(CN) - An intergovernmental body, formed under the auspices of four United Nations programs, published its two-year assessment regarding worldwide pollinator viability, and it paints a grim picture. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) study, compiled by a team of 77 international experts, cites 3,000 scientific papers, as well as local and indigenous knowledge from more than 60 world-wide locations, according to the IPBES press release.
"Pollinators are important contributors to world food production and nutritional security," Vera Lucia Imperatriz-Fonseca, Ph.D., co-chair of the assessment and Senior Professor at the University of São Paulo, said. "Their health is directly linked to our own well-being."
Almost 90 percent of wild flowering plants and 75 percent of the world's food crops, annually valued at up to $557 billion, depend on pollination, the announcement said.
The results of the assessment released Friday highlight growing concern over the fate of pollinator species. An estimated 16 percent of vertebrate pollinators (such as bats and hummingbirds) are threatened with global extinction, "increasing to 30 per cent for island species, with a trend towards more extinctions," the announcement noted.
Invertebrate, or insect, pollinators such as bees and butterflies are at even greater risk. "Regional and national assessments indicate high levels of threat, particularly for bees and butterflies, with often more than 40 per cent of invertebrate species threatened locally," according to the summary.
The threats cited span a wide spectrum, from pesticides, invasive species, genetically modified crops and climate change. "Wild pollinators in certain regions, especially bees and butterflies, are being threatened by a variety of factors," IPBES Vice-Chair, Sir Robert Watson, said. "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."
Large-scale losses of honey bee colonies in the United States during the winter of 2006-2007 led to a diagnosis of a set of symptoms that were termed colony collapse disorder, or CCD, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). While the cause of CCD is still not fully understood, "research is beginning to lend credence to the hypothesis that CCD may be a syndrome caused by many different factors, working in combination or synergistically," the agency said. "Some studies are focusing on combinations and synergistic effects of factors, such as the synergistic effects of Nosema [honey bee tracheal mites] and pesticides, and of pesticides and other pathogens."
One particular class of pesticides, the neonicotinoids, has come under scrutiny as the concern over pollinator declines has increased in recent years. "There is no direct link demonstrated between neonicotinoids and the honey bee syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). However, recent research suggests that neonicotinoids may make honey bees more susceptible to parasites and pathogens, including the intestinal parasite Nosema, which has been implicated as one causative factor in CCD," according to a 2012 report by the Xerces Society, a non-profit organization devoted to the worldwide protection of invertebrates.
Bayer Group, a major manufacturer of neonicotinoids, disputes the connection.