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Crops need pollinating insects

By FRANCES LAMBERTS

From a road trip along the Pacific Highway, Martha Redbone stated recalling frequent popping sounds, meaning the splattering and death, in her words, of “winged souls on the windshield of life.”

The November 30 concert by Ms. Redbone, at East Tennessee State University, celebrated the poetry of William Blake, set to Appalachian tunes by her team of instrumental musicians. One of the 18th century English writer’s poems has the summer’s play of a “Little Fly” ended by a “thoughtless hand” and Blake ruminating on a life of greater thoughtfulness and happiness, for both human actor and fly.

To flies’ pollination services we owe the fruiting fertility of Pawpaw trees and Dutchman’s Pipe vine; the latter’s abundant foliage, in turn, is nursery for another, colorful pollinator, the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.

Insect pollinators, the fertilizing agents for about three-quarters of the world’s flowering plants and crops, are in serious decline worldwide, threatening long-term food security for the growing human population.

The Xerces Society Red Lists show almost 120 butterflies, moths, and native bees of the United States affected, including a half-dozen Tennessee-native insects, and more than one quarter or our bumble bees. Many of those, and flies, pollinate plants in high-elevation or high-latitude, colder regions where honeybees cannot do so.

Climate change, an enormous increase in roads and motorized traffic and loss of habitat, and extensive nocturnal light pollution are among many factors in modern development which harm the pollinator animals. Yet a comprehensive, world-wide scientific assessment of their decline and its causes, published in 2014, identified as the principal cause a pervasive poisoning of the environment through pesticides in industrial agriculture today, especially the systemic, neonicotinoid insecticides in routine and widespread use, globally.

The poisons, the study revealed, are found not only in every part of treated plants but in the air via dust at planting time, in the soil through year-on-year build up, and in water as insecticides wash off fields into streams, rivers and seas.

As the plants’ pollen and nectar contain the toxins, bees suffer disorientation in navigation, immune-system damage and larval loss in the hive. In the soil, earth worms’ ability to tunnel is damaged and, thus, their role in aerating and fertilizing the root-growing zone. The chemicals being water solvable, dragonflies and other aquatic insects are harmed from their run-off into ditches and water bodies.

Birds suffer through loss of the insects they feed on but can also be killed directly if eating just a few insecticide-treated seeds.

Late in 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency retracted its earlier approval of another, potent new herbicide after finding that Dow Chemical had failed to submit relevant environmental-risk information. In March this year, however, the Trump Administration approved Enlist Duo for use in 34 states.

With further spread of these persistent and highly toxic pesticides in industrial agriculture, fewer insects will hit against Ms Redbone’s windshield (or ours). Less food for human consumption through further insect and global biodiversity loss will be likely results as well. Instead of their expansion, the pesticides should be phased out.