Buzzing bees busy disappearing

Buzzing bees busy disappearing

“A growing number of pollinator species worldwide are being driven toward extinction by diverse pressures, many of them human-made, threatening millions of livelihoods and hundreds of billions of dollars worth of food supplies,” according to the first global assessment of pollinators.

This statement is part of a press release by the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) where they announced the result of a two year study into the state of the world’s pollinators. IPBES can be seen as biodiversity’s equivalent of the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, where it assesses the state of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services it provides to society. Ecosystem services are the benefits provided by nature to humans and biodiversity is the basis for healthy ecosystems that underpin human well-being. Food production (and also pollination) is one of those services. Since 2011 SEEDEV has been the lead of various national networks in the region as part of the global partnership on ecosystem services (ESP). IPBES during its recent fourth plenary session announced the launching of three-year scientific assessment of the world’s biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Regarding pollinators, there are more than 20,000 species of wild bees alone, plus many species of butterflies, flies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds, bats and other animals that contribute to pollination. 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.

“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”, according to one of the co-chairs of the study. More than 75% percent of the world’s food crops rely at least in part on pollination by insects and other animals. It is estimated that US$235 billion to US$577 billion of annual value of global crops directly affected by pollinators.

In addition to food crops, pollinators contribute to crops that provide biofuels (e.g. canola and palm oils), fibers (e.g cotton), medicines, forage for livestock, and construction materials. Some species also provide materials such as beeswax for candles and musical instruments, and arts and crafts.

So you would think that the world takes good care of this useful creatures. Wrong. +40% percent of invertebrate pollinator species – particularly bees and butterflies – face extinction.

“Wild pollinators in certain regions, especially bees and butterflies, are being threatened by a variety of factors,” said IPBES Vice-Chair, Sir Robert Watson.  “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 assessment found that pesticides, including neonicotinoid insecticides, threaten pollinators worldwide, although the long-term effects are still unknown. Also pests and diseases pose serious threats to pollinators. Currently in the EU there is a moratorium on the use of certain neonicotinoid insecticides that are harmful to pollinators but the EC is under severe pressure by producers of these and other pesticides to overturn the ban. Recently the EU’s ombudsman criticized the EC’s approval of pesticides while there was insufficient safety data.

And while conditions for pollinators can be improved by improving biodiversity the noble bee is far from safe. And with 75% of crops dependent on them, perhaps we are not either.


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