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Study Reveals Global Dependence on Biodiversity for Food Consumption

"Virtual" pollination trade uncovers global dependence on biodiversity of developing countries

by American Association for the Advancement of Science
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By analyzing more than a decade's worth of information on 55 crops, all dependent on pollinators, scientists have revealed that developed countries are particularly reliant on imported pollinator-dependent crops, while countries that export the majority of these crop types are major drivers of pollinator declines. Their assessment of the "virtual" exchange of pollinator services in the global food trade could help governments and agencies form new policies to preserve crop diversity and tackle biodiversity loss. 

In today's globalized world, human food consumption largely depends on the trade of crops and the intense use of resources such as water and land. Pollinators such as bees, and the pollinations services they provide, are an invaluable resource in agriculture; one study estimated that 75 percent of crops and 35 percent of crop production require pollination services. As pollinating species decline globally from environmental degradation, researchers have sought to identify regions where protecting biodiversity will best preserve pollinators and crop quality and production. 

Here, Felipe da Silva e Silva and colleagues applied the concept of "virtual resource flow" to study pollination as a traded resource, examining how crop-boosting services from wild pollinators in crop-exporting countries transfer to international markets. They analyzed data from 55 pollinator-dependent crop markets from 2001 to 2015 and compared how developing and developed countries relied on pollination services. 

The authors saw that developed countries relied heavily on imported, pollinator-dependent crops to sustain their food consumption, suggesting these countries "virtually" import pollination services from other nations that depend on biodiversity to sustain pollination. Furthermore, countries that exported the most pollinator-dependent crops also showed the fastest rates of cropland expansion—a major driver of pollinator and biodiversity decline—hinting that exporting countries also remain vulnerable to biodiversity loss. Silva et al. also developed an online tool that catalogues the virtual pollination trade across countries, which can be accessed here.

- This press release was supplied by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It has been edited for style