Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A disaster in the making

A world without birds
Could we be facing a future without birds? Our reliance on pesticides has cut a swathe through their numbers.

The Independent: According to Hank Tennekes, a researcher at the Experimental Toxicology Services in Zutphen, the Netherlands, the threat of DDT has been superseded by a relatively new class of insecticide, known as the neonicotinoids. In his book The Systemic Insecticides: A Disaster in the Making... Tennekes draws all the evidence together, to make the case that neonicotinoids are causing a catastrophe in the insect world, which is having a knock-on effect for many of our birds.

Already in many areas, the skies are much quieter than they used to be... Ornithologists have been trying desperately to work out what is behind these rapid declines... Tennekes thinks there may be a simple reason. 'The evidence shows that the bird species suffering massive decline since the 1990s rely on insects for their diet,' he says. He believes that the insect world is no longer thriving, and that birds that feed on insects are short on food...

'Neonicotinoids are revolutionary because they are put inside seeds and permeate the whole plant... (which is why they are called systemic insecticides). Any insect that feeds on the crop dies.' explains Tennekes. Even small doses can kill... The damage is cumulative... And unfortunately the robust nature of neonicotinoids means that they can travel far beyond the crops they were used to treat.

'Neonicotinoids are water-soluble and mobile in soil. They can be washed out of soils and into surface and groundwater... As a result, neonicotinoids are probably readily taken up by wild plants as well, and in this way spread throughout nature, causing irreversible damage to non-target insects,' says Tennekes... 'The message is that we must act quickly and ban these compounds, to avoid a catastrophe.'
Image source here.