Climate changes and land use alterations are leading to a significant decline in insect populations responsible for pollinating major tropical crops. According to a new study published in “Science Advances,” the intertwining and intensification of these problems are likely to directly impact coffee and chocolate enthusiasts.
Scientists investigated thousands of species and locations, finding that when temperatures rise beyond the natural average and the habitat of flowering plants shrinks, the number of insects that pollinate these plants decreases by 61%. The study’s authors suggest that bees, flies, beetles, and other pollinators suffer greater harm than general insects.
Tim Newbold, a co-author of the study and an environmental scientist at University College London, stated, “We can see that climate change is already having this strong impact on pollinators.”
Approximately 35% of the world’s food crops and three-quarters of flowering plants depend on insects and other animal pollinators for reproduction, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The study found that the problem of pollinator loss is more significant in tropical regions, an area that has not received the same level of attention from other insect studies. The countries most at risk of crop loss due to declining pollinators are China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, and the Philippines. The region of Sub-Saharan Africa is also at risk, especially for cocoa and mango crops.
Looking at what has already occurred, researchers say this is bad news for major tropical crops, especially coffee and cocoa.
The authors of the study note that these plants rely on bees and flies to help with their reproduction, and a decrease in pollinators means a decrease in crops.
Previous studies have shown that insects are declining for various reasons, including climate change and habitat loss. Other studies have indicated a decrease in pollinators. However, this study revealed that coffee and cocoa plants themselves are significantly affected, but the authors of this study say it’s worse than just the sum of its parts.
Newbold stated, “There will be a double whammy of climate change affecting coffee itself, and coffee plants, but also affecting the pollinators it depends on, which is extremely concerning for those of us who love coffee.”
The study’s lead author, Joe Millard, a computational environmental scientist at the Natural History Museum in London, said this does not mean you should stop consuming coffee or chocolate; it simply means you should enjoy more expensive things.
Douglas Tallamy, an entomologist at the University of Delaware who was not part of the research, commented that what makes this study unique is its focus on tropical regions that haven’t been the center of other insect studies. He emphasized the importance of paying sufficient attention to tropical areas.
Newbold stated that pollinators in tropical regions are likely to be more vulnerable than those in other places because insects in temperate regions are more adaptable to significant temperature fluctuations and are not in tropical areas.
He explained, “The immense warming in tropical areas pushes these species to the brink.”
Millard said that habitat loss is the primary driver of the decline in the number of pollinators suffering from food shortages, but he added that climate change, exacerbated by parasites, diseases, and pesticides, contributes to the problem.
While all insects face problems, pollinators are worse off in warmer temperatures, and the scientists are still trying to come up with explanations for why this ha