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Enhacing pollinator conservation through landscape heterogeneity

  • Having 20% of semi-natural habitats is key for ensuring healthy pollinator populations in Europe

Pollination is a critical ecosystem service that relies upon multiple species of pollinators, mainlyinsects. The total economic value of crop pollination worldwide is estimated to be over 153 billion USD annually, with over 75% of agricultural crops depending on pollinators. OBServ projectaimed to leverage pollinators and the ecosystem services they provide as a key model systemto develop a predictive framework to inform policymakers. Resolving the tension between pollinator conservation and pollination ecosystem service delivery requires increasing our ability toforecast which agricultural landscapes allow pollinator populations to thrive.

Diverse landscapes are crucial because pollinators have limited foraging areas

OBServ has calibrated different models using anunprecedentedglobal databaseon crop pollina-tors. Beyond the known environmental climatevariables influencing plant and pollinator develop-ment on a continental scale, landscape featuressuch as the percentage of semi-natural habitatsaround crops are crucial for safeguarding pollinatorpopulations. A sustainable future for pollinatorsrelies on scenarios where 20% of semi-naturalhabitats are preserved and rejuvenated in a fractalfashion, encompassing all levels-be it 20% of anindividual farm, 20% of a broader landscape, or20% of an entire region. Semi-natural habitats- which could be meadows, forests, and shrub-lands - remain valuable even if they aren't pristineand have seen human management. Achievingthis fine landscape heterogeneity is importantbecause pollinators have limited foraging ranges.Consequently, measures such as planting flowersalong field edges consistently benefit pollinatorsat those edges, but their positive impact only ex-tending a few meters into adjacent fields.

Changes agricultural practices needed

Current agriculture favours larger fields andmonocultures. However, without a change inagricultural practices, we may not meet EU tar-gets to stop pollinator decline (European GreenDeal) and risk losing pollinators, especially in in-tensively farmed areas. Therefore, the CommonAgricultural Policy and other agricultural policiesshould support diverse small-scale farming.OBServ also showed that most crops lack suf-ficient pollination under current conditions,emphasising the need to change agriculturalpractices for conservation and ecosystem ser-vice delivery.

Composition of pollinators communities are key for their functioning

Although it is common to talk about "pollinators", they form a diverse group comprisingdifferent orders of insects, as well as birds andmammals in some latitudes. The compositionand structure of this community are importantfor its functioning, and conservation actions tar-geting one group of pollinators may not benefitother groups. For example, OBServ has shownthat changes in butterflies are not a good indi-cator of changes in other pollinators such asbees or syrphid flies. Consequently, monitoringthe health of pollinators may require the use ofmore complex indicators, such as species dom-inance or flower abundance.

In summary, a bright future for pollinators inte-grates good quality semi-natural habitats withinagricultural landscapes and strive to maintain di-verse agricultural systems that can benefit fromthe pollination ecosystem services provided.