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Hummingbirds, flies, bumblebees, butterflies and bats: silent allies of agriculture

New FAO book analyzes the state of pollination and the services provided by multiple animal species to the development of agriculture in Chile, Paraguay and Peru.

Of the threatened groups of pollinating animals, nine species of butterflies, two species of hummingbird and the native bumblebee are reported in Chile.

December 7, 2017, Santiago, Chile – The ecosystem pollination services that a wide range of animal species provide contribute significantly to the development of agriculture and the livelihoods of thousands of people in Latin America and the Caribbean, says a new FAO publication.

The book offer an in-depth analyzes of the state of pollination in Chile, Paraguay and Peru. Knowing the state of this invaluable service is key to preserve the delicate ties that join natural pollinators with agricultural systems and thousands of small farmers who benefit from them," explained Hivy Ortiz, FAO Forestry Officer.

According to the publication, in many parts of the world there is a decrease in pollinators due to the transformation of their natural habitats, the use of pesticides, the spread of pathogens, the invasion of exotic species and the impact of climate change.

In the absence of animal pollination (as is carried out by insects, birds and other animals), food prices  could increase for consumers and profits decrease for producers.

According to 2012 data from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the percentage of losses in agricultural production volume in the absence of pollination could exceed 15 percent in Chile, 10 percent in Argentina and Paraguay, and 3 percent in Peru and Brazil.

The book analyzes the biodiversity of pollinators in three countries, identifies the systems of agricultural production impacted by pollination and details the factors behind the alteration of the pollination service and ways to mitigate it, as well as the political, regulatory and administrative instruments that contribute to the conservation and sustainable use of pollinators.

Bees on lease versus wild pollinators

The report highlights the importance of the contribution of wild polinators, which is often not taken into account, assuming it is invisible or inexhaustible. According to the FAO book, the vast majority of pollinating species are wild and include more than 20,000 species of bees, flies, butterflies, beetles, birds, mammals and even reptiles.

However, their contribution to agricultural production is undervalued and neglected by the scientific community and by producers growers: Today it has become an increasingly common practice to rent bee colonies of Apis mellifera, leased to pollinate certain crops.

However, these "bees on lease" cannot fully compensate for the loss of wild pollinators, and may be less effective in some crops or not exist in sufficient numbers to meet the demand.

 "A diverse community of pollinators generally provides a more effective and stable service than a single species. That's why it's so important to preserve them, "explained Hivy Ortiz.

Wild pollinators have broader ranges of activity, can pollinate at different times of the day, and are more efficient at transferring pollen to some crops and loading it at longer distances.

Chile: bumblebees, butterflies and hummingbirds in danger

Chile has directly referenced and registered 203 species of insect visitors and pollinators, including flies, bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies and birds such as the hummingbird. Of the threatened groups of pollinating animals, nine species of butterflies, two species of hummingbird and the native bumblebee are reported in Chile. These pollinators have an impact on the production of about 75% of fruit crops in Chile, and are essential in products such as cranberry, cherimoya, kiwi and mango.

In Peru, pollination is an extended practice

In Peru there is a reference of at least 470 species of pollinating animals, including 389 insects, 135 species of hummingbirds and 26 species of pollinating mammals such as bats, primates and marsupials.

In Peru, insect pollination is a productive practice widely used by farmers. During the 1990s, a free pollination service was carried out for all farmers, but starting in 2001, pollination by renting hives began. Farmers and beekeepers have become aware of the economic benefit of animal pollination, and there is already a rental market for beehives and bumblebee colonies.

Paraguay: insects are fundamental for yerba mate

In Paraguay there are at least 478 species of bees, 500 of flies, 171 of butterflies and 227 species of pollinating beetles, in addition to seven species of bats and 15 hummingbirds. The benefit of pollination services are important in strawberry, passion fruit, citrus, watermelon, and yerba mate, plants pollinated mainly by insects. Soy also benefits, because although it can bear fruit without pollinators, with the presence of insects seed production can increase by up to 10 percent.

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