What is pollination management?
Pollinators are an element of crop associated biodiversity, and provide an essential ecosystem service to both natural and agricultural ecosystems. In the case of agricultural ecosystems, pollinators and pollination can be managed ("planned" crop associated biodiversity) to maximize or improve crop quality and yield. Pollination depends to a large extent on the symbiosis between species, the pollinated and the pollinator, and often is the result of intricate relationships between plant and animal - the reduction or loss of either affecting the survival of both. Many plants are wind pollinated, while animal pollinators include bees (over 20,000 bee species identified), and to a lesser extent butterflies, moths, flies, beetles and vertebrates (bats, squirrels, birds and some primates).
Approximately 80 percent of all flowering plant species are specialized for pollination by animals, mostly insects. The negative impact of the loss of pollinators is strongly felt in agricultural biodiversity. The role of pollinators is, among other things, to ensure reproduction, fruit set development and dispersal in plants, both in agro ecosystems and natural ecosystems. In turn, plants need to exist in order for pollinators to be able to feed. Indeed, some plant species rely upon a few types of pollinators to provide pollination services. Some pollinators such as bees also provide food and additional income for rural families, in the form of honey and other by-products - thus, declining pollinator populations’ impact on the sustainable livelihoods of rural families. A decline in pollinator populations also affects plant biodiversity. Indigenous species particularly, have been subject to external pressures such as habitat destruction and fragmentation resulting from activities such as land clearing for agricultural purposes, pesticide use, tourism, and the introduction of exotic species.
Global Action on Pollination Services
Having recognized the decline of pollinators, and its effect on agricultural biodiversity and sustainable agriculture, at the Fifth Conference of Parties (COP V) in 2000, an International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Pollinators (also known as the International Pollinator Initiative - IPI) was established (COP decision V/5, section II), and requested the development of a plan of action. In April 2002, the Sixth Conference of Parties established the Plan of Action of the IPI. The Plan of Action of the IPI consists of four basic elements: (i) assessment; (ii) adaptive management; (iii) capacity Building; and (iv) mainstreaming. Through its Global Action on Pollination Services for Sustainable Agriculture, AGP has been coordinating and facilitating the implementation of the IPI by undertaking, in collaboration with numerous partners, activities that contribute to the implementation of these four elements, and to address the management of pollination services for sustainable agriculture.
The Global Action on Pollination Services for Sustainable Agriculture provides guidance to member countries and relevant tools to use and conserve pollination services that sustain agro-ecosystem functions, and to formulate policies that will ensure sustainability of these ecosystem services. To this effect, the Global Action on Pollination Services for Sustainable Agriculture addresses a range of issues - some examples include: knowledge management of pollination services; the preparation of profiles from around the world, for best practices for the management of pollination services; working with other institutions to overcome the taxonomic impediment to pollinator conservation and use; and exploring other issues such as pollinator diversity and abundance on farms as well as linkages to climate change. A major activity of the Global Action on Pollination Services for Sustainable Agriculture has been the preparation of the FAO-executed global sized GEF-funded project on the "Conservation and Sustainable Management of Pollinators, through an Ecosystem Approach".
Pollination & human livelihoods
Pollination is a keystone process in both human managed and natural terrestrial ecosystems. It is critical for food production and human livelihoods, and directly links wild ecosystems with agricultural production systems. The vast majority of flowering plant species only produce seeds if animal pollinators move pollen from the anthers to the stigmas of their flowers. Without this service, many interconnected species and processes functioning within an ecosystem would collapse.
Recognising the dimensions of a "pollination crisis" and its links to biodiversity and human livelihoods, the Convention on Biological Diversity has made the conservation and sustainable use of pollinators a priority. At the Fifth Conference of Parties (COP V) in 2000, an International Initiative for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Pollinators (also known as the International Pollinator Initiative - IPI) was established (COP decision V/5, section II). A number of regional initiatives, programmes and projects are working toward a common goal of promoting the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of pollinator diversity in agriculture and related ecosystems. Information on these initiatives and the tools and outcomes being produced can be found through the links on this website.
Insects and other small animals provide essential pollination – and yet, the large contribution they make to agriculture is often overlooked. In agro-ecosystems, wild and domesticated pollinators are essential for orchard, horticultural and forage production, as well as for the production of seed of many root and fibre crops. Pollinators such as bees, birds and bats affect 35 percent of the world’s crop production, increasing outputs of 87 of the leading food crops worldwide, plus many plant-derived medicines. The absence of pollination can cause significant declines in quantity of produce, but evidence shows that absence of pollination also has a negative effect on the quality of fruits and seed set. The table on the next page shows crops that can experience declines in production – by up to 90 percent – if they lack pollination (online version).
Increased appreciation of the role of pollination in food production brings with it greater understanding of the major contribution of wild pollinators. These mainly include bees but also thrips, wasps, flies, beetles, moths and other insects, as well as birds and bats. Maintaining this pollinator biodiversity in agricultural landscapes can ensure the provision of essential pollination, while also serving as a critical form of insurance against the risks of pests and diseases among populations of managed pollinators.
Tropics and mountain ecosystems highly dependent on pollinators
Approximately 80 percent of all flowering plant species are specialized for pollination by animals, mostly insects. The dependence of ecosystems on animal pollinators is even stronger in the tropics than the global average: in the tropical forests of Central America, insects may be responsible for 95 percent of the pollination of canopy trees, and vertebrates (bats and a diversity of other taxa) may pollinate 20 to 25 percent of the sub canopy and understory plants. Insects pollinate a further 50 percent of these. Arid and mountain ecosystems often have highly diverse pollinator communities as well, with finely tuned adaptations to ensure that pollination is effective even when climatic conditions are erratic.
Adapting to changing climate
Crops produce optimally with a suite of pollinators possibly including, but not limited to managed honeybees. A diverse assemblage of pollinators, with different traits and responses to ambient conditions, is one of the best ways of minimizing risks due to climatic change. The "insurance" provided by a diversity of pollinators ensures that there are effective pollinators not just for current conditions, but for future conditions as well. Resilience can be built in agroecoystems through biodiversity. Pollination management practices can also be undertaken to respond to climate change. Examples of how farming communities may best adapt to climate change impacts on pollinators include giving consideration to the seasonal availability of resources needed by pollinators, and ensuring connectivity of natural habitats in farming areas (allowing easier pollinator dispersal for range shifts in response to changing climates).