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Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions

Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions

Preface. Below are excerpts from Cardoso, P., et al. 2020. Scientists’ warning to humanity on insect extinctions. Biological Conservation.

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Highlights:

  • We are pushing many ecosystems beyond recovery, resulting in insect extinctions.
  • Causes are habitat loss, pollution, invasives, climate change, and over exploitation.
  • We lose biomass, diversity, unique histories, functions, and interaction networks.
  • Insect declines lead to loss of essential, irreplaceable services to humanity.
  • Action to save insect species is urgent, for both ecosystems and human survival.

Abstract

Here we build on the manifesto ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, issued by the Alliance of World Scientists. As a group of conservation biologists deeply concerned about the decline of insect populations, we here review what we know about the drivers of insect extinctions, their consequences, and how extinctions can negatively impact humanity.

We are causing insect extinctions by driving habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, use of polluting and harmful substances, the spread of invasive species, global climate change, direct over-exploitation, and co-extinction of species dependent on other species.

With insect extinctions, we lose much more than species. We lose abundance and biomass of insects, diversity across space and time with consequent homogenization, large parts of the tree of life, unique ecological functions and traits, and fundamental parts of extensive networks of biotic interactions. Such losses lead to the decline of key ecosystem services on which humanity depends. From pollination and decomposition, to being resources for new medicines, habitat quality indication and many others, insects provide essential and irreplaceable services.

1. Introduction

Insect extinctions, their drivers, and consequences have received increasing public attention in recent years. Media releases have caught the interest of the general public, and until recently, we were largely unaware that insects could be imperiled to such an extent, and that their loss would have consequences for our own well-being. Fueled by declining numbers from specific regions, concern over the fate of insects has gained traction in the non-scientific realm.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Lack of Wild Bees Causes Crop Shortage, Could Lead to Food Security Issues

Lack of Wild Bees Causes Crop Shortage, Could Lead to Food Security Issues

Bees are responsible for pollinating key crops like apples, and their decline now threatens crop yields. Pikist

Without bees, future generations may not be able to identify with adages like, ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’

Crop yields for key crops like apples, cherries and blueberries are down across the U.S. because of a lack of bees in agricultural areas, a Rutgers University-led study published Wednesday in The Royal Society found. This could have “serious ramifications” for global food security, reported The Guardian.

The scientists wanted to understand the degree to which insect pollination, or lack thereof, actually limits current crop production. Surveying 131 locations across major crop-producing areas of the U.S., they found that five out of seven crops showed evidence of “pollinator limitation” and that yields could be boosted with full pollination, the study said.

“The crops that got more bees got significantly more crop production,” said Rachael Winfree, an ecologist and pollination expert and the senior author of the paper, reported The Guardian. “I was surprised, I didn’t expect they would be limited to this extent.”

The research further noted that pollinator declines could “translate directly” to decreased production of most of the crops studied and that wild bees “contribute substantially” to the pollination of most studied crops.

Declines in both managed honeybees and wild bees raise serious concerns about global food security, the study said, because most of the world’s crops rely on pollinators.

Bees and other pollinators like bats and birds underpin the global food system, but their populations are dwindling due to human activity including settlement building, pesticide use, monoculture farming and climate change. This is part of what many are calling the “insect apocalypse,” a precipitous decline in insects across the globe.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Genetically engineered honeybees: Not the dumbest idea ever, but close to it

Genetically engineered honeybees: Not the dumbest idea ever, but close to it

In the wake of widespread declines in bee populations, farmers and beekeepers are wondering who exactly is going to pollinate that third of the world’s food crops which require pollination. The declines have been attributed to pesticides, parasites and climate change.

In Europe one response has been to phase out a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids. The phase-out has coincided with a revival of bee populations. But pesticides are clearly not the only factor affecting bee health.

Another response has been to consider building a better bee. Enter the geneticists. Why not genetically engineer honeybees to resist those things which are undermining their health?

