists have warned of a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems” if numbers continue to decline, as insects are key to many of the world’s natural systems and wildlife chains.

Insects provide a food source to other wildlife such as birds and mammals, and are also important for pollinating plants and recycling nutrients.

Researchers say the agricultural industry is largely to blame for declining populations, with destruction of habitat and the widespread use of pesticides having a major impact.

AYRSHIRE, SCOTLAND - MAY 27: A Great Tit pauses on a fence with an insect in its beak to feed its young, May 27, 2004 in Ayrshire, Scotland. The Royal Society For The Protection Of birds is encouraging Britons across the country to take part in an insect census to monitor numbers and species. The results will be used to calculate likely impact on the indigenous bird populations. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
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Many birds rely on insects for food

Other factors include disease and introduced species, as well as climate change, with rising temperatures affecting the range of places insects can live.

The Earth is currently facing its sixth mass extinction, according to another study published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report found billions of animal species have been lost over the last few decades in a “biological annihilation” of wildlife.

Insect numbers are declining by 2.5% each year and a third of species are endangered, meaning many face extinction by the end of the century.

Bees are among the most affected by declining populations
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Bees are among the most affected by declining populations

They currently make up more than half of the world’s species, but research shows they are disappearing much faster than birds and mammals.

The latest study, published in the journal Biological Conservation, found butterflies, bees and dung beetles were among the worst hit.

This not only affected “specialist” species which rely on particular host plants or habitats, but more hardy types as well.

Scientists say urgent action is needed to prevent the mass extinction.

The study’s authors, Francisco Sanchez-Bayo and Kris Wyckhuys, said: “The conclusion is clear: unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades.

Researchers say the loss of insects could be 'catastrophic'
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Researchers say the loss of insects could be ‘catastrophic’

“The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least, as insects are at the structural and functional base of many of the world’s ecosystems since their rise at the end of the Devonian period, almost 400 million years ago.”

They called for a dramatic reduction in the use of pesticides, habitat restoration and changes to agriculture, such as planting flowers along the margins of fields.

The chief executive of the wildlife charity Buglife called the report “gravely sobering” and also urged change.

“It is becoming increasingly obvious our planet’s ecology is breaking and there is a need for an intense and global effort to halt and reverse these dreadful trends – allowing the slow eradication of insect life to continue is not a rational option,” said Matt Shardlow.

Falling insect populations have been the subject of concern for a number of years, with a report published last year finding species in German nature reserves had declined by more than 75% during the 27-year study.

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Flooding and mudslides kill at least 60 people in South Africa | World News

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Flooding and mudslides have killed at least 60 people on South Africa’s eastern coast, officials have said.

Most of the deaths were in KwaZulu-Natal province, where many homes collapsed, and at least three people died in neighbouring Eastern Cape.

Rescuers were digging through the collapsed buildings on Wednesday after days of heavy rain hit areas around the port city of Durban.

A car stuck in floodwater in Chatsworth, south of Durban
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A car stuck in floodwater in Chatsworth, south of Durban

More than 1,000 people have also fled their homes.

The extent of the rain late on Monday was unexpected, said Lennox Mabaso from the Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Department.

He said some people had been swept away by floodwater, adding: “There was flooding and some structures were undermined and collapsed on people.”

Debris scattered after flooding in Amanzimtoti, near Durban
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Officials say the extent of Monday evening’s rain was not anticipated

Victor da Silva, from the coastal town of Amanzimtoti, said his family managed to get out before the floods destroyed their home and cars.

He said: “On Monday, the water was just crazy.

“And yesterday morning I got here, everything was fine, my garage was still here, the other part of the house was still here, and it just couldn’t stop raining.

“And then an hour-and-a-half later, everything [vanished] because the rain just hasn’t stopped.”

President Ramaphosa laid a wreath where some of the victims died
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President Cyril Ramaphosa laid a wreath where some of the victims died

The deaths come a week after 13 people died when a wall at a church in KwaZulu-Natal collapsed after heavy rain.

