Having taken a backseat to any number of controversies surrounding the nascent Trump administration, pollinators should be back in the headlines — again painting a tragic portent for the future of the planet’s food supply — as an analysis found 347 bee species native to North America and Hawai`i “are spiraling toward extinction.”
In total, 700 bee species have been pushed to precarious footing by a web of threats, including increased pesticide use and severe habitat loss.
In “Pollinators in Peril: A systematic status review of North American and Hawaiian native bees,” the Center for Biological Diversity studied 4,337 native species to assess how the vital pollinators are enduring worsening, multi-fronted threats.
“The evidence is overwhelming that hundreds of the native bees we depend on for ecosystem stability, as well as pollination services worth billions of dollars, are spiraling toward extinction,” Kelsey Kopec, pollinator researcher at the Center for Biological Diversity and author of the study, told EcoWatch. “It’s a quiet but staggering crisis unfolding right under our noses that illuminates the unacceptably high cost of our careless addiction to pesticides and monoculture farming.
“The widespread decline of European honeybees has been well documented in recent years. But until now much less has been revealed about the 4,337 native bee species in North America and Hawaii. These mostly solitary, ground-nesting bees play a crucial ecological role by pollinating wild plants and provide more than $3 billion in fruit-pollination services each year in the United States.”
As if this news weren’t sufficiently grim, a second study published at nearly the same time by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found an unfortunately similar conclusion. Reports the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization,
“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.”
Pollinator decline, in other words, isn’t unique to one region or continent — this is a global issue with potentially devastating implications. While some nations have implemented protections for the precious insects — from pesticide restrictions or bans to pollinator and wildlife corridors — the United States continues backing corporate agriculture and the chemicals that industry relies on to function.
“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,” explains the FAO.
“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 […]
“Between US$235 billion and US$577 billion worth of annual global food production relies on direct contributions by pollinators.”
In the Center for Biological Diversity study, researchers had sufficient data to assess 1,437 species — and over half of those, 749, were found to be actively declining.
Critically, nearly one in four species is considered imperiled — on the brink of extinction — and the researchers believe many of the species lacking adequate data to study fall into the same alarming category.
“We’re on the verge of losing hundreds of native bee species in the United States if we don’t act to save them,” said Kopec, whom EcoWatch notes spent a full year analyzing collected data. “Almost 90 percent of wild plants are dependent on insect pollination. If we don’t act to save these remarkable creatures, our world will be a less colorful and more lonesome place.”
According to findings from the IPBES, human influence over environmental conditions — the use of agricultural chemicals and the like — presents a grave threat to pollinators, but one which could be remedied if the effort is undertaken.
“The assessment found that pesticides, including neonicotinoid insecticides, threaten pollinators worldwide, although the long-term effects are still unknown,” the FAO pointed out. “A pioneering study conducted in farm fields showed that one neonicotinoid insecticide had a negative effect on wild bees, but the effect on managed honeybees was less clear.”
Throttling population decline of these invaluable pollinators will require governments to put common sense and preservation for future generations ahead of corporate and industry profit. But for that to occur on a wide enough scale to have positive impact is as doubtful as the Pentagon moving to slash the U.S. military’s distended budget.
“The data compiled in this report offers a snapshot of magnitude of threats native bee species face and the extent of their decline,” concludes the Center for Biological Diversity analysis. “These findings are in line with those found globally and demonstrate the necessity of more research to fill the data gaps. But what we already know is troubling and should inspire us to act: 24 percent of data sufficient native bees are imperiled, and 52 percent show population declines. We need to take aggressive steps to better understand and protect our precious bee species before it is too late.”