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Daily News Blog

21
Jun

A Reminder for Pollinator Week: Protect Pollinator and Habitat and Well-Being Against Dramatic Declines

(Beyond Pesticides, June 21, 2023) Pollinators––bees, butterflies, birds, bats, and other organisms––make a critical contribution to plant health, crop productivity, and the preservation of natural resources. However, pesticides consistently act as a key contributor to dramatic pollinator declines. Much research attributes the decline of insect pollinators over the last several decades to the interaction of multiple environmental stressors, from climate change to pesticide use, disease, habitat destruction, and other factors. Roughly a quarter of the global insect population has disappeared since 1990, according to research published in the journal ScienceMonarchs are near extinction, and beekeepers continue to experience declines that are putting them out of business. We continue to lose mayflies, the foundation of many food chains, and fireflies, the foundation of many childhood summer memories. The declines in many bird species likely have close links to insect declines. Recent research finds that three billion birds, or 29% of bird abundance, have been lost since the 1970s. In a world where habitat loss and fragmentation show no sign of abating, scientists have concluded that the globe cannot afford to continue to subject its critically important wild insects to these combined threats. 

Clean air, water, and healthy soils are integral to ecosystem function, interacting between Earth’s four main spheres (i.e., hydrosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, and atmosphere) to support life. However, toxic pesticide residues readily contaminate these spheres, frequently in soils, water (solid and liquid), and the surrounding air at levels exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. The scientific literature demonstrates pesticides’ long history of adverse environmental effects, especially on wildlifebiodiversity, and human health. Most notably, pesticides are immensely harmful to pollinators. The pervasiveness of pesticide exposure combined with climate change threatens global species biodiversity. The globe is currently going through the Holocene Extinction, Earth’s 6th mass extinction, with one million species of plants and animals at risk. With the increasing rate of biodiversity loss, advocates say it is essential for government agencies to hold the pesticide industry accountable for the direct (i.e., excessive agrochemical use) and indirect (i.e., water pollution from runoff) impacts on ecosystems. A study in the journal Nature found that “The interaction between indices of historical climate warming and intensive agricultural land use is associated with reductions of almost 50% in abundance and 27% in the number of species within insect assemblages relative to those in less-disturbed habitats with lower rates of historical climate warming.”

Over the last decade and a half, increasing scientific evidence shows a clear connection between the role of pesticides in the decline of honey bees and wild pollinators. In the U.S., an increasing number of pollinators, including the American bumblebee and monarch butterfly, are being added or in consideration for listing under the Endangered Species Act, with specific chemical classes like systemic neonicotinoid insecticides putting 89% or more of U.S. endangered species at risk. Pesticides intensify pollinators’ vulnerability to health risks (such as pathogens and parasites), with pesticide-contaminated conditions limiting colony productivity, growth, and survival. Past research finds that notorious bee-killing neonicotinoid insecticides kill bees outright, resulting in a range of complex damage, including their ability to impede bees’ olfactory senses and adversely affect their vision and flying ability. Other chemicals like glyphosate weaken bees’ ability to distinguish between colors. A 2018 study found that commonly used neonicotinoid insecticides begin to kill off bumblebees during their nest-building phase, as exposure makes it more difficult for a queen to establish a nest. Exposure to neonicotinoids results in bumblebee colonies that are much smaller than colonies not exposed to systemic insecticide. Spray applications of various agrichemicals affect the visitation patterns of pollinators through a range of different processes. Neonicotinoid exposure decreases pollination frequency, resulting in fewer social interactions as the chemical alters bumblebee feeding behavior and degrades the effectiveness of bumblebees’ classic “buzz pollination” process. A study published in 2017 determined that fungicides also play a significant role in bumblebee declines by increasing susceptibility to pathogens. Moreover, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) assesses the toxicity of individual active ingredients on bees through various testing methods when regulating pesticides. However, there are no requirements for EPA to test multiple active or inert ingredients to the same degree despite evidence demonstrating these chemicals harm pollinators. As if biodiversity loss was not bad enough, it combines with the other existential threats to amplify the impacts on essential pollinators and other beneficial insects. 

Providing an organic habitat on personal property and encouraging communities to go organic can protect pollinators, and all species, including humans, that depend on their ecosystem services. Since plants in many garden centers across the country are grown from seeds coated with bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides or drenched with them, Beyond Pesticides has compiled a comprehensive directory of companies and organizations that sell organic seeds and plants to the general public to protect pollinators. Included in this directory are seeds for vegetables, flowers, and herbs, as well as living plants and seedlings. Use the Bee Protective Habitat Guide to plant a pollinator-friendly garden, and consider seeding white clover into your lawn. Additionally, display a Pesticide-Free Zone sign to show the neighbors that pesticide-free spaces are essential for health and the environment. 

In partnership with major retailers like Natural Grocers and Stonyfield Organic, the Beyond Pesticides’ Parks for a Sustainable Future program provides in-depth training and demonstration sites to assist community land managers in transitioning public green spaces to organic landscape management while aiming to provide the knowledge and skills necessary to eventually transition all public areas in a locality to these sustainable and safe practices. Through this program, Beyond Pesticides is now assisting local leaders and municipal landscapers in converting parks and recreational areas across the country to exclusively organic practices, eliminating synthetic pesticide and fertilizer use.

Solutions to the problems of chemical-intensive agriculture exist and provide proof that farming can occur without a range of negative impacts on the surrounding environment. Organic agriculture has never permitted synthetic fertilizer use, nor do organic farmers allow synthetic insecticides like bee-killing neonicotinoids. Instead, regenerative organic farming embraces a natural systems approach, working with the existing ecological services in the region. Organic farming yields multiple bottom-line benefits for wildlife and the wider environment, human health, and the economy. For more information on the dangers of synthetic fertilizers and alternative organic companies you can support, see the Beyond Pesticides page on Fertilizers Compatible with Organic Landscape ManagementGet active in your community to eliminate synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides by sending a letter to your local officials today.

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

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