Sustainable pollination services for UK crops

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: Inst of Integrative & Comparative Biolog

Abstract

Pollination is a key ecosystem service, vital to the maintenance both of wild plant communities and agricultural productivity. Insect pollination, mostly by bees, is necessary for production in 84% of all crops in the Europe and 75% of the crops that are used directly as human food worldwide. In 2005, the economic value of insect pollination per year amounted to approximately £120 billion globally and about £440 million in the UK. Crop pollination services depend on both domesticated and wild pollinator populations, and both may be affected by a range of recent and projected environmental changes, with unknown consequences. There has been growing concern in recent decades about the fate of both domesticated and wild pollinators, leading to special initiatives by the Convention for Biodiversity (International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Pollinators) and a number of continental, national and regional programmes. Clearly, insect pollination is an important agricultural input. However, our current knowledge about the pollination requirements of crops, the pollination potential of different bees and other insects and the impact of landscape, land use and climate changes on pollination services is poor. This is holding up progress towards designing effective policies to conserve and manage pollination services. Therefore, we propose to: First determine which wild and managed pollinators contribute to pollination of insect-dependent crops (e.g. most fruit trees, berries, oilseed rape, field beans) and whether at present lack of wild pollinators limits agricultural production. Second, to use this information to predict crop pollination deficits at the landscape scale (using modelling approaches). Third, determine whether and how climate change will affect UK crop distributions and the need for pollination services towards 2050. Fourth, use the outcomes of the above to design and test ways to mitigate against crop pollination deficitsi.e. improve availability of managed pollinators, provide food or nest resources for wild pollinators). The outcomes of the project will provide important novel scientific insights that can be used to support UK farmer decisions on crop, landscape and pollinator management practices. It will also facilitate the UK's move towards more sustainable agriculture. To this end we will disseminate our results to the major stakeholders (farmers, beekeepers, land managers, conservation agencies), but even more crucially we will start the exchange of information between stakeholders and scientists to guarantee that our research produces information required by the UK agricultural community.

Technical Summary

Insect pollination, mostly by bees, benefits 84% of EU crops with total annual economic value of ~£120 billion globally and ~£440 million in the UK. Despite this importance, there is a severe lack of basic information on how diversity and abundance of pollinating insects contribute to seed/fruit yield and quality and how climate change will affect pollination service need and provision. This proposal aims to provide a scientific underpinning of the current state, future potential and main factors influencing the provision of UK crop pollination services. We propose to: (1) determine which wild and managed pollinators contribute to pollination of insect-dependent crops (e.g. most fruit trees, berries, oilseed rape, field beans) and whether at present lack of wild pollinators limits agricultural production [in four focal crops: apples, strawberries, field beans and oilseed rape] (2) use this information to predict crop pollination deficits at the landscape scale (using habitat suitability modelling). (3) determine whether and how climate change will affect UK crop distributions and the need for pollination services towards 2050 (using process-based and climate-envelope models). (4) use the outcomes of the above to design and test mitigation strategies against crop pollination deficits (i.e. improve availability of managed pollinators, provide food or nest resources for wild pollinators). The outcomes of the project will provide scientific support for crop pollinator management and support UK farmer decisions on cropping and pollinator management and facilitate the UK's move towards more sustainable agriculture.

Planned Impact

A wide range of end users will benefit from our research into sustainable crop pollination. These include food producers, government agencies, food retailers, the general public (as food consumers) and also non-governmental organizations. Our research aims to provide understanding and recommendations on how to ensure that pollination services for food production remain reliable under the continuing threat of further losses of UK pollinators resulting from changes in agricultural practices and climate. By identifying ways to provide sustainable pollination services we will contribute to food security, sustainable agricultural practices, maintenance of consumer choice for UK grown produce and ultimately to the nation's health and wealth. Specific beneficiaries include: Farmers and fruit growers. Given the strong evidence that managed and wild pollinators are in decline in the UK, the challenge is to ensure that the production of field and fruit crops which rely on insect pollination is not compromised. Our research will fill a current knowledge gap on the degree of dependency of UK crops on pollinators, and determine how shortfalls in pollination services can be overcome through better management practices. We will provide an evidence base allowing the supply of pollination services to be properly matched to producer requirements. We will communicate our findings through direct engagement with producer groups (e.g. National Union of Farmers (NFU), Horticultural Development Company, Home Grown Cereals Association) using workshops and by producing specialist materials in hard copy and on dedicated webpages. The project team has worked with NFU and farmers before to deliver best practice guidance which has been formalised in Environmental Stewardship options. We will utilise high profile events such as the 'Royal Agricultural Show' to directly engage this user group. Defra aims to secure a healthy environment for future generations to prosper and our research will contribute to an important component of this which is the adoption of more sustainable agricultural practices. Our findings will be developed in close collaboration with policy teams at Defra (facilitated by Fera) and NFU through secondment of project staff, employment of a professional policy brief writer and delivery of scientific evidence in a form identified by the policy developers themselves. We have previously provided scientific evidence for policy formulation for Defra, UK parliament and for the Convention on Biological Diversity. Food retailers and the general public: By helping producers safeguard their crops, under current and future threats of pollination shortfalls, we will help ensure that UK fruit varieties are maintained and readily available to retailers. This will make sure that UK produce is less likely to be replaced by imported equivalents, thereby supporting UK consumer choice for high quality local produce. We will develop booklets (hard copies and e-copies) aimed at both retailers and the general public to highlight the importance of sustainable pollination services for the availability of a wide range of UK produce. We will also produce a poster encapsulating the key message using a competition in a local art colleague (a very effective method used in previous projects) and participate in National Insect Week through a series of public lectures. We will also exploit wherever possible existing retailer networks for disseminating material. Conservation related organisations: We will engage our long-term partners, e.g. Natural England, Wildlife Trusts, Bee Wasp and Ant Recording Society, in our workshops and with specially targeted material demonstrating that many insects of conservation importance also contribute to the supply of economically important ecosystem services. This will help these groups strengthen the cases for conserving key pollinators. Again we will use existing networks of these organizations to reach stakeholders.
 
Description COST ACTION Super-B (Sustainable pollination in Europe: joint research on bees and other pollinators) 
Organisation University of Reading
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I initiated and Chair this COST ACTION, which has 31 EU countries, 4 international countries and several international organizations as members. Four year network project 2014-2018. For details: EU Website: http://www.cost.eu/COST_Actions/fa/Actions/FA1307 . Project website: http://superb-project.eu/. Ideas come directly from IPI Crop Pollination and EU STEP projects.
Collaborator Contribution I Chair the network Simon Potts is Co-lead of WG 1: Pollination as an agricultural input Chiara Polce (now at JRC) is member of the network Mike Garratt (postdoc) is member of the metwork
Impact still in process, apart from the Super-B project.
Start Year 2014