Insect Pollination is a $215-billion Service to the World, Scientists Determine

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Illustration by S.S. Firmage/NGS

Bees, butterflies and other little critters that spend their lives buzzing around flowers provided worldwide economic value of about $215 billion in 2005, French and German scientists announced today.

“This figure amounted to 9.5% of the total value of the world agricultural food production,” they said in a paper published in the journal Ecological Economics.

According to a news release about the study, the decline of pollinators would primarily impact three crop categories: Fruits and vegetable were especially affected with a loss estimated at $70 billion each, followed by edible oilseed crops with a loss of $55 billion. The impact on “stimulants” (coffee and cocoa, for example), nuts and spices was less, at least in economic terms, the study estimated.

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The scientists were from France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research and National Centre for Scientific Research, and Germany’s Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research.

They also determined that the value of crops that depend on insect pollinators for reproduction was on average much higher than that of the crops not pollinated by insects, such as cereals or sugar cane. “The higher the dependence on insect pollinators, the higher the price per metric ton,” they said.

The researchers said they did not think that the complete loss of insect pollinators, particularly honey bees and wild bees which are the main crop pollinators, would lead to the end of world agriculture. “But [it] would nevertheless result in substantial economic losses even though our figures consider only the crops which are directly used for human food.”

Photo by David Braun

The study did not take into account the impact of loss of pollination for seeds used for cultivation. That would impact not only human food but also forage planted for cattle, “and, perhaps most importantly … wild flowers and all … services that the natural flora provides to agriculture and to society as a whole.”

Related NatGeo News Watch Entry: The Butterfly Effect in Our Backyard

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn