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What are the effects of climate change on pollinators and human health?

Infographic showing the six objectives in the Micro-Poll Project leading to the final goal of increased resilience of crop pollination and micronutrient intake to climate change

Street seller in Nepal

Press release issued: 12 June 2020

Three quarters of crop species depend on pollinators, but the service they provide is under increasing threat from climate change. An international collaboration, led by the University of Bristol, will investigate the effects of climate change on pollinators and people’s diet thanks to funding of nearly €1 million from The Belmont Forum.

Declines in pollinators are predicted to have negative impacts on human health as key dietary micronutrients in insect pollinated crops, such as vitamin A and folate are lost from the diet.  This “hidden hunger” is predicted to cause significant global health burdens.

Working with health professionals in Nepal, the international team of natural scientists and health scientists will provide information and innovative solutions for an understudied impact of climate change on human health.

Jane Memmott, Professor of Ecology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Bristol, who is leading the project, said: “Climate change is a critical global issue that is already affecting pollinators but, at a local level, pollinator declines can be reversed.  Additionally, if the effect of climate change on pollinators is understood, habitat management can be used to mitigate against its effects.”

Climate change is predicted to decrease bee species richness by eight to 18 per cent in some areas and it is also known that the geographic range of bumblebees is shrinking as their southern range moves northwards and the synchrony between flowering plants and their pollinators is being disrupted. 

The aims for the research team’s focal country, Nepal, where there is evidence of climate change, pollinator declines and micronutrient deficiency, are:

  1. to predict the effect of climate change on crop pollinators in Nepal;
  2. to predict the ensuing impact on crop production and micronutrient intake;
  3. run a field experiment to test the resilience of insect pollinated crops to climate change;
  4. develop a policy and education package to mitigate the effects of climate change on crop pollination and micronutrient intake.

Pollinator loss disproportionately harms developing countries, as they are both less resilient to yield drops and more reliant on the micronutrients found in small-scale pollinator-dependent crops. Providing population-wide vitamin supplementation is neither practical nor sustainable in remote parts of the world, as an alternative, diversifying the diet by increasing access to micronutrient-rich fruits, vegetables and legumes could provide a solution.

The transdisciplinary project, called the Micro-Poll Project, will be led by Professor Jane Memmott at the University of Bristol and will include three co-investigators; two medical researchers, Dr Samuel Myers and Dr Mathew Smith from Harvard University, and Professor Tomas Roslin, a climate change specialist from the University of Helsinki.  

The project is funded by €994,000 from The Belmont Forum together with additional support of £106,000 from the Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation (BCAI) based at the University of Bristol.

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