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The evils of bees threaten agriculture

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Pollinators have never been more threatened, and never has humanity needed them more. This is the finding of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) in its first report published on Friday 26 February on the occasion of its fourth plenary meeting in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). 
 
Ahe pollinators are in danger. But this time it's the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) that says so. For the "Giec of Biodiversity", as he is frequently nicknamed, is finally in working order. And his first words are for bees, whose global decline could have catastrophic consequences for mankind.
 
In its summary for decision-makers, IPBES immediately recalls the importance of pollinators for agriculture: more than three-quarters of the main crop types depend on pollination, equivalent to about one-third of agricultural land, stresses the organization's first report, published on Friday 26 February on the occasion of its fourth plenary meeting in Kuala Lumpur.
 
A total of 5% to 8% of the world's agricultural production is directly related to pollination, for an estimated annual total of between $235 and $577 billion. As a result of the growth in agricultural production, dependence on pollination has increased by more than 300% over the past five decades.

A global decline

In other words, with the current population surge, now is not really the time to push pollinators into decline. But that's what is happening: in Europe and North America, many species of wild bees and butterflies are on the wrong end of the stick. Data are more disparate for other continents, but several studies show declines at the local level.
 
The causes are diverse, as pointed out by the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (Anses) in an opinion published in September 2015. For IPBES, this phenomenon is also multifactorial: it can be explained by habitat degradation, by pesticides (first and foremost neonicotinoids), by pathogens including varroa, by invasive species such as the Asian Hornet, or by climate change.
 
The IPBES also points to less well-known effects, such as those of herbicides: by reducing the abundance and diversity of flowering plants, they indirectly affect pollinator populations, which no longer find enough to feed themselves.
 
Furthermore, while the European Union is re-evaluating its partial moratorium on three neonicotinoids, the Pollinis association intends to present its StopNeonics! petition to the European Parliament at the beginning of March. Launched in May 2012 and signed by more than a million people, it calls for a total and definitive ban on this class of insecticides.

What is the impact of GMOs?

Other effects remain surprisingly little known, for example those of GMOs. According to the IPBES, it seems likely that transgenic plants resistant to herbicides, by inciting the use of these products, will have a negative effect, without the question ever having been decided. On the other hand, the experts are inclined to believe that insect-resistant GMOs have a rather positive effect, but do not have sufficient data on this subject.
 
Where no chemicals or GMOs are used, humans can also harm pollinating insects by trading them, e.g. for beekeeping. The IPBES cites the case of pollinators from North and South America that have suffered from the introduction of their Old World cousins. And a study published at the beginning of February revealed that the Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) had become globalized thanks to trade in European Apis mellifera.
 
How do we stop this decline? According to the IPBES, through very general recommendations for changes in agricultural practices: support for organic production systems, crop diversification, reducing the use of pesticides and preventing them from drifting during application, setting up strips of flowering plants along the edges of fields.
 
After pollinators, IPBES plans to publish a second report, still on the fringes of Kuala Lumpur, on the assessment of biodiversity scenarios and models. The next ones, to be published in 2018, will deal with land degradation and regional biodiversity trends.
 
 

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