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martes, 27 de octubre 2020
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Pollinators and Food: a Threatened Relationship

by Natalia Piedrahita Tamayo

It is estimated that over 200,000 species in the world are pollinators. Photo credit: Peter Lloyd/Unplash.

The use of pesticides and herbicides, indiscriminate urbanization and the use of land for pastures are the main causes of disease and death of pollinators in the world. In the case of bees, pesticides have affected their nervous system to the point of destroying their orientation system. Since they cannot return to their colonies, they dehydrate and die.

However, the global alarm over the decrease of bee populations has hidden the fact that this is an issue that involves other pollinators which are fundamental for the balance of the planet.

In the case of Antioquia’s mountain forests, beetle, bee and fly populations are small. “The disappearance of bee colonies gives us clues about the fact that habitat transformation seriously affects insect biodiversity and abundance”, stated Sandra Eugenia Cuartas Hernandez, biologist and researcher of the Microbial Ecology and Bioprospecting Research Group (Grupo de Investigación en Ecología Microbiana y Bioprospección) of the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences (Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales) at Universidad de Antioquia.

The group’s research line Plant-Pollinator Interaction (Interacción planta-polinizador) has carried out several research projects in native forests of Antioquia located in the municipalities of Maceo, the natural reserve Hacienda San Pedro and Jardin's natural reserve La Mesenia-Paramillo. These studies have allowed scientists to determine that only nine of the multiple insect families that visit flowers belong to the order Hymenoptera, which includes bees and wasps. Even a smaller fraction belongs to the Apidae (bees) family, with low abundance. The remaining fraction is mainly composed of flies, beetles and thrips. These organisms have the potential to transport pollen and are as endangered as bees. However, since they are not considered charismatic species, no warning is given about them.

To conserve pollinators and plants, it is essential to think about the whole forest ecosystem. “There can’t be isolated actions. It’s not about saving one species but preserving the tissue that it belongs to”, said Cuartas. Community action is important in such initiatives. Nevertheless, the government must take an interest in them for a greater scope since the protection of systems must be driven by public policy.

The introduction of alien species and climate change are the other two “great global threats” to the species. This means that, apart from being exposed to local human impact caused by livestock production and deforestation, there is a series of alterations on a global scale that have a negative influence on the species’ dynamics and cycles.

The Earth's Health

“If there are no flowers, there are no insects. If there are no insects, there are no fruits.” This short account by Cuartas Hernandez is related to the evident plant water stress and the decrease of native pollinators. All of this has a direct effect on the human diet.

When pollination decreases, forests tend to disappear, as well as grains, cereals, vegetables and minerals involved in the quality of nutrition, of course. “We find sources of calcium, iron, protein and vegetable fats in these foods. They are all fundamental for a balanced diet”, stated Nutrition and Dietetics Professor Angela Franco Castro.

Human health is closely linked to the quality of nutrition. “Even though all food comes from the earth, some chronic illnesses are largely related to a lack of fruit, grain and vegetable consumption or the intake of processed substitutes for these”, specified Franco Castro. In fact, preventive medicine’s main tool is the human diet.

The evident connection between a forest’s health and human health must stop being a subject addressed only in academic environments or institutions such as the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). There are broken links in that chain—willingness from the government and communities. According to FAO, about 20,000 people (8,500 children) die of malnutrition every day in the world.

Forest biodiversity is related to climate and altitude. Orders such as Coleoptera and Diptera are abundant in the mountain forests of Antioquia. The native flora of these forests is visited by many flies, whose importance in the balance of ecosystems has been undervalued. Availability of water and air largely depends on the relationship of flies with forests.

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Fundación Universidad de Antioquia
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