A third of the food we eat is at risk as the climate crisis endangers butterflies and bees – KION546

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By Allison Chinchar and Jennifer Gray, CNN Meteorologists

Bee populations are declining. More than half of bat species in the United States are in serious decline or listed as endangered. And international scientists recently announced that the monarch butterfly is dangerously close to extinction.

What these three creatures have in common is that they are all pollinators. Without them, fruits, vegetables and other plants would not be pollinated, and this is a major problem for our food supply.

“One in three bites of food we eat” is directly linked to a pollinator, Ron Magill, director of communications and wildlife expert at Zoo Miami, told CNN. About 30% of the food that ends up on our tables gets there because of things like butterflies, bees, and bats.

The loss of these critical populations could also mean the loss of some of our favorite foods.

Apples, melons, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, broccoli and almonds are among the foods most susceptible to pollinator decline, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Bees, in particular, are responsible for pollinating about 90 commercially produced crops, the agency reports. Even tequila is in danger.

“Everything is so tightly linked, whether you eat directly pollinated foods or you eat something that depends on that pollinator,” Magill said. “It’s a domino effect.”

In other words, if you eat fried chicken or pork chops, those chickens and pigs are eating fruits, vegetables, and other plants that depend on pollinators.

And the climate crisis has wreaked havoc on pollinators. Although more intense and prolonged drought is the most obvious impact, a growing concern is the effect of extreme heat, especially on butterflies.

“Because butterflies are among the insects most sensitive to temperature changes, they’re considered the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to climate change,” Magill said.

Warmer temperature causes plants to flower earlier, which is out of sync with when butterflies lay eggs and metamorphose. This means that the flowers they depend on for food will have already bloomed, leaving little food for the butterflies, which will greatly impact their ability to reproduce and survive.

This snowballs into a cyclical problem where butterflies can’t get the food they need to reproduce, and plants can’t be pollinated either, causing both to suffer greatly.

Additionally, for butterflies like monarchs that are known for their long migrations from the northern United States to Mexico, food along their route may no longer be available by the time the natural migration takes place.

A 2019 UN report found that one million species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades as the climate crisis gathers pace. Magill says we are starting to see this happening in insect populations.

“A million species in the next 50 years,” Magill said. “It’s catastrophic.”

Human impact on natural pollinators

Scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature last month added the monarch butterfly – one of the world’s most popular and recognizable insects – to its red list of endangered species, noting that the destruction of its habitat and rising temperatures fueled by the climate crisis are increasingly threatening the species.

“Climate change has had a significant impact on the migratory monarch butterfly and is a rapidly growing threat; drought limits milkweed growth and increases the frequency of catastrophic wildfires, extreme temperatures trigger earlier migrations before milkweed is available, while severe weather has killed millions of butterflies,” reported the scientists.

Bees began to show an alarming decline in 2006. From April 2020 to April 2021, American beekeepers lost about 45% of their colonies, according to Auburn University’s College of Agriculture, which reports the figure average acceptable business is around 20%.

Climate change could amplify a deadly parasite in bee populations. Research has shown that these bee-killing parasites become more prevalent in warmer climates, which means that as temperatures continue to rise, the parasites could thrive and become catastrophic for bees.

Several countries and even some states in the United States are already taking action to help protect these crucial species. California is pushing to limit bee-killing pesticides.

Magill noted that while these declines occur gradually, they will ultimately be too great for ecosystems to overcome – like a tipping point beyond which some species will be lost forever.

“You know, what’s the straw that’s going to break the camel’s back when it comes to environmental balance?” said Magill.

Tequila in danger

Bats also play an irreplaceable role in food security. The USDA points to recent studies that estimate that bats eat enough pests to save more than $1 billion a year in crop damage and pesticide costs in the United States, mostly from the corn industry alone. .

“Across all agricultural production, the consumption of insect pests by bats saves more than $3 billion a year,” according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bats are also vital pollinators.

“You wouldn’t have tequila if you didn’t have bats, because that’s the only thing that pollinates agave that makes tequila,” Magill said.

Bats are affected by the climate crisis in the same way as butterflies and bees.

“Bats are also more susceptible to heat stress,” Magill said. “There have been significant bat deaths as a result of rising temperatures leading to death from heatstroke, as bats have limited cooling mechanisms.”

Unlike butterflies and bees, however, bats aren’t just a vital pollinator – they’re considered an important seed disperser and essential to our ecosystems, just like birds.

“The seeds from the fruits they eat germinate after passing through their digestive system and then are deposited throughout their range to ‘plant’ future trees,” Magill said.

How you can help

This is a global issue, which means the fixes need to be global, but there are always individual ways to help.

“Plant gardens with native wildlife, the native plants that are essential to the survival of these animals,” Magill said.

Native plants will also require less care. If you plant a cactus in Louisiana, it will not grow well in a humid environment. Similarly, impatiens or begonias will not do well in the desert southwest as they need a huge amount of water to thrive.

A new online database helps users in the UK find pollinator-friendly plants for their gardens and support biodiversity. Similar lists of native pro-pollinator plants exist for the United States.

“When you plant native wildflowers, you plant a buffet for wildlife that needs them to survive,” Magill says. “These are the refueling stations for our pollinators.”

Magill highlights Lady Bird Johnson’s efforts to beautify roadsides in the United States. While his focus was national, his efforts shone in Texas.

“She did such a wonderful thing with wildflowers in Texas,” Magill says. “There are times when you can drive through Texas, and you can see wildflowers as far as the eye can see, and it’s such a beautiful sight, because she understood the value of it.”

While other states also do this along highways, individual owners can also do the same.

“We have beautiful flora in our native areas where we live in this country. If we could focus more on that and start rebuilding what was naturally here, we could start bringing back those natural rhythms. »

You can also work to reduce your use of pesticides and chemicals around your home. Good alternatives include using organic products like compost for soil health and adding beneficial insects like ladybugs, praying mantises or even nematodes to ward off pests.

The-CNN-Wire
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