Protecting Europe’s pollinators

The majority of European (and global) biodiversity is made up of insects, but little is known about their distribution, abundance and the threats they face. This lack of knowledge is of particular concern for species involved in pollination, such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies and for the benefits society gains from pollination services.

Pollination is an essential ecosystem service because it underpins food production as well as overall ecosystem health. There is mounting evidence for serious declines in both wild and managed pollinators in parts of Europe and the wild flowers they forage on. Documented causes of pollinator decline include habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticides, pests and diseases, invasion by alien species and climate change.

The STEP (Status and trends of European pollinators) project was established to characterise the nature and extent of pollinator community changes. It also examined the relative importance of potential drivers of such change, the impacts this can have on society, and what response opportunities there are for governments and practitioners.

Researchers assessed the changes in wild pollinator and wild flowering plant diversity in North West Europe. They found that the declines in the diversity of some pollinators shown before to the 1990s slowed down, though not stopped.

Scientists found that wild pollinators, rather than managed honey bees are most commonly the main pollinators of crops in Europe and around the world. Further many European member states have insufficient honeybee numbers to meet current crop demands for pollination services.

Project partners also investigated the potential effects of multiple pressures on pollinators at different spatial scales: continental, landscape and local. They found that climate was a strong influence on species distributions at large scales but other drivers such as habitat loss and pesticides were important at landscape and local scales.

STEP reviewed current and future mitigation options to provide novel tests of their effectiveness across Europe, thereby laying the foundation for future pollinator monitoring programmes. It was found that augmentation with managed honeybee colonies may work for some crops as a short-term solution. However, longer-term solutions such as the provision of habitats for wild bees and hoverflies represents a more sustainable and cost-effective solution.

A conceptual framework was developed to evaluate mitigation measures. It showed that the effectiveness of interventions to moderate pollinator loss depends on the land-use intensity of the farming system, the complexity of the landscape, and the ecological contrast created by the strategies used. Thereby highlighting the importance of careful targeting of measures to support pollinators.

STEP’s ongoing research will help to improve understanding of the nature, causes, consequences and potential mitigation of declines in pollination services. This will help protect European agriculture and safeguard food security.

The results will drive direct policy and management intervention to help reduce pressures on pollinators. STEP outputs have had been a major source of evidence for the United Nations IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) assessment of “Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production”. These outputs will also help support the Convention on Biological Diversity, a key international treaty for promoting conservation and sustainability.

last modification: 2016-05-20 13:39:18

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