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7 Wild Species We Must Protect To Feed The World

<p>© Art Wolfe/ www.artwolfe.com)</p>

Although domesticated plants and animals (or products derived from them) probably make up most of your diet, everything you eat originates with wild species. That is a worrying fact, considering that human activities have elevated the extinction rate to 1,000 times its natural level.

Today is World Food Day, an international observance dedicated to raising awareness about the challenges and opportunities of working to feed a human population that could be growing even faster than we thought. In order to maintain global food security, here are seven of the many types of wild species we must protect.

1. Wild bananas

Man delivering bananas in Colombia. (© Conservation International/photo by Keith Lawrence)

The banana is the world's most popular fruit - and a staple crop for more than 400 million people. Yet because of the way domestic bananas reproduce, they are incredibly vulnerable to disease. For example, an incurable fungus called Panama disease could soon wipe out the Cavendish, a banana variety that makes up most of the international banana trade.

A number of wild banana varieties still grow in Southeast Asia - species that may have a natural resistance to diseases currently plaguing the Cavendish. Agronomists are working hard to breed new, more resilient type of bananas for global consumption, but continued deforestation in Southeast Asia means we might destroy some of these species before understanding their value. (To learn more, check out Dan Koeppel's informative book "Banana.")

2. Bees

Bee on a flower in Sichuan province, China. (© Conservation International/photo by Leeanne Alonso)

Pollinators like bees and birds are responsible for about one in every three mouthfuls of food we eat. Without bees, yields of crops like almonds, apples and avocados would collapse, or possibly disappear altogether. In addition, a recent study found that because pollinators support certain crops that provide important nutrients to malnourished countries, a decline in pollinators could worsen global malnutrition.

The importance of bees means we should heed their recent dramatic declines. Although there are likely numerous causes of this collapse, protecting bees from known threats like pesticides is an essential step in maintaining our food security, even as we redouble research into the threats we don't understand.

3. Sharks

Shark in French Polynesia. (© Photo Rodolphe Holler)

You would think that a fish that has been around longer than the dinosaurs might not be under threat, but people kill about 100 million sharks per year. Many sharks are killed solely for their fins, which are used in shark fin soup, a delicacy which has little nutritional value.

In fact, keeping sharks alive will do more for global food security than killing them. The disappearance of sharks means we also lose one of the best regulators in the oceans. As top predators, they can maintain a healthy food web that helps support strong fisheries, which provide the main source of protein for 1 billion people.

Read the rest of this post on Conservation International's blog, Human Nature.