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Study: Dwindling bee, butterfly populations pose global agriculture threat

By Marilyn Malara   |   Feb. 27, 2016 at 4:39 PM

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Important invertebrate pollinator species, like the honeybee and butterfly, are under a threat of extinction due to a number of environmental pressures, many of them man-made, a new study found.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a detailed assessment regarding pollinators Friday during its fourth plenary in Malaysia. Results come from a two-year, United Nations-sponsored study conducted by the panel.

The threat against such animals also threatens the health of the world's agricultural food supply, which includes fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and oils. A slowdown in production of these important nutrition sources may have detrimental effects on the population, including increased malnutrition and the loss of up to $577 billion globally, the IPBES warned.

"Pollinators are important contributors to world food production and nutritional security," the assessment's co-chair, Vera Lucia Imperatriz-Fonseca, said in a statement. "Their health is directly linked to our own well-being."

The assessment saw 16 percent of vertebrate pollinators like bats and birds are threatened with total extinction. About 40 percent of invertebrate species like bees and butterflies are said to be threatened on a local level.

"Wild pollinators in certain regions, especially bees and butterflies, are being threatened by a variety of factors," said IPBES Vice Chair Sir Robert Watson.

"Their decline is primarily due to changes in land use, intensive agricultural practices and pesticide use, alien invasive species, diseases and pests, and climate change," he added.

Despite the grim report's findings about threats to the animals, it also includes suggestions on how to safeguard further damage on their populations. Sustainable agricultural practices are at the top of the list of options, alongside crop rotation, education, pathogen control and decreasing use of pesticides.

"The growing threat to pollinators, which play an important role in food security, provides another compelling example of how connected people are to our environment and how deeply entwined our fate is with that of the natural world," said Achim Steiner, director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

"As we work towards food security, it is important to approach the challenge with a consideration of the environmental impacts that drive the issue. Sustainable development, including improving food security for the world's population, necessitates an approach that embraces the environment."

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