agriculture

Which came first? Bee or flower decline?

U. LEEDS (UK)—Populations of bees and other insects have been in steady decline—and understanding why is critical, researchers say, because of the potential threat to agriculturally produced foods and wider damage to the environment.

A total loss of insect pollinators could cost up to £440m per year in the UK—about 13 percent of the UK’s income from farming.

To that end, researchers at the University of Leeds will take part in the Insect Pollinators Initiative, which aims to ensure that the pollination of agricultural and horticultural crops in the UK is protected and biodiversity is maintained.

Of the initiative’s eight projects, two are led by scientists at Leeds and a third includes Leeds as a partner.

“There is growing evidence that domestic honeybees and wild pollinators are in trouble, and that many wildflowers that depend on them for pollination are also declining,” says Bill Kunin, who is studying the parallel declines in wild pollinators and flowering plants.

“But we don’t know how these trends are linked—whether pollinator declines are driving flower losses or vice versa. We will also test whether other factors such as pesticide usage and land use history have an impact on pollinators, and whether honeybees and wild pollinators affect each others’ populations.”

“Our job is to work out the cause and effect relationship between these plant and pollinator losses, and to see if we can work out ways to slow or reverse them,” Kunin says.

“Ultimately, it’s about maintaining the UK’s biodiversity: maintaining a rural environment rich in wildflowers and wild pollinators. It’s important because biodiversity makes our lives richer.”

Koos Biesmeijer is exploring sustainable pollination services for UK crops. “The decline in wild pollinators and managed honeybees potentially affects UK agricultural production,” he says.

“We will determine which wild and managed pollinators contribute to pollination of insect-dependent crops and whether the lack of wild pollinators limits agricultural production in UK landscapes.

“We will also analyze how the supply of managed honeybee hives for crop pollination on insect dependent crops and whether the lack of wild pollinators limits agricultural production in UK landscapes.”

Biesmeijer and Kunin will also collaborate on a project with Jane Memmott, professor at the University of Bristol.

More news from University of Leeds: www.leeds.ac.uk/news

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