The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has collaborated with an international team of scientists to highlight the importance of ecological intensification in halting the decline in pollinators and the benefits they bring to crops and wildlife.

Bumblebee on sunflowerDr Adam Vanbergen, an Invertebrate Ecologist at CEH, joined researchers from the MTA Centre for Ecological Research in Hungary, the University of Idaho, University of California, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) in Germany and the University of East Anglia to critically assess the potential for ecological intensification to transform agriculture and the current threats to pollinators.

The review, published in the journal Ecology Letters, recommends that the ecological intensification of agriculture through intercropping, crop rotations, farm-level diversification and reduced agrochemical use, can help stave off pollinator decline.

Managing biodiversity for pollinators, the review shows, will lead to enhanced agricultural productivity and help achieve global sustainable development goals aimed at improving food security and sustainable land use – while at the same time halting the loss of valuable habitats for pollinators.

The review 'Ecological intensification to mitigate impacts of conventional intensive land use on pollinators and pollination' follows the 2016 Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) study which sought to highlight a number of ways to effectively safeguard pollinator populations.

Dr Vanbergen, co-author of the review from CEH said, "Conventional intensive agriculture reduces the capacity of landscapes to support pollinators. But agriculture can also be part of the solution by adapting practices and engineering landscapes in ways that safeguard pollinators and their role in supporting crop production.

"Managing land to better integrate beneficial biodiversity like pollinators into agricultural systems will help us ultimately to secure and sustain a more resilient food supply in a changing world."

Floral resources in a field

"Managing land to better integrate beneficial biodiversity like pollinators into agricultural systems will help us ultimately to secure and sustain a more resilient food supply in a changing world." Dr Adam Vanbergen, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Lead-author Dr Anikó Kovács-Hostyánszki, a researcher at the MTA Centre for Ecological Research, Institute of Ecology and Botany in Hungary, said, "Conversion to agriculture and conventional land use intensification homogenises landscape structure and quality, reduces the connectivity of populations and erode floral and nesting resources to undermine pollinator abundance and diversity, and ultimately pollination services.

"Ecological intensification of agriculture represents a strategic alternative to ameliorate these drivers, where landscape-scale (instead of farm-scale) management of agricultural areas could result in better provisioning of pollination services by improving habitat availability and configuration. However, there is still a long way to reach optimal management in ecologically intensified systems and in filling current knowledge gaps."

The scientists conclude that effective ecological intensification requires tailored management solutions as well as institutional and productivity innovations. They also highlight the central role for ecologists alongside commercial agronomists and agricultural extension workers in co-developing and exchanging knowledge with farmers, government agencies and environmental Non-governmental Organisations (NGOs).

Additional information

Full paper reference: A Kovács-Hostyánszki, A Espíndola, A J Vanbergen, J Settele, C Kremen, and L V Dicks. (2017). Ecological intensification to mitigate impacts of conventional intensive land use on pollinators and pollination. Ecology Letters. doi: 10.1111/ele.12762. The paper is available as an open access document.

More information on the IPBES assessment on pollinators, pollination and food production can be found on the IPBES website.

An earlier paper arising from the IPBES assessment was published in Nature in 2016, doi: 10.1038/nature20588

Staff page of Dr Adam Vanbergen, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology