Bees boost crop stability and can calm food prices

Plant yields with and without pollinators have been analysed, with results pointing to a marked difference in terms of variability. 

Researchers at the University of Reading have studied years of data gleaned from more than 200 experiments to ascertain the impact of insect pollinators on crop cultivation. The team believes their work proves that yields are significantly less changeable when species such as bees are present. 

Overall, supporting and enhancing these pollinators could lead to 32% less variation in crop yield stability. The study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, suggests that this could reduce supply issues and mitigate market shocks that can lead to global price hikes such as those seen this year, effectively stabilising stockpiles. A previous spike in food costs, recorded in 2007-8, saw prices of major global crops double, in part driven by an estimated 4.6% drop of worldwide wheat production.

The work has been made public during Bees’ Needs Week, which runs 18th to 24th July, a UK Government-led campaign encouraging people to take  simple steps to help protect vulnerable species of pollinators. A launch event took place at the Tower of London on Monday 18th July, where a Superbloom installation of 20m wildflowers will be display for the duration of summer. 

‘Our findings suggest that preserving pollinators provides a double benefit, reducing fluctuations in food supplies as well as boosting supplies in the first place,’ said Dr Jake Bishop, a crop science researcher at the University of Reading, and the study lead. ‘Stable and predictable production of nutritious food is a necessity for farmers and for global food security. We are seeing right now that instability or shocks across the food system can lead to dramatic increases in food price.

‘The research has revealed another reason why pollinators are so important to our planet, and to so many families who are struggling to feed themselves with sufficient, safe and nutritious food,’ he continued. ‘Pollinators are particularly important in the production of fruit and vegetable crops. Around half of the experiments we analysed were testing the effect of real pollinator populations in real crop fields so our results illustrate the benefits that pollinators are currently providing.’

Earlier this year, a study by Rutgers University, New Jersey, showed that a wide diversity of bee species, not just the number of bees, is vital to sustain life on Earth.

Image credit: Katja


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