New study shows bees boost crops and could steady food prices
July 20, 2022 By University of Reading
Scientists at the University of Reading analysed years of data on the poorly understood effect of pollinators on crop yield stability. They found there was 32 per cent less variation in the yields of plants visited by bees and other pollinators than those grown in absence of pollinators.
The study, published in the journal Ecology Letters, suggests that pollinators can help to mitigate supply issues and market shocks that cause global price spikes, like those being seen this year, by holding food supplies steady.
The publication marks the start of Bees’ Needs Week (18-24 July), a UK Government-led initiative championing pollinator and their benefits, and this year encouraging people to take five simple actions to support pollinators.
A launch event led by University of Reading scientists took place on Monday, July 18 at the Tower of London.
The new research combined the results of more than 200 previous experiments which compared the yield of crop plants with and without insect pollination. The study focused on three globally important and representative crop species: faba bean, oilseed rape and apples.
The study tested the effects of pollination on yield stability within individual plants and fields as well as across larger spaces. Insect pollination consistently made yields more similar between flowers on a plant, between individual plants, areas within fields, or between fields.
The stabilising effect of pollination is thought to be due to a ceiling effect, whereby the yield increase resulting from insect pollination hits an upper limit due to limitations of other resources that support crop growth such as soil nutrients or access to water. This creates a raised and more stable baseline against which there is less fluctuation in yield.
Current food price increases are being driven by a range of actors including high oil prices and the reduced ability of Ukraine to export its products after being invaded by Russia. Ukraine is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil and provides around 10 per cent of the world’s wheat exports.
A previous food price spike in 2007-08, when the price of major global food crops approximately doubled, is thought to have been partially driven by production losses of wheat amounting to a loss of approximately 4.6 per cent globally.
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