Not Enough Pollinators Often Reduce Crop Yields Globally

Greg Howard
6th July, 2024

Not Enough Pollinators Often Reduce Crop Yields Globally

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The Rutgers University study found that 28-61% of global crop systems are limited by insufficient pollinator visitation
  • Crops like blueberries, coffee, and apples are most affected by pollinator limitation, especially in areas with less forest land cover
  • Increasing pollinator visitation to high levels could close 63% of the yield gaps between high- and low-yielding fields
The decline of pollinator populations is a significant concern for global food production, given their essential role in pollinating crops and wild plants. Recent research from Rutgers University[1] delves into the phenomenon of 'pollinator limitation,' where crop yields are restricted by insufficient pollinator visitation to flowers. This study assesses the global prevalence of pollinator limitation, identifies risk factors, and estimates the potential improvements in crop yields with increased pollinator visitation. Pollinators are crucial for maintaining biodiversity and ensuring the productivity of many crops. However, both wild and domesticated pollinators have been experiencing declines due to various factors such as habitat loss, agrochemicals, pathogens, and climate change[2]. This decline has prompted global attention and policy responses aimed at mitigating the risks to human well-being[3]. Despite these efforts, there remains substantial scientific uncertainty about the full impact of pollinator decline on society. The Rutgers study analyzed 198,360 plant-pollinator interactions and 2,083 yield measurements from 32 crop species across 120 study systems. The findings reveal that 28-61% of global crop systems are pollinator limited, with crops like blueberries, coffee, and apples being the most affected. This limitation is particularly prevalent in regions with less forest land cover surrounding crop fields, although the average effect sizes are small. The study's methodology involved assessing the frequency of pollinator limitation across different crops and geographic regions. By examining the relationship between pollinator visitation rates and crop yields, the researchers identified areas where increased pollinator activity could significantly boost yields. For crops identified as pollinator limited, the study estimates that increasing pollinator visitation to levels observed in the 90th percentile of each study system could close 63% of the yield gaps between high- and low-yielding fields. These findings align with previous research indicating that the productivity of many crops benefits from pollinators and that a decline in pollinator abundance could compromise global agricultural production[4]. The Rutgers study expands on this by providing specific data on the extent of pollinator limitation and the potential yield improvements achievable through increased pollinator visitation. The implications of this study are significant for global food security and agricultural practices. By identifying the crops and regions most affected by pollinator limitation, policymakers and farmers can target conservation efforts and land management practices to enhance pollinator habitats and visitation rates. This approach could mitigate the negative impacts of pollinator decline on crop yields and contribute to more sustainable agricultural systems. In summary, the Rutgers study provides valuable insights into the prevalence and impact of pollinator limitation on global crop yields. By highlighting the potential for increased pollinator visitation to close yield gaps, the research underscores the importance of protecting and promoting pollinator populations to ensure food security and agricultural sustainability. This study builds on earlier findings[2][3][4] and offers a data-driven basis for policy and conservation strategies aimed at mitigating the risks associated with pollinator decline.

AgricultureEnvironmentPlant Science


Main Study

1) Insufficient pollinator visitation often limits yield in crop systems worldwide.

Published 3rd July, 2024

Related Studies

2) Global pollinator declines: trends, impacts and drivers.

3) A global-scale expert assessment of drivers and risks associated with pollinator decline.

4) How much does agriculture depend on pollinators? Lessons from long-term trends in crop production.

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