Bees, birds and bats, and other similar pollinators, affect 35% of the world’s crop production. They also increase the yield of 87 leading food crops over natural pollination processes. They are the unsung heroes of us humans’ continuing ability to eat.
In certain places in the world, declines in these pollinators are reaching proportions that threaten the survival of agriculture. A case in point is the North American Honey Bee, which is being decimated by the invasion of parasitic mites and, more aggressively, by African hornets. Just for reference, it takes 1.4 million colonies of honey bees to pollinate the 550,000 acres of California’s almond trees, and these invasive species are threatening that crop among many others.
Worldwide, the potential threat is even greater. An international research group from the University of Goettingen in Germany conducted an extensive review of scientific studies from 200 countries, concentrating on 115 of the leading global crops. The review found that out of the 115 crops studied, 87 depend to some degree on animal pollination, accounting for 1/3rd of crop production globally, as I stated at the beginning of this blog. They found that the crops that did not depend on animal pollination were mainly staples such as wheat, rice and corn.
Humans, as usual, are contributing greatly to the potential catastrophe that is threatening the world’s food supply. For example, we are emphasizing the use of domesticated honey bees and not paying attention to the habitat loss and non-sustainable agricultural practices that are badly affecting wild bee colonies. If disease, or some other factor like African hornets, were to decimate the domestic bee population, there would be no back-up from the wild populations.
A recent documentary on invasive species graphically showed the effect of African hornets on domestic honey bee populations in the Americas. In Asia and Africa, where the honey bees have evolved together with the hornets, the bees have developed a defense mechanism against them. Hornets send out scouts to locate honey bee hives. When the scout reports back to hornet-central, the onslaught begins. The hornets are three-time the size of the honey bees, have relatively huge jaws and simply decapitate the honey bees. The honey bee hive is destroyed in a matter of minutes.
The Asian and African honey bees have developed a response to these attacks. They target the scout, mob it, and kill it so it can’t report back. American honey bees have not had to develop that technique and, consequently, have no defense.
The documentary was focused on the invasion into the Atlantic and Caribbean of non-native Lion Fish: Lion Fish are indigenous to the Pacific, but aquariums, mostly in Florida, have sold them as pets, owners dispose of them. And they end up in the Atlantic The Lion Fish have taken over many local habitats at an incredible rate because, in the Atlantic, they have no natural predators. That’s another story but the principle is the same. Introduction of invasive species can cause monumental problems until the native species adapt…if they last that long.
At the end of the documentary, the narrator noted that the most dangerous, globally invasive, species on earth…………is mankind, but that’s another story as well.
I don’t think the average person has any idea how much our global food supply depends on the pollinators, and what our future might look like without them. Our cargo ships and planes are moving species around the world on a daily basis, quite often upsetting the ecological balance in the process. We’ve only got to look at ourselves to realize what that means: Immigration is currently one of the hottest topics of contention for the human race.
When immigration of non-native species that attack and kill our natural pollinators, dramatically affecting our food supply, it’s time to pay attention and act.