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Global pollinator losses linked to excess fatalities

According to a new study, insect declines are resulting in reduced yields of healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, and nuts which is causing an estimated 500,000 early deaths a year.

In 2019, the first Global Scientific Review of insect populations was released.

It disclosed, to the dismay of the entomological community, that the world’s insects were hurtling towards extinction and warned that without immediate action, we would find ourselves amid a ‘catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems.’

Almost half a decade later, and the situation is only growing worse. Today, entomofauna is declining at an unprecedented rate of up to 2% a year, largely a result of deforestation, pesticide use, artificial light pollution, and climate change.

As is most likely obvious, the consequences of this decimation are far reaching.

An integral and irreplaceable facet of the biosphere – serving as the base of the ecological food pyramid – if insects disappear, it stands to reason that everything else will as well.

Unfortunately, this is already beginning to come into effect, as uncovered by a recent study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

According to researchers, the rapidly intensifying issue of insect decline is behind an estimated 500,000 early deaths annually.

This is because suboptimal pollination is amounting in reduced yields (some 3-5%) of healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, and nuts.

As they explain, this puts communities at a higher risk of suffering from strokes, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even some types of cancer.

The lower consumption of these foods means about 1% of all deaths can now be attributed to pollinator loss, making this the first time scientists have quantified the human health toll of insufficient wild pollinators.

‘A critical missing piece in the biodiversity discussion has been a lack of direct linkages to human health,’ writes Dr Samuel Myers, senior author of the study.

‘This research establishes that loss of pollinators is already impacting health on a scale with other global health risk factors, such as prostate cancer or substance use disorders.’

To gather this data, Myers and his team assessed dozens of pollinator-dependent crops using data from the global farm study.

It found that deficient pollination was responsible for about a quarter of the difference between high and low yields.

‘We estimated that the world is currently losing 4.7% of total production of fruit, 3.2% of vegetables, and 4.7% nuts,’ he continues.

‘This pollinator study is important as an indication that there’s risk in completely transforming our natural life support systems.’

It also found the biggest impact to be in middle-income countries including China, India, Russia, and Indonesia, where the aforementioned illnesses are already prevalent due to poor diets, smoking, and low levels of exercise.

Furthermore, it suggests that not only will this affect health services and economies but will probably widen inequality given that reduced supply of pollinated foods will raise prices and narrow access planet-wide.

‘The most concerning aspect of this study is that, since insect populations are continuing to decline, this lost crop yield is going to get worse into the future, while the human population is going to continue growing to at least 10 billion,’ Professor David Goulson, at the University of Sussex, who was not part of the study team, told the Guardian.

‘The problems described here are likely to get much worse as the 21st century progresses.’


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