While we’re well aware of the ongoing plight of honeybees that are facing colony collapse disorder, and the potential impact on crops that depend on our little apian allies for pollination, it’s important to remember that there are a large number of plant species that we use for food that rely on species other than bees, both invertebrate and vertebrate. Toward that end, a new study, commissioned by the United Nations, has been released, warning that a shocking number of these alternate pollinators are at risk of extinction.
This study was undertaken by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an international consortium concerned with studying the Earth’s biodiversity, and our policies regarding it’s conservation and development. Titled "Pollinators Vital to Our Food Supply Under Threat", the study looked at pollinators on a global scale, drawing data from 3,000 previous studies that focused on regional impacts. Their findings showed that over 40 percent of the planet’s invertebrate pollinator species are under threat of extinction. The impact on food crops, both in terms of food production and economic impact, could be catastrophic, if these reproductive intermediaries disappear.
While insects make up the brunt of crop pollinators, vertebrates, such as bats and birds, make up 16.5 percent of the creatures that are at risk. There is also no apparent single solution to the problem, as different species are facing different challenges, ranging from overuse of pesticides, loss of habitat, and disease spread by the commercial import of some of these species from one region to another.
The impact of such a decline in food production — 75 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollination — is likely to be felt more acutely in developing nations: more affluent countries will be able to afford the increases in food prices, but poorer populations would have trouble keeping up with such trends.
"I think there is an emerging equity issue going on here," explains Emory University biologist and study co-author Berry Brosi. "If we do see price increases in a lot of the fruits and nuts and seeds and vegetables that are pollinator-dependent—and those foods really give us a lot of the micronutrients that we need in our diet—certainly people with more economic purchasing power are going to be able to include more of those foods in their diet."