Many of the insects and birds that pollinate the world are at serious risk of extinction, threatening essential crops and our global food supply, according to a United Nations report to be released on Monday.
The report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) gathered evidence from studies that have already been conducted by other groups and came to the conclusion that 40% of invertebrate pollinators (bees, butterflies, beetles and others) are heading for extinction, while around 16% of vertebrate pollinators like bats and hummingbirds are in danger.
That could have a serious impact on the world's crops and food supply, which benefit from these animals spreading their pollen to help them grow. The New York Times gives us a sense of what's at stake:
Pollinators, including some 20,000 species of wild bees, contribute to the growth of fruit, vegetables and many nuts, as well as flowering plants. Plants that depend on pollination make up 35% of global crop production volume with a value of as much as $577 billion a year. The agricultural system, for which pollinators play a key role, creates millions of jobs worldwide.
Researchers have a few different ideas about why the species are under threat. A lack of wildflowers and grassland, where pollinators find sustenance, could be part of the problem–along with the use of some pesticides that could be harmful to pollinators. But the report found that the full effects of pesticides on pollinators in the wild needs to be studied more for fuller conclusions, according to the Associated Press. Climate change could also be playing a role in changing the habitats of pollinators and the times that plants are flowering.
The study is the first of its kind to assess global biodiversity on such a large scale and provide policy makers with suggestions on how they can begin to tackle the problem with local initiatives to protect these animals and encourage their growth.
"Everything falls apart if you take pollinators out of the game," University of Maryland bee expert Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a researcher who wasn't part of the panel, told the AP. "If we want to say we can feed the world in 2050, pollinators are going to be part of that."