UN Report Cites Global Pollinator Declines

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By Wachira Kigotho

June 2 — About a sixth of the world's pollinator species are being driven toward extinction by pressures caused by human actions, a scientific body linked to the United Nations said in a study that recommends reducing pesticide use and adopting sustainable agriculture methods.

“Under threat are over 20,000 species of wild bees, in addition to varied species of butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds and other animals that contribute to pollination,” said Anne Larigauderie, executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Larigauderie spoke last week at the Second Session of the UN Environment Assembly conference in Nairobi, Kenya, where IPBES released an advance copy of recommendations that were based on two years of study on pollinators globally.

“More than three-quarters of the world's food crops rely at least in part on pollination by insects and other species in the animal kingdom,” said Simon Potts, a professor of biodiversity and ecosystem services at the University of Reading in the U.K.

Vera Imperatriz Fonseca, a professor of ecology at University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, said the volume of agricultural production dependent on animal pollination has increased by 300 percent in the last 50 years. “Unfortunately, the pollinator-dependent crops now show lower growth and stability in yields compared to crops that do not depend on pollinators,” said Fonseca, Brazil's appointee to the IPBES team studying pollinators.

Hardest Hit

Developing countries in tropical and subtropical regions are likely to suffer the most from pollinator declines, as many rely heavily on pollinator-dependent cash crops, Fonseca said.

Some of the most important crops in this category include cocoa, coffee, maize and a wide range of tropical fruits.

“Already the decline of cecidomyiid and ceratopogonid midges that are essential to pollination of cocoa have resulted to reduced production of chocolate,” said Fonseca.

A draft summary for policymakers of the assessment report of the IPBES on pollinators, pollination and food production made available to the delegates at the conference showed that wild pollinator numbers have declined in every region globally.

The report found that 16.5 percent of vertebrate pollinators are threatened with global extinction, citing statistics from the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Regional assessments indicate high levels of threat for some bees and butterflies. “In Europe, populations for bees have declined by 37 percent and butterflies by 31 percent,” said the report.

The decline in pollinator pollinator populations is due to radical changes in land use associated with intensive agricultural practices and pesticide use, said Robert Watson, vice chairman of IPBES. “Alien invasive species, diseases, pests, environmental pollution and climate change have also increased threats to pollinators and the entire pollination processes,” said Watson.

The study's recommends include using agricultural practices that minimize environmental damage and limiting the use of pesticides.

To contact the reporter on this story: Wachira Kigotho in Nairobi at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

For More Information

The advance copy of Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services's recommendations on pollinators is available at http://bit.ly/26gtgEI.