A newly published Report from the International Insect Pollinators Workshop held in February 2012 adds a strong voice to the argument that insect pollinators are invaluable to the environment and to society.
The report, which should be made available this week, details outputs from a workshop organised by the UK Science and Innovation Network which brought together international experts in the field of insect pollination, conservation groups and key policy-forming organisations in order to identify the current state of knowledge and the key messages that policy-makers should be aware of.
In the report, the group outlines the substantial economic value of insect pollination which, by increasing and stabilising yields of fruits, vegetables, oil, seed and nut crops, is estimated to equal almost 10% of the value of global food production. Benefits to human health and nutrition are also considerable; insect-pollinated crops provide 70% of the Vitamin A consumed worldwide and pollination increases yields of these crops by 43%, a particular benefit in developing countries where Vit A deficiency is widespread.
The ecological benefits of pollinators too are invaluable; dependence of wildflowers on insect pollination is estimated to range from almost 80% in temperate regions to 94% in the tropics. A lack of pollination would lead to widespread loss of these plants which underpin almost all food webs, leading to ecosystem collapse.
However, despite the irrefutable importance of pollinating insects, a lack of systematic monitoring, particularly in developing nations, means that identification and prediction of pollinator responses to environmental changes remain difficult. Even where research is available, some studies are less robust than others and UK policy-makers including Defra, the Scottish Government and Members of Parliament, are currently required to ‘sift fact from fiction’ when trying to make evidence-based policy decisions.
Recognition of the need to improve the translation of robust scientific evidence into policy-making was behind the organisation of this workshop. It is intended that the outputs of the session will contribute to developing better ways of providing policy-makers with usable information about insect pollinators for future policy decisions.
Discussions considered the major trends for pollinators and identified the priority science and policy gaps to be addressed:
Agricultural intensification, land-use change and urbanisation were identified as main factors destroying large tracts of pollinator habitats whilst climate change is anticipated to affect the timing of plant flowering and pollinator emergence.
Science gaps: the development of systematic monitoring; identification of effective interventions and decisions on how they should be targeted; identifying the relative contribution of different pressures; how pollinator diversity relates to ecosystem service delivery
Policy gaps: identifying opportunities to integrate policy across sectors (eg integrating the Water Framework Directive with aspects of the Habitats and Birds Directives); better using pollinator science to inform current (eg CAP) and novel (eg a common woodlands policy) policy development.
Pests and pathogens – such as the Verroa mite which spreads viruses responsible for honey bee colony collapse – are a major cause of pollinator mortality and can pass between pollinator species.
Science gaps: defining a ‘healthy’ pollinator population; defining ‘pollinator health’; understanding how environment and population factors alter the dynamics of disease; identifying ‘who pollinates what’ and how much pollination we need
Policy gaps: identifying and implementing appropriate policy to manage pollinator diseases; developing effective and practicable solutions; knowledge transfer from scientists to practitioners.
Evidence suggests that wild bee and butterfly species richness tend to be lower when pesticide loads are higher. In particular, widely used neonicotinoids accumulate in nectar and pollen resulting in sub-lethal but behaviour-altering effects in pollinators.
Science gaps: confirming risks and benefits of pesticide use; quantifying pesticide impacts on pollinators; understanding species’ differing reactions to pesticides; investigating whether honey bees are an accurate proxy for other pollinators’ reaction to pesticides.
Policy gaps: improving engagement with policy makers; developing alternative methods of communication such as simplified summaries for decision makers (eg POST publications); communicating scenarios including ‘what if we ban neonicotinoids’; securing funding for relevant research; encouraging publication of negative results (ie studies showing no negative effects)
Economics of Pollination
Science gaps: develop/adjust models to accurately quantify economic contribution of pollination; cost-benefit analyses for restoring necessary natural capital to support pollinators; identify appropriate economic instruments; identify who will pay to restore habitats.
Policy gaps: analysis to model ‘do nothing’ scenario; effective policies to address the issue of valuation; quantify costs of loss of pollinators vs habitat restoration and maintenance; identify social, economic and environmental barriers to progress; policy coherence, particularly at the EU level.
The group concluded that with the growing movement towards mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystem services within broader national and international policy, it is becoming increasingly important for science to provide a strong evidence base in a form which is accessible to decision makers.
Scientists should be more pro-active and take the initiative to engage with policy-makers as well as broadening their focus to communicate with decision makers in businesses and NGOs, who not only make their own policies, but also influence government. In return, policy-makers must take steps to facilitate scientific research by communicating the clear priorities for evidence and providing resources.
The workshop provided an important early opportunity for the relevant groups to begin working together and it is hoped that the robust outputs of the session will provide a basis for future discussion. A link to the report will be added when it becomes available.