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Coffee production threatened by loss of pollinators

Tropical crops including coffee, cocoa, watermelon, and mango, face a potential crisis due to the dwindling number of insect pollinators, according to a new study. 

The research, led by experts from University College London and the Natural History Museum, investigated the complex relationship between climate change, alterations in land use, and the consequential effects on pollinator diversity. 

Alarming threat 

Drawing upon data from 1,507 crop growing sites worldwide and an extensive cataloguing of 3,080 insect pollinator species, the study has revealed an alarming threat to global crop pollination.

According to the analysis, the collective pressures of climate change and farming activities have resulted in significant declines in both the quantity and variety of insect pollinators.

Coffee is losing pollinators

With nearly three-quarters of all crops being somewhat reliant on animal-driven pollination, the research team devised a model to identify which of these crops face the gravest threats up to the year 2050. 

“Our research indicates that the tropics are likely most at risk when it comes to crop production from pollinator losses, primarily due to the interaction of climate change and land use,” said study lead author Dr. Joe Millard.

“While localized risks are highest in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, northern South America, and south-east Asia, the implications of this extend globally via the trade in pollination dependent crops.”

Tropical regions

The study identifies tropical regions as particularly vulnerable due to the combined effects of climate change and land use changes. 

Consequently, pivotal crops like coffee, cocoa, mango, and watermelon, all heavily reliant on insect pollination, face the most significant peril. 

Increasing threat

The potential decline of these crops could drastically affect local economies and the global trade sector, posing an increased threat of income instability for countless small-scale farmers.

“As insects decline, due to being unable to cope with the interacting effects of climate change and land use, so too will the crops that rely on them as pollinators,” said Dr. Millard.

“In some cases, these crops could be pollinated by hand but this would require more labor and more cost.”

Implications for coffee and its pollinators

Highlighting the critical role of pollinator abundance and diversity in ensuring effective pollination, the study authors advocate for proactive measures to mitigate climate change in order to secure future crop yields. 

“Climate change poses grave threats not only to the natural environment and biodiversity, but also to human well-being, as the loss of pollinators can threaten the livelihoods of people across the globe who depend on crops that depend on animal pollination,” said study senior author Dr. Tim Newbold.

“Our findings underscore the urgent need to take global action to mitigate climate change, alongside efforts to slow down land use changes and protect natural habitats to avoid harming insect pollinators.”

The study is published in the journal Science Advances.

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