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Most pollinators face extinction risk due to climate change

If you enjoy the vibrant colors of wildflowers, the sweet taste of honey, or the juicy crunch of an apple, you have pollinators to thank. These creatures, including bees, butterflies, wasps, and even some birds and bats, play a crucial role in our ecosystem and food production. However, these vital pollinators are facing an unprecedented crisis due to climate change. 

Their populations are declining worldwide at an alarming rate. A new study, led by Dr. Johanne Brunet and Dr. Fabiana Fragoso, paints a grim picture of the multiple stressors impacting pollinators, many of which are a direct result of human activities.

Climate change impact on pollinators

“This review introduces the diversity of pollinators, addresses the main drivers of pollinator decline, and presents strategies to reduce their negative impacts,” said Dr. Brunet. 

“We discuss how managed bees negatively affect wild bee species, and examine the impact of habitat loss, pesticide use, pests and pathogens, pollution, and climate change on pollinator decline. Connections between humans and pollinator decline are also addressed.”

Biodiversity loss to food insecurity

The decline of pollinators has far-reaching consequences. It not only threatens biodiversity but also jeopardizes crop yields and food security.

According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a staggering 16% of vertebrate pollinators, such as birds and bats, and 40% of invertebrate pollinators, including bees and butterflies, are at risk of extinction.

This alarming decline could lead to a significant reduction in the availability and variety of food sources, particularly fruits and vegetables that rely on pollination for reproduction.

Without these pollinators, plants would struggle to produce the seeds and fruits necessary for their survival and propagation. This decline would not only diminish our diets but also disrupt entire ecosystems that depend on these plants. The loss of pollinators could cause a ripple effect, impacting other species and leading to a less diverse and resilient environment.

“In the absence of pollinators, the human diet will shift towards a preponderance of wheat, rice, oat, and corn, as these are wind-pollinated crops,” said Dr. Fragoso. “Crops that reproduce vegetatively, such as bananas, will be maintained.”

Climate change and complex threats to pollinators

The decline of pollinators is not a simple issue with a single cause. It’s a complex web of interconnected factors, each contributing to the overall crisis.

Climate change

Climate change, with its associated changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, disrupts the delicate balance of pollinator habitats and food sources. These changes can alter blooming periods of plants and the availability of nectar and pollen, which are critical for pollinators’ survival.

Habitat loss

The problem is further exacerbated by habitat loss due to deforestation and urbanization, leaving pollinators with fewer places to forage and reproduce. Concrete and asphalt replace natural habitats, reducing areas where pollinators can thrive. This habitat fragmentation isolates pollinator populations, making it difficult for them to find mates and maintain genetic diversity.

Pesticides and herbicides

The widespread use of pesticides and herbicides in agriculture also takes a toll on pollinators. Pesticides can be toxic to pollinators, killing them outright or impairing their ability to forage and reproduce.

Herbicides reduce the availability of wildflowers and other plants that provide essential food sources. These chemicals create a hostile environment for pollinators, making it difficult for them to survive and thrive.

Invasive species and disease

Additionally, pollinator populations are impacted by the introduction of non-native species and diseases. Invasive species can outcompete native pollinators for resources, while new diseases can spread rapidly and decimate populations.

This combination of factors creates a challenging environment for pollinators, contributing to their decline and threatening the ecosystems that depend on them.

Sustainable practices and global cooperation

While the situation is dire, there is still hope for pollinators. The researchers emphasize the importance of adopting sustainable agricultural practices that minimize the use of harmful chemicals and promote biodiversity. They also advocate for integrated pollinator management strategies that consider both wild and managed bee populations.

“Widespread use of sustainable practices in agriculture, and further development of integrated pollinator management strategies, eco-friendly strategies including reduction of pesticide use, will help preserve pollinators,” said Dr. Fragoso.

“Potential adverse effects of managed bees on the local wild bee populations must be mitigated. Non-lethal collection methods should be developed and adopted globally in response to the increasing need for base-line pollinator data collection.”

Addressing the threat of climate change is also crucial. Climate change affects pollinators by altering their habitats and the availability of food resources. It changes temperature and precipitation patterns, which can disrupt the life cycles of both pollinators and the plants. This can lead to mismatches in timing, such as when plants bloom and when pollinators are active, reducing pollination.

Urgent action is needed

The decline of pollinators is a global crisis that requires urgent action. We can all play a role in supporting these essential creatures. By planting pollinator-friendly gardens, supporting sustainable agriculture, and advocating for policies that protect pollinators and their habitats, we can help ensure a future where both pollinators and humans can thrive.

“Measures must keep being implemented to reduce climate change and prevent its serious negative impacts on pollinators. Climate change has the most diverse negative impacts on pollinators and is the threat most difficult to control. However, its consequences threaten food security and world stability, thus efforts to control it must be prioritized at a global scale,” noted Dr. Brunet.

The study is published in the journal CABI Reviews.


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