How declining pollinators such as butterflies and bees jeopardize everyday food

Ron McGill, director of communications and wildlife expert at the Miami Zoo, told CNN that “one in three mouthfuls of food we eat” is directly related to pollinators. rice field. About 30% of the food on our table comes from butterflies, bees and bats.

Losing these important populations could also mean losing some of our favorite foods.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, apples, melons, cranberries, squash, squash, broccoli and almonds are among the foods most susceptible to pollinator declines. Bees, in particular, are responsible for pollinating about 90 commercially grown crops, the agency reports. Even tequila is in danger.

“Whether you’re eating directly pollinated food or something that’s dependent on that pollinator, it’s all very intricately linked,” McGill said. “It’s a domino effect.”

In other words, if you’re eating fried chicken or pork chops, those chickens and pigs will be eating fruits, vegetables, and other plants that rely on pollinators.

monarch butterfly.
And the climate crisis has taken its toll on pollinators. More intense and prolonged droughts are the most obvious impact, but the impact of extreme heat on butterflies is of particular concern.

“Butterflies are considered the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to climate change because they are one of the most sensitive insects to changes in temperature,” McGill said.

Warmer temperatures cause plants to flower earlier, out of sync with the timing of egg-laying and metamorphosis of butterflies. This means that the flowers they depend on for food are already blooming, leaving little for the butterflies to eat, greatly affecting reproduction and viability.

It snowballs into a cyclical problem where butterflies are unable to get the food they need to reproduce and plants are unable to pollinate, wreaking havoc on both.

A bee taking care of a honeycomb.

And for butterflies like monarch butterflies, which are known for their long migrations from the northern United States to Mexico, food along their route may become unavailable at the time natural migration takes place.

A 2019 United Nations report found that one million species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades as the climate crisis accelerates. Magill says it’s starting to show up in insect populations.

“In the next 50 years there will be a million species,” McGill said. “It’s devastating.”

Human influence on natural pollinators

Scientists with the International Union for Conservation of Nature last month added the monarch butterfly – one of the world’s most popular and recognizable insects – to the Red List of Threatened Species. The climate crisis increasingly threatens species.

“Climate change is having a major impact on migratory monarch butterflies and is a rapidly growing threat. Drought limits milkweed growth and increases the frequency of devastating wildfires. Bad weather killed millions of butterflies before they were available,” the scientist reported.

monarch butterfly.

Bees began showing a startling decline in 2006. Between April 2020 and April 2021, U.S. beekeepers lost about 45% of their colonies, according to the Auburn University School of Agriculture. The university reports an acceptable average turnover rate of about 20%.

Monarch butterflies could go extinct without these 3 steps, experts say
Climate change may be amplifying deadly parasites in bee populations. Studies show that bee-killing parasites are more prevalent in temperate climates. This means that if temperatures continue to rise, parasites will thrive and can be devastating to bees.
Several countries and even states in the United States have already taken steps to protect these important species. California is pushing to limit pesticides that kill bees.

These declines are gradual, McGill notes, but eventually they’re too big for ecosystems to overcome, like a tipping point beyond which some species are lost forever. pointed out that.

“Look, what’s the straw that breaks a camel’s back when it comes to environmental balance?” McGill said.

tequila in danger

Bats also play an irreplaceable role in food security. The U.S. Department of Agriculture points to a recent study that estimates that bats eating enough pests could save the U.S. more than $1 billion annually in crop damage and pesticide costs, mainly in the corn industry alone. I’m here.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “the consumption of pests by bats leads to more than $3 billion in annual savings in all agricultural production.”

Bats are also important pollinators.

“If there were no bats, there would be no tequila, because they’re the only ones that pollinate the agave plants that make tequila,” McGill said.

Bats pollinate agave, which is the raw material for tequila.
fruit bats.
Bats are as affected by the climate crisis as butterflies and bees.

“Bats are also susceptible to heat stress,” Magill said. “Because bats have limited cooling mechanisms, there have been massive bat mortality as a result of rising temperatures leading to heat stroke deaths.”

Unlike butterflies and bees, bats are not only important pollinators but are also considered major seed dispersers and are just as important to our ecosystems as birds.

“The seeds of the fruits they eat germinate after passing through their digestive system and are deposited throughout their habitat to ‘plant’ future trees,” McGill said.

how can i help

This is a global problem and needs to be fixed globally, but there are still ways individuals can help.

“Plant your garden with native wildlife, native plants that are essential to the survival of these animals,” McGill said.

Native plants also require less maintenance. Planting cacti in Louisiana does not fare well in damp environments. Similarly, impatiens and begonias will not grow well in the southwestern desert.

Atala butterfly.
A new online database will help UK users find pollinator-friendly plants in their gardens and support biodiversity. A similar list of native pollinators exists in the United States.

“Planting native wildflowers is planting a buffet for the wildlife that needs it to survive,” McGill says. It’s the place.”

An alarming number of wild bees have gone missing since the 1990s

McGill points to Lady Bird Johnson’s efforts to beautify America’s roadsides. Her goals were nationwide, but her efforts shined in Texas.

“She’s done great things with wildflowers in Texas,” McGill says. “Sometimes she drives through Texas and you see wildflowers as far as the eye can see.

Other states are doing it along the road as well, but individual homeowners can do the same.

“We have beautiful plants where we come from, living in this country. If we can focus more on that and start rebuilding what was naturally here, we can get back to the rhythm of nature.” .”

You can also work to reduce the use of pesticides and chemicals in your home. Good alternatives include using organic products such as compost for soil health and adding beneficial insects such as ladybirds, praying mantises and even nematodes to keep pests away. .

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