Strong rain and wind is believed to have caused the collapse. Pic: Twitter/ @_ArriveAlive
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A church wall collapsed after bad weather last week, killing 13. Pic: Twitter/ @_ArriveAlive

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visited the province on Wednesday and is expected to visit the Eastern Cape in the next few days.

“This is partly what climate change is about, that it just hits when we least expect it,” said Mr Ramaphosa.

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Facebook warns of $5bn hit as US investigates how it handles user data | Business News

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Facebook has warned it could face a hit of up to $5bn (£3.88bn) as a result of an investigation by US regulators into its handling of user data.

The social media giant, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, disclosed the estimated cost of the investigation into it by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as it published first-quarter financial results.

Facebook reported a 26% rise in revenues to $15.1bn (£11.7bn) – beating analysts’ targets – and estimated that more than 2.1 billion people on average now use its “family” of services every day.

But profits fell by 51% compared with the same period last year to $2.43bn (£1.88bn) as it set aside $3bn (£2.33bn) to cover the FTC inquiry into its “platform and user data practices”.

The FTC has been investigating revelations that Facebook inappropriately shared information belonging to 87 million of its users with political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica.

The probe has focused on whether the sharing of the data with the British firm, and other privacy disputes, violated a 2011 agreement with the regulator to safeguard users’ privacy.

The FTC is yet to announce any findings.

Facebook said it estimated the range of loss it faced as a result of the investigation was between $3bn and $5bn.

The company added: “The matter remains unresolved and there can be no assurance as to the timing or the terms of any final outcome.”

Investors shrugged off the disclosure, sending shares 5% higher in after-hours trading as they focused on Facebook’s buoyant revenues – boosted by the success of its Instagram platform and surging ad income.

Facebook also reported an 80% rise in costs to $11.8bn (£9.15bn) as it ramped up spending to improve content and security across its platforms.

The company’s number of employees stood at nearly 38,000 at the end of last month, up 36% on last year.

It added that its measure of monthly active users rose by 8% to 2.38 billion as of 31 March, while daily active users rose 8% to 1.56 billion on average for March.

Founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said: “We had a good quarter and our business and community continue to grow.

“We are focused on building out our privacy-focused vision for the future of social networking, and working collaboratively to address important issues around the internet.”

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Three-year-old migrant boy found alone and in tears near US border | US News

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A three-year-old migrant boy was found wandering alone in a Texas cornfield near the US-Mexico border.

The boy, in tears, was discovered in the Rio Grande Valley near Brownsville by US Border Patrol agents on Tuesday morning.

Officials said his name and a telephone number were written on his shoes.

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) tweeted: “We believe the boy was with a larger group that ran when they encountered agents.”

The boy has been taken to a nearby border station while officials try to trace his family.

Donald Trump says the Russia hoax is finally dead
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Donald Trump has warned the US is sending armed troops to the border

It came as Donald Trump renewed his threat on Wednesday to send more troops to the US-Mexico border after an incident in which Mexican soldiers confronted US personnel.

Mexico blamed the incident on confusion, and said it was not looking for confrontation with the US.

In tweets on Wednesday morning, Mr Trump said: “Mexico’s Soldiers recently pulled guns on our National Guard Soldiers.”

He said it was probably as a diversionary tactic for drug smugglers on the border.

The president added: “Better not happen again! We are now sending ARMED SOLDIERS to the Border. Mexico is not doing nearly enough in apprehending & returning!”

US Border Patrol agents have been struggling to cope with the rising number of families trying to reach the US from Central America.

Between January and the end of March this year, 207,475 people have been detained on the southwest US border, according to US Border Patrol figures.

The fencing is going to be erected in Yuma, Arizona and El Paso, Texas
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Army engineers have been given to start building 57 miles of 18ft-high fencing along the border

Mr Trump made migration a key part of his presidential campaign as he said criminals and drug dealers from Mexico were swamping the US.

The president had promised to build a wall to stop the flow of migrants – but last year, Congress refused to give him the $5.7bn (£4.5bn) needed to construct it, leading to a government shutdown.

In February, he declared a national emergency so he could get round Congress and divert funds from the military to the wall.

In March, army engineers received permission to start planning and building 57 miles of 18ft-high fencing along the border.

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