A new study published in the PLoS ONE journal is one of the first to specifically quantify the impact of pollinators on human nutritional health. The research from the University of Vermont and Harvard University examined pollination requirements of crops in four countries and was initiated due to the extreme decline of pollinators occurring on a global basis.
Previous studies have revealed that pollinators are responsible for 40 % of the world’s supply of nutrients. This study specifies that removal of pollinators from the environment could push 56% of people into malnutrition in certain countries.
“The take-home is: pollinator declines can really matter to human health, with quite scary numbers for vitamin A deficiencies, for example,” said UVM scientist Taylor Ricketts who co-led the new study, “which can lead to blindness and increase death rates for some diseases, including malaria.”
Vitamin and mineral deficiencies is often referred to a “hidden hunger” and is estimated to impact on 1 in 4 people around the globe; contributing to many diseases and reduced IQ. Pollinators are linked to increased crop yield and availability of food and nutrients. This study examined the full pathway from pollinators to surveys of people’s diets in parts of Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda and Bangladesh. From this data vitamin and mineral sources were extrapolated.
“This is the first study that quantifies the potential human health impacts of animal pollinator declines,” said Samuel Myers, the second co-author of the study. “But to evaluate whether pollinator declines will really affect human nutrition, you need to know what people are eating,” Myers said.
The risk is not confined to third world countries. The researchers suggest that transforming landscapes that don’t support pollinators could increase the diseases associated with mineral and vitamin deficiencies; such as an increase in neural tube defects from folate deficiency or an increase in blindness and infectious diseases from vitamin A deficiency.
Alicia M. Ellis, Samuel S. Myers, Taylor H. Ricketts. Do Pollinators Contribute to Nutritional Health? PLoS ONE, 2015; 10 (1): e114805 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0114805