Last Friday, a new examination of several studies on the decline of pollinators was approved by a congress of 124 nations meeting in Kuala Lumpur. The report was conducted by a team of scientists from around the world who worked with the United Nations for more than two years to assess the Earth’s biodiversity.
The study will help provide world leaders with an idea of what is happening to the Earth’s biodiversity and what can be done to prevent a loss of diversity. The researchers found that many species of wild bees, butterflies and other pollinators are quickly moving towards extinction.
“We are in a period of decline and there are going to be increasing consequences,” said report lead author Simon Potts, the director of the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research at the University of Reading in England.
One of the consequences would be a loss of food that is dependent on pollinators including fruits, vegetables, coffee, and chocolate. The report states that 2 out of 5 species of invertebrate pollinators, such as bees and butterflies, are on the path toward extinction. Vertebrate pollinators, such as hummingbirds and bats, are facing extinction at a rate of 1 out of 6 species.
The report pointed out a handful of sources for the decline in biodiversity, including pesticide use, habitat loss to cities, disease, parasites and pathogens, and global warming.
“The variety and multiplicity of threats to pollinators and pollination generate risks to people and livelihoods,” the report stated. “These risks are largely driven by changes in land cover and agricultural management systems, including pesticide use. Pesticides, particularly insecticides, have been demonstrated to have a broad range of lethal and sub-lethal effects on pollinators in controlled experimental conditions.”
One of the more controversial class of pesticides are known as neonicotinoids. The “neonics” are a class of pesticide that has previously been linked to declines in bee populations. Neonics were developed in 1991 and commercial use began in the mid-1990s. Several studies have indicated that neonics may cause harm to local pollinators.
Commercial beekeepers began reporting around 2006 what is now known as colony collapse disorder, where entire colonies of bees die off with no obvious cause. The disorder has been reported in commercial colonies all over the world.
Potts did state that the number of managed hives has risen slightly from 2.5 million in 2012 to 2.7 million in 2016. Between 1961 and 2012, the United States saw an estimated loss of 3 millions hives due to colony collapse disorder.
Although pesticides are only one of several possible sources responsible for the threat to pollinators, it should be noted that the United States has experienced controversy over neonicotinoid research.
In May 2015, Truth In Media reported that 25 organizations representing farm workers, food safety organizations, and the environment sent a letter to officials with the USDA and Environmental Protection Agency. They called for an investigation into claims that scientists are facing pressure and retaliation for research that presents the controversial neonicotinoid insecticide in a negative light.
The groups said they were concerned about a report from Reuters that detailed threats to scientists who spoke out about the dangers of the pesticide. These threats included suspension without pay and threats of damage to careers. The scientists filed a petition in March 2015 seeking more protection.
Will the United Nations report affect the United States’ use of pesticides? What steps can individuals take to remedy the situation? These are important questions for each of us to ponder. The loss of biodiversity and subsequent loss of food diversity is a reality that all humanity will soon have to face. The more prepared and educated we are the more likely we will be able to care for and protect our families well into the future.