Fewer pollinators, less food
Pollinators vital to our food supply under threat.
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