Another form of MADness
The acronym MAD is usually associated with the “mutually assured destruction” of the escalating nuclear weapons arms race of the Cold War, but something equally MAD is going on in the world of biodiversity, especially on island ecosystems such as the Caribbean. The recent IPBES regional biodiversity assessments have painted a generally grim picture of the state of biodiversity. Similarly, last year’s IPBES pollinator assessment highlighted the potential economic losses from the decline in, predominately, insect pollinators.
So the MAD I want to highlight here is our plant “Mutualists Are Declining”. This is particularly apparent in the Caribbean, the location of the next BES-NET regional Trialogue, which will focus on pollinators. Because of a relative absence of insect pollinators on island ecosystem, a wider range of vertebrate pollinators (birds, bats, rodents) have evolved ecological adaptations to occupy the “nectar niche” – there are even specialist reptile pollinators in some island ecosystems. But vertebrate biodiversity is under increased threat compared with invertebrates and recent studies, including the IPBES pollinator assessment, have highlighted the loss of plant mutualists, both as pollinators and seed dispersers, which is creating plant “widows”, species that have lost a vital ecological partner and are effectively, in ecological and evolutionary terms, the living dead, or at best, the walking wounded.
A 2013 study found that, on islands, up to 30% of vertebrate pollinators are threatened with extinction, potentially creating over 360 plant widows. Hopefully, the forthcoming Caribbean BES-Net pollinator Trialogue will be a positive step towards stopping this MADness.