British Columbia

Chocolate might melt out of memory if we don't protect pollinators, ecologist warns

As people enjoy Easter chocolate collected over the long weekend, ecologist Claire Kremen is taking the opportunity to remind folks that chocolate wouldn't exist without pollinating insects, many of which are in danger of extinction.

25% of pollinator species headed toward extinction, UBC prof says — and that's bad news for the food we love

Chocolate Easter eggs could be in jeopardy if we don't pay attention to pollinators and the climate crisis, says UBC researcher Claire Kremen. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC News)

Combing the yard for chocolate Easter eggs could one day be a thing of the past if we don't make a concerted effort to protect pollinators, according to a UBC researcher. 

It's not just chocolate that's in trouble — all fruits and vegetables, even self-pollinating plants, need pollinators such as bees and butterflies to survive. 

"The sad thing is that we think about 25 per cent of the world's species overall are in peril, they're headed ... toward extinction," Claire Kremen, professor at UBC's Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko. 

The main reason for this, she said, is habitat loss due to clear-cutting of forests and urbanization. She also points to pesticides, climate change and light pollution as reasons some insect populations are shrinking. 

Fruits, vegetables and other foods we make from plants, including cacao, need to be pollinated.

"Chocolate comes from cacao, which is a tropical plant. To produce cacao, the flowers of the cacao plant have to be visited by a tiny fly," Kremen said.

If that population dies off, and therefore doesn't pollinate the plant, no more chocolate. 

"It just goes to show how dependent we are on nature, even for luxuries like that that we take for granted," she said.

Pollinating insects, such as bees, are crucial to ensuring fruit and vegetable crops thrive. (Emily Chung/CBC)

Kremen said 75 per cent of our fruit- and vegetable-producing plants need to be pollinated. Those that are pollinated often produce more fruit, which is larger and often more nutritious. 

Even self-pollinating plants like tomatoes produce more, bigger tomatoes, if pollinators visit, she added.

The best thing to do to support pollinators as spring takes hold is plant pollinator-supporting gardens, Kremen said. Pollinator Partnership Canada puts out planting guides for every region in Canada to grow a pollinator-friendly garden. 

"Last spring, a lot of people started to plant vegetable gardens," she said. "I think it's great people got outside to start their own gardens — that's a good thing for pollinators and connecting with nature."

Additionally, supporting local farmers who grow pesticide-free or organic produce will ultimately help pollinators. 

With files from On The Coast

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