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Diverse insect pollinator communities boost crop production

In the first study of its kind, an international team of scientists led by the University of Reading  has investigated insect pollinator stability over multiple years and sites worldwide. The experts found that crop pollination services are more stable in fields and farms with a greater variety of insect pollinators. 

The investigation showed that diverse communities of insect pollinators, and areas with stable populations of dominant species, can reduce year-to-year fluctuations in crop pollination.

The results suggest that supporting pollinator diversity could provide long-term benefits to food production.

“Most previous research into pollinator stability has focused on space, not time. However, year-to-year variations in pollination services cause boom and bust cycles in crop harvests, which can have a damaging impact on agriculture and livelihoods globally,” explained study lead author Dr. Deepa Senapathi.

“Stable and consistent pollination services are therefore important in underpinning businesses and livelihoods, as well as providing a reliable supply of food for retailers and consumers.”

“This study has revealed that the secret to consistent crop harvests could be to encourage pollinator diversity on or near farmland. If we want pollinators to help us, first we need to help them, through land management decisions that preserve and increase the number of insect pollinator species.”

Insect pollinators support reproduction in at least 78 percent of wild plants, while contributing to the pollination of 75 percent of major crops. At the same time, wild insect pollinator populations are declining in areas of northwest Europe and North America, where crop production is widespread. 

It is becoming increasingly important to understand how plant pollinator populations change over time, as well as the associated impacts with their fluctuations.

For the current study, the researchers collected wild pollinator data from hundreds of field sites in 12 different countries across six continents over multiple years. The team studied populations of pollinating insects – including bees, hoverflies, butterflies, and beetles – in the vicinity of 21 different crop species.

The research confirmed that high pollinator diversity increases crop production. In intensive farming systems where there may be a reduced diversity of pollinators, the experts found that protecting the dominant species was also effective in providing long-term stability in pollination.

Further research is needed to determine which types of land management techniques are most effective for boosting insect diversity.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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