Saturday, March 12, 2011

Another Doomsday Scenario

There are a lot of "threats" out there and people love to build up anxiety of doomsday scenarios. But here is one that I think is more real than most. I think it is serious but not hair-on-fire serious. It needs serious scientific study and generous funding (something that in the US will get Republicans to guffaw about "throwing dollars at insects"). Here is a bit from a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) bulletin on the honeybee CCD (colony collapse disorder) and other threats to food crop pollination:
Current evidence demonstrates that a sixth major extinction of biological diversity event is underway. The Earth is losing between one and ten percent of biodiversity per decade, mostly due to habitat loss, pest invasion, pollution, over-harvesting and disease. Certain natural ecosystem services are vital for human societies.

Many fruit, nut, vegetable, legume, and seed crops depend on pollination. Pollination services are provided both by wild, free-living organisms (mainly bees, but also to name a few many butterflies, moths and flies), and by commercially managed bee species. Bees are the predominant and most economically important group of pollinators in most geographical regions.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that out of some 100 crop species which provide 90% of food worldwide, 71 of these are bee-pollinated. In Europe alone, 84% of the 264 crop species are animal pollinated and 4 000 vegetable varieties exist thanks to pollination by bees. The production value of one tonne of pollinator-dependent crop is approximately five times higher than one of those crop categories that do not depend on insects.

Has a “pollinator crisis” really been occurring during recent decades, or are these concerns just another sign of global biodiversity decline? Several studies have highlighted different factors leading to the pollinators’ decline that have been observed around the world. This bulletin considers the latest scientific findings and analyses possible answers to this question. As the bee group is the most important pollinator worldwide, this bulletin focuses on the instability of wild and managed bee populations, the driving forces, potential mitigating measures and recommendations.
From the bulletin, here is a graph showing the decades long decline. CCD began being reported in 2006. Obviously there are many "issues" about bee populations:

Click to Enlarge

From the conclusion of the UN bulletin:
Currently available global data and knowledge on the decline of pollinators are not sufficiently conclusive to demonstrate that there is a worldwide pollinator and related crop production crisis. Although honey bee hives have globally increased close to 45% during the last 50 years, declines have been reported in several locations, largely in Europe and Northern America.

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