An international panel of experts recently reported that the forces driving the world’s rapid loss of bees and other pollinators are the widespread use of pesticides and the resulting destruction of nature.
According to a global index of the causes and effects of pollinator decline, the main contributors to their collapse are expanded grazing for livestock, the widespread use of chemical fertilizers, and shifts in land usage towards vast tracts of monoculture crops like corn.
People everywhere are experiencing the potentially devastating consequences of dwindling pollinator populations.
The affected species, which are vital for the reproduction of more than three-quarters of food crops and flowering plants, including coffee, rapeseed, and most fruits, are bees, wasps, butterflies, bats, beetles, flies, and hummingbirds, as they all distribute pollen.
Lynn Dicks, a professor in Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, and lead author of a study in Nature Ecology & Evolution, is of the opinion that what happens to pollinators could have huge knock-on effects for humanity. She says these small creatures play central roles in the world’s ecosystems, including many that humans and animals rely on for nutrition. If they were to go, we may be in serious trouble.
According to a major United Nations 2016 report to which Dicks contributed, over the past 50 years the world has had a three-fold increase in pollinator-dependent food production, valued at nearly $600 billion annually. Dicks worked with 20 scientists and indigenous representatives from around the world to get an up-to-date overview of pollinator status and the risks associated with their decline.
This unrelated 3:19-minute video by atlanticoBR looks at bees in a potential global extinction:
The causes and impacts of decline vary across various global regions. In North America, industrial beehives and other ‘managed pollinators’ that play a key role in apple and almond production are ranked as high risk for mass die-offs due to disease and so-called colony collapse disorder.
In regions where poorer rural populations rely on wild-growing foods — like Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America – the impact of pollinator decline on wild plants and fruits poses a serious risk. Latin America was seen as the region with the most to lose. Indigenous populations depend on pollinated plants, with some pollinator species like hummingbirds embedded in oral culture and history.
Insect-pollinated crops like cashews, soybean, coffee, and cocoa are essential to global trade and local food supply.
Tom Breeze, co-author, and ecological economics research fellow at the University of Reading, said, “This study highlights just how much we still don’t know about pollinator decline and the impacts on human societies, particularly in parts of the developing world.”
China and India are increasingly reliant on fruit and vegetable crops that require pollinators. Otherwise, the loss of natural sources means pollination must at times be done by hand.
According to Dicks, pollinators are often the most immediate representatives of the natural world in our daily lives. These are the creatures that captivate us early in life, so we notice and feel their loss. She says we are in the midst of a species extinction crisis, but for many people that is intangible. Pollinators may be the indicators of mass extinction.
The study noted that a potential driver of pollinator decline that is likely to worsen is climate change. Some species, like hummingbirds in Latin America, can only collect nectar and pollen in the shade during constant heatwaves, one study reported, which makes it more challenging to feed themselves.
If you ponder the information in this post... more pollinators are dying but at the same time more human beings and animals are relying on pollinated foods for survival, it doesn't take long to conclude that this could lead to catastrophe of unparalleled proportions.
So what can we do to shift this potential reality while we still have time?