'We're not going to starve' despite dropping pollinator numbers - expert


They're dying off in droves and it's apparently our fault, but new research suggests we can slow the decline in population of pollinators - and an expert says there's no imminent threat anyway.

Bees, butterflies and birds all carry pollen that makes them vital to our survival, and their populations are starting to falter. But now a group of researchers have offered up some solutions they hope will stop that number of pollinators falling further.

Pollination scientist David Pattemore says while the loss of pollinators is a serious and pressing matter, it'll be a while before the human race is wiped out as a result of their decline.

"It's safe to say we're not going to starve - we've got crops like rice and wheat, staples in our diet that are wind pollenated and not pollenated by animals at all," he told the Paul Henry programme on Tuesday.

"But a lot of the nutritious, yummy foods - the chocolates, the fruit - those things are more reliant on pollinators, and it's interesting that this new study is showing that there's been an increased reliance on these animal pollinated plants in the last 50 years."

However the research has offered up three ways of battling the decline - with ecological intensification, building habitats that consider the needs of pollinators, and more diverse crop farms all believed to slow the decrease in population size.

He says there are several factors that have contributed to the sharp decline in the number of pollinators.

"Some of the key things are things like land use intensification - so we clear large areas of land to turn it into agricultural land, and those pollinators lose their nesting habitat or their feeding habitat."

He says pesticides have also had a negative impact on pollinator populations when they haven't been used well, along with invasive species and diseases.

Dr Pattemore said the issue at hand has less to do with the overall population size of pollinators than people think, and more to do with areas where they are absent.

"There are a lot of species that are reducing their range - they're not everywhere that we need them to be for pollination," he said.

"So while pollinators are in decline, they're in decline locally as opposed to globally."

Dr Pattemore says people usually think of the European honey bee when they imagine dwindling pollinator populations - but in reality there are about 20,000 species that pollenate our plants, including some we wouldn't even consider.

"We've found here in New Zealand and Australia that flies are really important pollinators, and we also have bats, lizards, a whole lot of animals who visit flowers for nectar," he said.