Pollination services are incredibly important to the human food source but are becoming increasingly endangered by climate change, said Jim Porter in a lecture on Wednesday.
Giving his annual discussion on climate change to a crowd of 80 attendants, Porter, a Josiah Meigs distinguished professor of ecology at the UGA Odum School of Ecology, said humans are responsible for the increased temperatures on the earth and the resulting effects.
“Our food supply is at risk from the things we are doing as human beings,” Porter said.
Unlike plants, whose emergence is based on day length, pollinator emergence is based on temperature and pollinators are coming out earlier and earlier each year, even when the flora aren’t there to pollinate, Porter said.
“Because of anthropogenic climate change, there is a discrepancy between the time when pollinators’ services are needed and the time when pollinators’ services will be delivered,” he said. “And as climate change continues and the world warms, this discrepancy will increase.”
More than 50 pollinators make up the threatened or endangered species lists, he said.
“There’s a crisis in the things that provide the fruits, the nuts, the seeds and the vegetables that we all take for granted and that we eat,” Porter said.
Porter said this pollination process is so important because one third of all food requires pollination and the value of these services is worth half a trillion dollars per year, while nature provides them automatically and at no cost.
“The entire reproductive cycle of plants is wholly and totally dependent upon the existence of a healthy pollinator fauna,” he said.
While most people think of bees when they hear the word "pollination," they only do half of the work. The rest is done by wild insects, Porter said.
The most important pollinators are moths, he said, which are incredibly biodiverse and have been around since dinosaurs walked the Earth.
Georgia ranks second in biodiversity of butterflies and moths in the U.S. and sixth in biodiversity overall, but it is also fifth in terms of extinctions, he said.
“Georgia is worth saving,” Porter said.
He said he’s worried about the effect the widespread use of chemicals in agriculture will have on moths.
“What are the costs? We don’t know,” Porter said.
In addressing the audience of primarily students, he said what they are learning will help them find the solutions “to make it through this crisis.”
“We need every one of you in this fight to preserve the planet,” he said.
Kristina Clark, a junior English education major from Peachtree City, said the lecture was very thought provoking.
“I never really stopped to think about the whole issue with the pollination crisis,” she said.
Robert Saveland, professor emeritus of the UGA College of Education, said he thought what Porter had to say was “fascinating and very important.”
“There are a lot of unanswered questions, and we’ve got to find the answers to some of them,” he said.