The ecosystem value of pollination -- a crucial step in the production of fruits, nuts, beans and other crops -- has gone up in the past two decades, a recent study has found.
From 1993 to 2009, the value of ecological pollination services rose by $150 billion, according to a study published in the journal PLoS ONE, from $200 billion to $350 billion.
The benefits were weighed for coffee, cocoa, apples, soybeans and other crops dependent on pollination driven by bees, butterflies and other flying insects that carry pollen from flower to flower. Crops such as rice, wheat and corn are less dependent on insect pollinators for successful production.
"This could encourage incentives for the protection of insects and their pollination services," Sven Lautenbach, lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral researcher at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany, said in a release.
China takes the biggest share of the ecosystem benefits. The country also stands to be most vulnerable, with much of its agricultural economy dependent on pollinated crops like soybeans, cotton, apples and pears. Other vulnerable countries include cocoa-heavy Cote d'Ivoire, Madagascar, Yemen, Belarus and Thailand.
Economic shifts had a great bearing on the results, the authors found. For example, a rising middle class in China has increased the demand for fruit, leading to a production boost for apples and pears in past decades.
In the United States, California's agriculture is especially dependent on pollination. In the Midwest, where self-pollinating corn dominates, it's less important. Northern China benefits a lot from pollination, as do Europe's Mediterranean countries and the Nile Delta in Egypt.
The researchers mapped climatic conditions with pollination benefits, and they did not find an important correlation between the two. However, other studies suggest that, in general, climate change will make it harder for a growing world population to feed itself. Pollination problems, should they continue, will only add to the difficulties.
Since 2001, the cost of producing pollination-dependent crops -- ones that must crossbreed with other plants of the same species rather than simply pollinating themselves -- has risen significantly compared with crops that are not dependent. The researchers found this to be an indication of intensifying agriculture, fewer trees and hedges, and -- consequently -- fewer insects.
"We see this price increase as an initial warning signal that conflicts could arise between the services of insect-related pollination and other agricultural interests," Lautenbach said.
Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500. E&E Publishing is the leading source for comprehensive, daily coverage of environmental and energy issues. Click here to start a free trial to E&E's information services.
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