Posted by: oikosasa | April 4, 2014

Severe geographic bias in pollination studies

The majority of pollination studies are performed in five countries, non of which in Africa. How does this bias affect application of the research in various geographic regions? Find out in the Forum paper in the April Issue of Oikos “Economic and ecological implications of geographic bias in pollinator ecology in the light of pollinator declines” by Ruth Archer and co-workers. Below is their summary of the paper:

Across much of the world pollinator loss has captured the attention of the media and the public.  In Europe pollinators regularly feature on the front page but here in southern Africa pollinator losses have received much less attention.  This doubtless reflects an underlying problem: in Africa, as across much of the world, we lack the data to record changing populations of pollinators or identify the threats facing them. 

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In our opinion piece we aim to highlight that current understanding of pollinator losses (and more generally pollinator ecology) is based on data of comparatively narrow geographic scope.  More specifically, we show that almost half the data cited in thirteen recent meta-analyses, which ask important and diverse questions in pollination ecology, were collected in just five countries and Africa contributed only 4% of the data.  Does this matter?  Perhaps not, if the threats facing pollinators and responses to these challenges are similar across different regions, habitats and pollinator species.  However, this is unlikely.  There is enormous geographic variation in the distribution of anthropogenic disturbances, pests and parasites that are likely to impact negatively on pollinators.  For example, the Varroa mite, which is a major problem for European and North American honeybees, has less serious effects in subsaharan Africa and has not yet arrived in Australia.  Also, much more natural habitat remains in Africa than in Europe or America, although the speed of land use change is probably higher in Africa.  As pressures vary geographically, so too are different pollinators likely to vary in responses to them.  For example, subspecies of Apis mellifera differ in a suite of physiological and behavioural traits that make it unlikely that they will respond to ecological changes in the same way; therefore, management strategies designed around data collected on European honeybees may not be applicable to African subspecies.  Finally, from a socioeconomic perspective we need to better understand plant-pollinator interactions in understudied regions where the loss of pollination services could have immediate, dire effects: for example, where communities rely on subsistence farming or beekeeping for food security. 

If there are geographic gaps in our understanding of pollinator ecology and if these matter, what can we do about the issue given the socio-economic and logistical constraints that are likely responsible for much of this geographic bias?  In our article we offer solutions but, more importantly, hope to stimulate discussion on this important issue.  

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