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Pollinator decline threatens crops

February 26, 2016

Mangos, chocolate, apples and other produce could disappear as bees and other pollinator populations decline.

Image: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Dedert

Bees, butterflies, bats and other pollinators vital to agriculture are facing extinction, posing a threat to world food production and global biodiversity, a UN body said Friday.

"Many wild bees and butterflies have been declining in abundance, occurrence and diversity at local and regional scales in Northwest Europe and North America," said an #link:http://www.ipbes.net/article/pollinators-vital-our-food-supply-under-threat:assessment# by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

In Europe, nine percent of bee and butterfly species are facing extinction and populations are declining for 37 percent of bees and 31 percent of butterfly species for which sufficient data is available. Declines in pollinators have also been detected elsewhere in the world, warn the researchers.

While, a "data gap" exists for Latin America, Asia and Africa, information for non-insect pollinators, such as bats and birds, shows that 16 percent of such species are threatened with extinction, said the IPBES, which was established under UN auspices in 2012 to assess global biodiversity.

Bad news for food

USA Iowa Landwirtschaft
Animal pollination is required for some major cropsImage: Getty Images/S. Olson

In the world's first assessment of its kind, the IPBES said there could be a number of possible causes for the decline, including habitat loss, pesticides, pollution, invasive species, pathogens, climate change and the spread of vast farms dedicated to a single product, which suppresses biodiversity.

Some of the most important world food staples such as rice, wheat and other grains do not rely on animal pollination, but pollinators are critical to ensuring stable fruit and vegetable output, particularly as the world's population continues to grow.

More than three-quarters of the "leading types of global food crops" rely to some extent on animal pollination for yield and quality, according to the report by the group, which is considered the biodiversity equivalent of the UN-organized Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

"Pollinator-dependent species encompass many fruit, vegetable, seed, nut and oil crops, which supply major proportions of micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals in the human diet," the IPBES said.

dma/eb/jc (AFP)