Background and aims: Productivity of many crops benefits from the presence of pollinating insects, so a decline in pollinator abundance should compromise global agricultural production. Motivated by the lack of accurate estimates of the size of this threat, we quantified the effect of total loss of pollinators on global agricultural production and crop production diversity. The change in pollinator dependency over 46 years was also evaluated, considering the developed and developing world separately.
Methods: Using the extensive FAO dataset, yearly data were compiled for 1961-2006 on production and cultivated area of 87 important crops, which we classified into five categories of pollinator dependency. Based on measures of the aggregate effect of differential pollinator dependence, the consequences of a complete loss of pollinators in terms of reductions in total agricultural production and diversity were calculated. An estimate was also made of the increase in total cultivated area that would be required to compensate for the decrease in production of every single crop in the absence of pollinators.
Key results: The expected direct reduction in total agricultural production in the absence of animal pollination ranged from 3 to 8 %, with smaller impacts on agricultural production diversity. The percentage increase in cultivated area needed to compensate for these deficits was several times higher, particularly in the developing world, which comprises two-thirds of the land devoted to crop cultivation globally. Crops with lower yield growth tended to have undergone greater expansion in cultivated area. Agriculture has become more pollinator-dependent over time, and this trend is more pronounced in the developing than developed world.
Conclusions: We propose that pollination shortage will intensify demand for agricultural land, a trend that will be more pronounced in the developing world. This increasing pressure on supply of agricultural land could significantly contribute to global environmental change.