Australasia’s hidden pollination crisis could threaten biodiversity and food security

Australasia (Australia, New Zealand, and neighbouring islands in the S Pacific Ocean) has likely overlooked a pollination crisis, according to new research which underscores a pressing need for intervention to avoid biodiversity loss and long-term food insecurity.

The authors analysed thousands of research papers on human-induced pollinator decline globally and found despite only a tiny portion mentioning Australasia. The causes of pollinator decline in the northern hemisphere were mirrored in this region.

Research in Europe and North America finds threats that include loss of natural habitat, climate change, pesticide use, pathogen spread, and introduced species all contribute to population decline in pollinators and in the plants they pollinate.

“At first glance it seems Australasia has dodged a bullet and missed the so-called insect apocalypse and other declines in pollinators,” says lead author, Honorary Professor Graham Pyke, from Macquarie University.

But despite little research into pollinator shortages in Australasia, Professor Pyke’s team has found serious environmental threats to local pollinators that suggests Australasia’s pollination crisis has gone largely unnoticed.

“The same environmental threats to plants and their pollinators are happening in this region – but we haven’t been monitoring their impact,” he says.

A pollination crisis is the decline in abundance, including to the point of extinction, of animals that act as pollinators and of the plants they pollinate.

“This is not a trivial issue,” says Professor Pyke. “In Australia, we estimate 15,000 animal species act as plant pollinators. Declines in these pollinator species will cascade through to the estimated 20,000 species of flowering plants in Australia that rely on or benefit from animal pollination to reproduce.

“This includes many food plants such as most fruits and many vegetables, ranging from tomatoes and beans to coffee, strawberries, canola and even cacao – essential for chocolate, which rely partially or totally on animal pollination.

” Professor Pyke says the collection of detailed taxonomic and other research data on Australasian flora and fauna is required to better understand the region’s position and plan appropriate interventions.

Study co-author Dr Kit Prendergast, adjunct researcher at Curtin University, says that neglecting to conserve local indigenous pollinators exacerbates the pollination crisis. The authors say that the region needs to step up its game in monitoring and improving conditions for pollinators to prevent widespread impact on food security.

Published in Ecology and Evolution, read the article here:

Photo credit: Native bee Leioproctus on Calectasia narragara.
Credit: Dr Kit Prendergast

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