Science News

'Virtual' pollinator analysis shows importance of biodiversity to food trade

By Brooks Hays   |   March 10, 2021 at 5:44 PM

March 10 (UPI) -- New analysis of the trade of pollinator-dependent crops suggests it is in the best interest of both developed economies and agricultural-dominated economies to preserve crop diversity and curb biodiversity loss.

The new research, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, showed the world's wealthiest economies are especially dependent on the importation of pollinator-dependent crops.


Conversely, the data showed the biggest producers and exporters of pollinator-dependent crops are the primary drivers of pollinator declines.

Previous studies have examined the "virtual" exchange of water resources across national boundaries -- exchange necessitated by the planet's increasingly globalized food consumption and supply patterns.

The latest study is one of the first to show that pollination services are also being virtually exchanged.

"Inspired by the virtual water concept, we, herein, propose the concept of virtual biotic pollination flow as an indicator of countries' mutual dependence on biodiversity-based ecosystem services and provide an online tool to visualize trade flow," researchers wrote in the newly published paper.

The consumption patterns of developed economies are dictating the production patterns of less-developed countries -- and the major suppliers of pollinator-dependent crops.

Unfortunately, this dynamic has encouraged the rapid expansion of industrial agriculture, characterized by heavy pesticide use and monoculture farming. Meanwhile, dozens of studies have highlighted the link between biodiversity and healthy pollinator populations.

The same consumption patterns that depend on biodiversity-based services are driving biodiversity loss in developing countries.

For the study, scientists analyzed data from 55 pollinator-dependent crop markets compiled between 2001 and 2015.

Researchers looked at the dependence on pollination services in both developing and developed countries. The analysis showed developed countries are virtually importing pollination services from other countries.

Scientists hope their analysis will help policy makers better understand the global drivers of biodiversity loss and develop equitable solutions.

"It is clear that quantifying virtual pollination flow can help develop new global socioeconomic policies," researchers wrote.

"The recognition of the mutual dependence of countries on biotic pollination can help develop strategies to protect biodiversity in agricultural systems linked to export markets, involving shared responsibility, economic rewards, and/or biodiversity conservation enforcement across regions," they wrote.