Bee thankful: “If you enjoyed a bountiful Thanksgiving Day dinner, you should give thanks to pollinators,” says Emory biologist Berry Brosi.
By Carol Clark
Scientific experts from eight different countries developed a list of the top 10 policies needed to reverse the decline of pollinators crucial to the world’s food supply.
The journal Science is publishing the recommendations for the global community in a forum article, “10 Policies for Pollinators.” The recommendations will be presented at the United Nations Convention of the Parties on Biological Diversity (CoP13), to take place in Mexico December 4 to 17.
“If you enjoyed a bountiful Thanksgiving Day dinner, you should give thanks to pollinators,” says Berry Brosi, a biologist and ecologist in Emory University’s Department of Environmental Sciences and a co-author of the article.
Brosi cites the first policy recommendation on the list as the most concrete and actionable: Better pesticide regulatory standards.
He adds that several of the recommendations related to sustainable agriculture more broadly include making chemical control for insects and other pests a last resort.
“Especially in light of the emergence of the Zika virus, and widespread public concern about mosquito-borne diseases, we are likely to see increased demands for pesticide use,” Brosi says. “Mosquito control is, of course, important, but we also need to be thoughtful about what kinds of pesticides we use and how we use them. We should carefully consider the impact on pollinators and other biodiversity.”
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing a class of insecticides commonly used in agriculture, neonicotinoids, which have been linked to wide-scale bee declines and impacts to other pollinator species by a range of scientific studies.
"Neonicotinoids are known to kill bees and other insect pollinators in very low doses, and to cause behavioral disruptions in even minute concentrations, measured in parts-per-billion," says Brosi, whose research focuses on both managed honeybees and wild bees.
In 2014, Emory began taking steps to eliminate the use of neonicotinoid-based pesticides and pre-treated plants on its campus grounds, the first university to do so worldwide.
The EPA’s review of the safety of neonicotinoids is not due until 2017.
The complete list of recommended policies for pollinators is as follows:
1. Raise pesticide regulatory standards
2. Promote integrated pest management
3. Include indirect and sublethal effects in GM crop risk assessments
4. Regulate movement of managed pollinators
5. Develop insurance schemes to help farmers
6. Recognize pollination as agricultural input in extension services
7. Support diversified farming systems
8. Conserve and restore “green infrastructure” (a network of habitats that pollinators can move between) in agricultural and urban landscapes
9. Develop long-term monitoring of pollinators and pollination
10. Fund participatory research on improving yields in organic, diversified and ecologically intensified farming
The policy recommendations follow a United Nations warning in February that pollinators were under threat. Brosi was among 77 international experts who worked on that report, the first global pollinator assessment for the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity Ecosystem Services (IPBES).
The assessment found that more than 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species, particularly bees and butterflies, face extinction. And 16 percent of vertebrate pollinators are under threat.
The issue is critical to agricultural, economics and the health of humans and ecosystems: 75 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollination by at least one of 20,000 species of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, beetles, birds, bats and other vertebrates.
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