Fewer pol­li­na­tors, less food

Pol­li­na­tors vi­tal to our food sup­ply un­der threat.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ECOWATCH - By tAN CHENG LI star2­green@ thes­tar. com. my

BEES, birds, but­ter­flies and bats are among a grow­ing list of pol­li­na­tor species fac­ing ex­tinc­tion, a trend that could threaten crops such as ap­ples, coffee, al­mond, and even duri­ans.

Ac­cord­ing to a United Na­tions­backed re­port that draws on the re­search find­ings of some 3,000 sci­en­tific pa­pers, 40% of in­ver­te­brate pol­li­na­tors – such as bees and but­ter­flies – are at risk of ex­tinc­tion. Also threat­ened are 16% ver­te­brate pol­li­na­tors, in­clud­ing a num­ber of species of bats and birds.

The re­port is the first out­come of the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal SciencePol­icy Plat­form on Bio­di­ver­sity and Ecosys­tem Ser­vices ( IPBES), an in­de­pen­dent body set up in 2012 to as­sess the state of the planet’s bio­di­ver­sity, its ecosys­tems and the es­sen­tial ser­vices they pro­vide to so­ci­ety. It was dis­cussed and adopted by the 124 mem­ber- coun­tries of IPBES at a meet­ing in Kuala Lumpur last week.

“Wild pol­li­na­tors in cer­tain re­gions, es­pe­cially bees and but­ter­flies, are be­ing threat­ened by a va­ri­ety of fac­tors,” said newly elected IPBES chair Robert Wat­son. “Their de­cline is pri­mar­ily due to changes in land use, in­ten­sive agri­cul­tural prac­tices and pes­ti­cide use, alien in­va­sive species, dis­eases and pests, and cli­mate change.”

The loss of th­ese pol­li­na­tors threat­ens food out­put as more than three- quar­ters of the world’s food crops rely on pol­li­na­tion by in­sects and other an­i­mals. There are more than 20,000 species of wild bees alone, plus many species of but­ter­flies, flies, moths, wasps, bee­tles, birds, bats and other an­i­mals that pol­li­nate ev­ery­thing from fruits to veg­eta­bles, seeds and nuts.

“Pol­li­na­tors are im­por­tant con­trib­u­tors to world food pro­duc­tion and nu­tri­tional se­cu­rity,” said Dr Vera Lu­cia Im­per­a­triz Fonseca, co- chair of the as­sess­ment and se­nior pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of Sao Paulo. “Their health is di­rectly linked to our own well- be­ing.”

De­clines in wild pol­li­na­tors have been con­firmed for north- western Europe and in North Amer­ica. In other parts of the world, data are too sparse to draw broad con­clu­sions al­though some de­clines have been seen. The as­sess­ment found that pes­ti­cides, in­clud­ing neon­i­coti­noid in­sec­ti­cides, threaten pol­li­na­tors world­wide, al­though the longterm ef­fects are still un­known.

“While gaps re­main in our knowl­edge of pol­li­na­tors, we have more than enough ev­i­dence to act,” Im­per­a­triz Fonseca said.

Pol­li­na­tors are also threat­ened by the de­cline of prac­tices based on in­dige­nous and lo­cal knowl­edge. Tra­di­tional farm­ing sys­tems of­ten main­tain di­verse land­scapes that help to pro­tect pol­li­na­tors. The as­sess­ment also said that the ef­fects of ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied crops on pol­li­na­tors are poorly un­der­stood and not usu­ally ac­counted for in risk as­sess­ments. Cli­mate change has also led to changes in the dis­tri­bu­tion of many pol­li­nat­ing bum­ble­bees and but­ter­flies and the plants that de­pend upon them.

The re­port high­lights var­i­ous ways to safe­guard pol­li­na­tors: sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture; main­tain­ing di­ver­sity of pol­li­na­tor habi­tats; sup­port­ing tra­di­tional prac­tices that man­age habi­tat patch­i­ness and crop ro­ta­tion; re­duc­ing pes­ti­cide us­age; and im­prov­ing man­aged bee hus­bandry for pathogen con­trol.

Jose Graziano da Silva, di­rec­tor- gen­eral of the Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion, de­scribes pol­li­na­tion ser­vices as an “agri­cul­tural in­put” that en­sures the pro­duc­tion of crops. “All farm­ers bene- fit from th­ese ser­vices. Im­prov­ing pol­li­na­tor den­sity and di­ver­sity has a di­rect pos­i­tive im­pact on crop yields, con­se­quently pro­mot­ing food and nutri­tion se­cu­rity.”

The re­port is the re­sult of more than two years of work by 77 sci­en­tists across the globe. At the KL meet­ing, IPBES also launched an am­bi­tious three- year sci­en­tific as­sess­ment of bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tem ser­vices. Mod­elled af­ter the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, IPBES pro­vides sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion to sup­port pol­icy- mak­ing in the area of bio­di­ver­sity.

Wasps and other pol­li­na­tors such as bees, birds, bee­tles and bats, face in­creas­ing risks to their sur­vival. Their de­cline threat­ens pro­duc­tion of foods which re­quire pol­li­na­tion. — reuters

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