That seems a little like suggesting that we take carbon out of the atmosphere to address climate change without doing anything about the carbon we are putting into the atmosphere.

Moreover, the original idea behind the genetic engineering of bees is the same as that behind plants and even humans: One gene equals one trait. It turns out there are three problems with this idea. First, genes are multitaskers in honey bees (and in humans, too). That means genes can make more than one kind of protein which means that the idea that one gene always equals one trait has long since been disproved. Second, gene expression depends on a number epigeneticfactors, that is, factors that occur during the development of the organism. Third, the term “trait” has the problem that all words have. It’s ambiguous. (And, if you tell me “trait” has a very precise definition in genetics, then you will almost certainly use words to convey that definition.)

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Which species are we sure we can survive without?” Revisited

“Which species are we sure we can survive without?” Revisited

Two years ago I asked the question in the title of this piece. Now comes a wide-ranging study that suggests we are about to test that question in a major way.

The study predicts that at the current rate of loss of insect species, 40 percent could be gone “in the next few decades.” What is particularly alarming is that this “could trigger wide-ranging cascading effects within several of the world’s ecosystems.” That means that many other life-forms including other animals and plants could find themselves without what they need to survive in this dangerous game of musical chairs orchestrated by humans. Might we be one of those species?

Insects do much of the crop pollination necessary for food production. A list of crops pollinated by bees is quite long. Humans could survive without these foods, but the nutrition and variety in our diets would be severely limited. And yet there is a greater problem. Outside of agriculture 80 to 95 percent of plant species require animal pollination. Since those plants are the base of every food chain, catastrophic declines in insect populations could lead to a collapse of existing ecosystems. The exact scope and effects of such a collapse cannot be fully anticipated. But it is doubtful humans would be unharmed.

Human civilization uses an enormous amount of free ecoservices, that is, services provided by nature including the purification of water, the formation of soil, the regulation of climate, and energy resources such as hydropower and biomass. However one values these services, the value is enormous. If humans had to pay for these services, that is, if we had to set up mechanical and chemical substitutes, we would never able to afford it. But, we probably wouldn’t be able to set up substitute systems that work as precisely and effectively as nature’s.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Will the Extinction of Bees Really Mean the End of Humanity?

Will the Extinction of Bees Really Mean the End of Humanity?

Feared at best and considered a useless, disposable nuisance at worst, bees are among the most underappreciated creatures on the planet.

That’s a shame because our very existence relies on the tiny buzzing creatures.

We’ve known for years that bee populations all across North America and Europe are collapsing at an alarming rate.

This is a huge threat to our food supply. One-third of all the food we eat comes from plants that are pollinated by insects, and 80% of those crops are pollinated by bees. It also has big implications for our meat supply as well: plants (like alfalfa) that feed animals are pollinated by bees.

The largest international survey of insect pollinators found that just 2 percent of wild bee species now account for 80 percent of global crop pollination.

Put bluntly, if all the bees die, humanity will follow.

Worldwide, there are nearly 20,000 known species of bees in seven recognized biological families. Of those, 4,000 calls the United States home. Bees exist on every continent except Antarctica. Wherever you find insect-pollinated, flowering plants you will find bees.

Native bees come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, but one thing they all have in common is their important role as pollinators.

Here are just some of the fruits and veggies bumble bees help pollinate: Squash, pumpkin, zucchini, alfalfa, cranberries, apples, green beans, scarlet beans, runner beans, cucumber, strawberries, tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions, potatoes, blueberries, cherries, kiwifruit, raspberries, blackberries, plums, and melons.

According to a Cornell University study published in 2012, crops pollinated by honeybees and other insects contributed $29 billion to United States farm income in 2010.

As you can see, bees are a crucial part of our ecosystem. Our food supplies – and essentially, our lives – rely on them.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers

Three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years, with serious implications for all life on Earth, scientists say

Insects caught in a malaise trap
Flying insects caught in a malaise trap, used by entomologists to collect samples. Photograph: Courtesy of Entomologisher Verein Krefeld

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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