Last Friday a report was released by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), a UN body on the decline of population of bees, butterflies and other species important for pollination.
Why should we worry about it? They are insects! Who likes them? We do our best to get rid of them from our houses by using insecticides and pesticides.
Bees, butterflies and bats are nature’s pollinators. Most pollinators visit flowers only for nectar, a sugary solution. In their quest for obtaining nectar, these pollinators unknowingly but efficiently transfer pollen from flower to flower. This step, known as pollination, is important to the sexual reproduction of flowering plants.
The food that we eat – crops, fruits and vegetables – our entire food supply chain depends on these pollinators. The services that they provide are worth billions of dollars and they provide them without any cost to us. Is not that simply marvellous? Their services are what drive livelihoods and sources of food for the world’s population of about 7 billion people.
However, sadly 40% of invertebrate (animals without backbones) pollinators (bees and butterflies) and about 16% of vertebrate pollinators (birds and bats) are currently facing extinction. The decline in their populations could lead to some serious consequences for humanity.
Pollinators depend on wild flowers for food. An increasing diversity of wild flowering plants gives them a variety of food sources to choose from. However, a change in our farming habits has reduced the amount of food sources available to pollinators. Other culprits include pesticide use, loss of habitat to growing cities, parasites and pathogens (disease causing microorganisms), air pollution and global warming.
Another threat that pollinators like honeybees face is the Colony Collapse Disorder. Colony collapse disorder (CCD) is the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear and leave behind a queen, plenty of food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen. This causes significant economic losses since many agricultural crops are pollinated by honey bees.
For Europe and North America, researchers have extensive data on this decline in pollinator populations. For Asia and rest of the world, it is the need of the hour to collect data and conduct studies on pollinator population.
As citizens, we can also do our bit to help them. Planting flowering plants, having butterfly gardens and honey bee gardens in our building or localities can provide them with much needed food sources. We can also protect their natural habitats, reduce the use of pesticides and urge our leaders to make policy changes to combat climate change.
The future of our world’s food supply is dependent on these pollinators. It is important we save them or else our children and their children face a bleak future.