Scientists create global database to predict role of agricultural pollinators

Researchers from the Center for Functional Ecology of the University of Coimbra (UC) participated in the creation of this database

Wild bee visiting a sunflower. Although sunflowers can be self-pollinated, 10-40% of their production is lost if the flowers are not pollinated by insects – Photo: Sílvia Castro

Five researchers from the Center for Functional Ecology of the University of Coimbra (UC) participated in the creation of the first global, open and dynamic database on pollination of agricultural crops, an international project that brings together more than a hundred scientists.

Called CropPol, this database is coordinated by two researchers from the Biological Station of Doñana – CSIC, Spain and includes information on 48 agricultural crops spread across three thousand locations on five continents and 32 countries over three decades.

The database will make it possible to understand how the importance of pollinators changes depending on the culture and region of study and will also make it possible to identify cultures and regions for which there is little data, stimulating the collection of information to fill these knowledge gaps.

It is known that 75% of the world's agricultural crops depend, totally or partially, on pollinators for food production. However, despite great advances in knowledge about the effects of pollinators on agricultural productivity, the ability to predict visit rates and productivity is still limited, due to the large variation observed between crops, years and regions.

Thus, CropPol was created to compile the crop pollination data available from scientific studies published around the world and in this way aggregate knowledge and help predict pollination services.

According to Sílvia Castro, researcher at the Center for Functional Ecology at UC, “this database offers researchers a unique opportunity to explore global patterns and trends and work on sustainable management solutions and biodiversity enhancement”.

The researcher emphasizes that crop pollination “is one of the many benefits that human beings obtain directly from nature, in addition to climate regulation or water purification, among others. However, changes in land use, along with other human-induced pressures such as climate change, are accelerating the extinction of many animal species, which dramatically compromises the interaction between plants and pollinators.”

Therefore, he adds, «understanding how the pollination of agricultural crops works is crucial to find more sustainable solutions».

The data is open access and accessible to all citizens and institutions – scientific or not. “Any person or entity, from NGOs to public administration entities, can access the information and use it to understand global patterns, understand the pollination of a culture of local importance or answer new questions”, say the coordinators of CropPol.

In addition to being open access, the database will have a lively nature, that is, it will be in continuous growth and updating. Scientists and institutions wishing to contribute new datasets on pollination can easily add them to the database», they explain.

To publicize the database, built under the OBServ project, funded by the Belmont Forum 2017-2018 and BiodivERsA, the international team worked on a scientific article, published in the renowned journal Ecology. The data collected at CropPol will be used to predict the level of pollination expected in different crops around the world.

“Quantifying pollinators and their services is very time consuming and can only be done for a small number of crop fields. If we can use a set of easy-to-measure variables, such as the amount of natural habitat or rainfall to predict pollination levels, it will be a big step forward," explains Alfonso Allen-Perkins, lead author of the scientific paper.


Author: Cristina Pinto – Press Office – University of Coimbra – Science Communication