The hypothetical pollination trade reveals the global dependence on biodiversity for food consumption

More recently, a study was published in Science Advances It assessed the contribution of pollinators to international market flows and showed that maintaining biodiversity is essential to maintaining global consumption patterns. This study resulted from the work of a multidisciplinary team that combined researchers in the fields of economics, environment, environmental sciences and social sciences.

Due to the increasing global demand for crops, sustainability in agriculture is one of the major challenges to human society. Besides the excessive use of chemical inputs, the loss of natural habitats associated with expansion of cropland is one of the main drivers of biodiversity degradation, more specifically the decline of pollinators. Since pollinators (especially insects) contribute to the production of the vast majority of crops, loss of biodiversity negatively affects crop yields. The quality of the crop product can also be affected, as bio-pollination improves the nutritional content and aesthetic appearance related to the crop’s market value).

Inspired by the concept of hypothetical flow of water, which measures the amount of water associated with crop products traded in international markets, the concept of hypothetical pollination flow was defined in this paper as the proportion of exported products resulting from the action of pollinators. Felipe Diodato (Federal Institute of Mato Grosso – IFMT, Brazil), who led this research with Luisa Carvalheiro (Federal University of Goias – UFG, Brazil), said that the concept of hypothetical pollination flow illustrates how global markets, particularly those associated with More developed countries, they excessively demand pollination services from developing countries. For example, Europe and the United States are heavy consumers of pollination services from Brazil through crops that depend on pollinators, such as coffee, soybeans, oranges, apples, melons, mangoes and avocados.

The study also showed that the less developed countries (that is, those that scored lower on the HDI) are the ones that have expanded the area of ​​their farmland devoted to pollinator-dependent crops. This expansion has been associated with the loss of these pollinators’ natural habitats. Luísa Carvalheiro (UFG) warned that “yield loss associated with declining ecosystem services, such as pollination of crops, spurs further expansion of cropland, thus creating a vicious circle with negative impacts on both biodiversity and agriculture”.

The authors also noted the social and economic consequences of this trend. Small farmers, responsible for a large portion of crop production worldwide, are those with the least capacity to handle crop yield losses.

Frédéric Mertens (University of Brasilia – UnB, Brazil) asserted that “the interdisciplinary approach to this research has revealed the need to develop strategies for global cooperative governance that go beyond the economic principles of free markets, and instead aim for synergies between international crop markets, biodiversity conservation and social justice.” “.

Although several previous studies have reported declining pollinators and highlighted their important role in agriculture, the general public remains largely unaware of the impacts of the current agribusiness model and associated international markets on biodiversity. “When consumers buy a package of coffee, they know where it came from just by looking at the label, but they don’t know if the farmer has used sustainable practices to protect the insects that pollinate the coffee.
Philip Diodato said. The researchers hope that by facilitating the identification of global economic linkages mediated by ecosystem services, the work will stimulate recognition of shared responsibility, as all participants in the production process (farmers, consumers and politicians) participate in the production process to reduce environmental impacts.


An online tool was developed for users to visualize a hypothetical pollination flow between countries
(https: //Hypothetical Pollination of /Dynamic Virtual Insemination Flow /).

The study was co-authored by J. Aguirre-Gutiérrez (University of Oxford, UK), Marc Lucotte (Université du Quebéc à Montréal, Canada) and Karlo Guidoni-Martins (Universidade Federal de Goiás, Brazil).

This research was supported by the Research Support Foundation of the Federal District (FAPDF / Brazil), the Coordination for the Improvement of Superior Staff Level (CAPES / Brazil), the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq, Brazil), Lisbon 2020 FCT / European Union (Portugal)) And the Netherlands Scientific Research Organization (NWO) (Netherlands).

Image copyright “Pollinators on sunflowers” – Luísa G. Carvalheiro.

Image credit “Pollinator on the palm flower açaí” – Cristiano Menezes.

Where do you read the paper? (free entry):

Felipe Diodato da Silva e Silva, Luisa G. Carvalhero, Jesus Aguirre-Gutierrez, Marc Locott, Carlo Gidoni Martins, Frederick Mertens. The hypothetical pollination trade reveals the global dependence on the biodiversity of developing countries. Sciences. 7, eabe6636 (2021).


* Dr. Felipe Diodato da Silva e Silva (Federal Institute of Mato Grosso – IFMT;
[email protected]);

Dr Luísa G. Carvalheiro (Federal University of Goiás – UFG;
[email protected]);

* Dr. Frédéric Mertens (University of Brasilia-UnB);
[email protected]).

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