Study By United Nations Warns Extinction Danger For Bees, Butterflies, Other Pollinators

A study by United Nations has forewarned that bees, birds, butterflies, and beetles are among a growing list of pollinator species under the threat of global extinction, a trend that could put the world’s food supply at risk.

Tens of thousands of species of pollinators like bees, butterflies, flies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds, bats, and other animals that contribute to pollination play a significant role in the world’s food production and contribute to billions of dollars in food yield are at risk, according to a report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

The U.N.-sponsored assessment, titled Thematic Assessment of Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production, took two years to complete, with a team of 77 experts from around the world poring over 3,000 scientific papers to compile the report. It is the first assessment of its kind that is based on the available knowledge from science and indigenous and local knowledge systems.

Vera Lucia Imperatriz-Fonseca, Ph.D., co-chair of the assessment and Senior Professor at the University of São Paulo, said the following.

“Pollinators are important contributors to world food production and nutritional security. Their health is directly linked to our own well-being.”

More than three-fourths of the world’s food crops rely at least in part on pollination by insects and other animals. According to the study, nearly 16 percent of the current global vertebrate pollinators are headed toward extinction. As a result, an estimated $235 to $577 billion in global crops could be affected annually.

Pollinated crops include those that provide fruit, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and oils. Many of these are important dietary sources of vitamins and minerals, without which the risks of malnutrition might be expected to increase. Several crops also represent an important source of income in developing countries from, for example, the production of coffee and cocoa.

Simon Potts, Ph.D., the other assessment co-chair and Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, United Kingdom, said the following.

“Without pollinators, many of us would no longer be able to enjoy coffee, chocolate and apples, among many other foods that are part of our daily lives,”

The researchers say that nearly 90% of wild flowering plants are at risk, as most of them depend on animal pollination to some extent, reports the CNN.

Declines in wild pollinators have been noted in northwestern Europe and North America, the study says, as well as in other parts of the world. Several factors could be causing the species decline. Sir Robert Watson, vice-chair of the IPBES, said the following.

“Wild pollinators in certain regions, especially bees and butterflies, are being threatened by a variety of factors. 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 report doesn’t pinpoint on a singular factor, but enumerates a number of culprits. It indicates the way farming has changed so there’s not enough diversity and wild flowers for pollinators to use as food; pesticide use, including a controversial one, neonicotinoid, that attacks the nervous system; habitat loss to cities; disease, parasites and pathogens; and global warming, reports the CBS.

But there is hope. The study included information practices like sustainable agriculture, diversifying crops and eco-friendly food production, actions that may ensure that the story of the birds and the bees will be told for many generations to come and information from 60 locations across the globe. Zakri Abdul Hamid, elected Founding Chair of IPBES, released a statement.

“The good news is that a number of steps can be taken to reduce the risks to pollinators, including practices based on indigenous and local knowledge.”

Bees and other pollinators make important contributions to our plates and the United Nations report has rightly raised our awareness towards that.

[Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]