Habitat loss and pesticides are killing pollinators, essential for plants

Bee on purple flower, animal news
Bee on flower, photo: Jenna Lee via Unsplash

The numbers of bees and other pollinators continue to decrease worldwide because of the destruction of nature and the use of pesticides, a new study published on Monday in Nature Ecology and Evolution has found.

The expansion of grazing lands for farm animals, crop monoculture and the use of chemical fertilizers are also key factors in the decline of pollinators, the study said.

Pollinators are animals that visit flowers and help carry pollen, sex cells of plants, from the male part to the female so that plants can reproduce.

Losing pollen carriers such as bees, butterflies, wasps, beetles, bats, flies, and hummingbirds could have devastating consequences, Lynn Dicks, lead author of the study and a professor at Cambridge’s Department of Zoology, said in a statement.

The animals are vital for reproducing food crops and flowering plants, including coffee, rapeseed and most fruits.

“These small creatures play central roles in the world’s ecosystems, including many that humans and other animals rely on for nutrition,” Dicks added. “If they go, we may be in serious trouble.”

With a team of scientists and indigenous representatives, Dicks tried to establish an up-to-date worldwide overview of pollinator populations, the different risks to their welfare and the consequences of their disappearance for humans.

In Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America, all areas where poorer rural populations rely on wild-growing foods, the impact of pollinator decline on wild plants and fruits is a serious risk.

Latin America was viewed as the region with most to lose, because insect-pollinated crops such as cashews, soybean, coffee and cocoa are essential to domestic food supply and international trade.

Indigenous populations also depend heavily on pollinated plants.

In North America, where pollinators play a key role in apple and almond production, the principal risk was mass die-offs due to disease and so-called colony collapse disorder in industrial beehives.

In China and India, which are increasingly reliant on fruit and vegetable crops that need pollinators, the loss of natural sources means pollen transfer must sometimes be done by hand.

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