Tropical Crops at Risk from Loss of Pollinators

Chocolate – we’ve come to love it since it was first introduced to western consumers in the 17th century from South America. Originally as a drink it was rather bitter but it’s now found in all sorts of forms from boxes of chocolate sweets to slabs we can use in cooking. We now even have a Chocolate Week which runs from 17th to 23rd of October.

The loss of pollinators worldwide, however, means that cocoa and coffee plants are at risk. Climate change and biodiversity loss is also affecting the pollination of other tropical plants like watermelon and mango.

The warning comes as new research is published by  University College London (UCL) and Natural History Museum scientists.

The study, which compiled data from 1,507 crop growing sites around the world and catalogued 3,080 insect pollinator species, exposes a concerning trend – the combined pressures of climate change and agricultural activities have led to substantial declines in both the abundance and richness of insect pollinators.

Crops which depend on pollination by animals to some degree make up around 75% of crops. The model created by the research team looked at which pollination dependent crops were most at threat all the way up to 2050 in the hope of providing a warning to both the agricultural and conservation communities.

Lead author Dr Joe Millard, who completed the study as part of his PhD at the UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research, before moving to the Natural History Museum London, said:

“Our research indicates that the tropics are likely most at risk when it comes to crop production from pollinator losses, primarily due to the interaction of climate change and land use. While localised risks are highest in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, northern South America, and south-east Asia, the implications of this extend globally via the trade in pollination dependent crops.”

selective focus photography of mango
Mango Photo by MESSALA CIULLA on

The tropics were identified as having a heightened vulnerability to the interaction of climate change and land use, meaning crops such a coffee, cocoa, mango and watermelon which all rely on insect pollination are at the greatest risk. These crops play vital roles in both local economies and global trade and their reduction could cause increased income insecurity for millions of small-scale farmers in these regions.

Dr Millard continued:

“As insects decline, due to being unable to cope with the interacting effects of climate change and land use, so too will the crops that rely on them as pollinators. In some cases, these crops could be pollinated by hand but this would require more labour and more cost.”

The study also underscores the importance of pollinator abundance and richness in delivering pollination services. It is evident that efforts to mitigate climate change could significantly reduce the risk to future crop production, but challenges remain.

As the world grapples with the intricate web of climate change, land use, and biodiversity loss, this study serves as a stark reminder of the interconnectedness of ecosystems and the critical role played by pollinators in sustaining agriculture and food security.

Senior author Dr Tim Newbold (UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research, UCL Biosciences) said:

“Climate change poses grave threats not only to the natural environment and biodiversity, but also to human well-being, as the loss of pollinators can threaten the livelihoods of people across the globe who depend on crops that depend on animal pollination.

“Our findings underscore the urgent need to take global action to mitigate climate change, alongside efforts to slow down land use changes and protect natural habitats to avoid harming insect pollinators.”

Click on this link to access, Key tropical crops at risk from pollinator loss due to climate change and land use, published in Science Advances

chocolate cookies with sprinkles on top
chocolate cookies

1 reply »

  1. This research needs to be done, and these articles need to be publicized – but – will people pay attention?

    All over the world people have become dependent on coffee – both literally, as in a form of addiction – and also as a focus of social gatherings.

    If they really took on board that supplies of coffee and chocolate could be in danger due to the danger posed to plant pollinators, maybe they would take action in some way – but in what way? It’s such a big picture.

    I have a terrible feeling that the world as we know it is falling apart in many ways.

    This is just one of them.

    I was prompted to write this by reading Simon Barnes’ piece in the RSPB magazine about the decline in bird numbers – and how little real attention people pay to that.


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