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Daily News Blog

17
Aug

Global Review Identifies Key Drivers of Pollinator Decline, Threat for Humanity

(Beyond Pesticides, August 17, 2021) “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” This quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein (although its true origins are unknown), but it begs an important question: What are the consequences to humankind of a world where pollinators are rapidly declining? Modern-day scientists have begun to explore that question, and a group of 20 experts recently published a global-scale assessment of the risks associated with the ongoing worldwide decline of pollinator populations in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. While the study experts do not provide such a dire time frame, the message unfortunately is not too far off from the Einstein-attributed quote. “What happens to pollinators could have huge knock-on effects for humanity,” said lead study author Lynn Dicks, PhD from the University of Cambridge, UK. “These small creatures play central roles in the world’s ecosystems, including many that humans and other animals rely on for nutrition. If they go, we may be in serious trouble.”

With a study objective of identifying the key drivers and implications for global pollinator decline, a group of 20 pollinator experts from throughout the world were brought together for discussion. A process called the Delphi technique, which included multiple rounds of discussion and anonymous scoring, was used to create consensus among the experts. Drivers of pollinator decline were ranked based on impacts identified by an assessment conducted by Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a global review similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Drivers include: land management, pesticide use, land cover (land use type), pests and pathogens, pollinator management practices, genetically engineered organisms, invasive species, and climate change.

Overall, land cover, land management, and pesticide use are identified as ‘very important’ or ‘important’ drivers of pollinator declines in nearly every geographic region of the world. While climate change is also identified as such, experts do not have as much confidence in its importance when compared to other factors putting pollinators at risk. Pests and pathogens are identified as very important risks in North America and Latin America, and generally rank above concerns over pollinator management and invasive species. Genetically engineered cropping systems are identified as a lower threat in most regions of the world, but very important threat in Latin America, where hazards are identified due to high use of glyphosate resistant crops and subsequent data on the dangers of that chemical to pollinators.

After identifying the primary drivers of pollinator decline, the experts assess the risks pollinator losses have on human well-being. The impacts evaluated include: pollination deficits, food system resilience, wild fruit availability, plant diversity, yield instability, honey production, wild pollinator diversity, managed pollinator status, and aesthetic and cultural values. In sum, impacts on crop pollination and the decline of wild pollinator diversity were seen as the biggest impacts in any given area of the world. Researchers note a specific concern for crop pollination in Asia and Africa, where insect-pollinated foods are critically important for nutrition. Both China and Kenya have already had experiences where local pollinator die-offs now require humans to hand pollinate crops. Latin America may be the hardest hit – it had the largest number of ‘high risk’ designations – for pollination deficits, wild pollinator diversity, yield instability, and food system resilience, and ‘serious’ concerns are listed for all other potential impacts. The study indicates that in Latin America, “Continuing losses of pollinators are therefore likely to destabilize both regional food production and international trade, affecting livelihoods across the region.”

While Africa is at risk from pollination deficits, wild fruit availability, wild pollinator diversity, and wild plant diversity, it ranks low for risks to managed pollinators. Evidence indicates that native honey bees (A. mellifera) are thriving on the African continent, due to a more genetically diverse stock than other regions of the world. The story is different in North America, where dependency on honey bees in large, industrial agricultural systems risks significant disruptions.

The most difficult to score were impacts to the aesthetic and cultural value pollinators provide. On one hand, the study argues that this aspect may be increasing due to increased public awareness about their importance, and changes in cultural perceptions as a result. However, this would make their eventual loss even more impactful on society. “Pollinators have been sources of inspiration for art, music, literature and technology since the dawn of human history,” said Dr. Dicks. “All the major world religions have sacred passages about bees. When tragedy struck Manchester in 2017, people reached for bees as a symbol of community strength.” Dr. Dicks was referring to the Manchester Arena bombing in the UK, where 22 attendees were killed by a suicide bomber. Manchester had long associated itself with ‘busy bees’ and the ‘worker bee,’ but the bombings brought the community together around the pollinator, and the victims have since been honored by murals, tattoos, and other bee-focused commemorations.

“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. We notice and feel their loss,” Dr. Dicks says. “Where are the clouds of butterflies in the late summer garden, or the myriad moths fluttering in through open windows at night? We are in the midst of a species extinction crisis, but for many people that is intangible. Perhaps pollinators are the bellwether of mass extinction,” he concludes.

Although there remain a number of unknowns in regards to the impacts of pollinator losses, there can be no question that they are under global threat from a range of harmful drivers, with toxic pesticide use chief among them. It is incumbent upon every global resident to take action to protect these critically important species – not only for the services they provide humanity, but also for their inherent value and right to exist.

In depth reviews and expert consensus-making could change the trajectory of pollinator declines – particularly in the United States. A bill in Congress that would save bees and other pollinators, the Saving America’s Pollinators Act (SAPA), introduced by Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), would put experts in charge of determining threats and remedies to ongoing pollinator declines. With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency failing to take action on pollinators due to corrupt industry influence, it is time for EPA to take a back seat, and let pollinator experts determine the best path forward for pollinator health. Send a message to your Congressional rep urging them to cosponsor SAPA – consider following up with a direct call to their office, and if they’ve already signed on, be sure to thank them.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: University of Cambridge press release, Nature Ecology and Evolution

 

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2 Responses to “Global Review Identifies Key Drivers of Pollinator Decline, Threat for Humanity”

  1. 1
    Jerry Hayes Says:

    May I re-print this in Bee Culture magazine?

    Jerry Hayes

  2. 2
    Beyond Pesticides Says:

    Jerry,

    Beyond Pesticides welcomes republications of its Daily News blog. We ask that you please include reference back to Beyond Pesticides and the original article.

    Best,
    -Beyond Pesticides staff

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