What would happen if there were no fruits?

What if there were no more pollinators?

Sobering mind game: If all pollinator insects suddenly disappeared, the global economy would lose trillions of US dollars in one fell swoop - the loss would correspond to around one to two percent of global gross domestic product. In Germany, a complete collapse of animal pollination could cost us around 3.8 billion euros per year, as researchers have calculated. This shows what services pollinators provide worldwide - and how indispensable they are.

Without them, many types of fruit and vegetables would not exist and numerous plants would remain sterile: Animal pollinators such as bees, beetles, butterflies, but also hummingbirds and bats play a crucial role in agriculture and vegetation. Because only they ring pollen from one plant to another and thus enable the formation of fruits and seeds. But it is precisely the most important pollinators, the insects, that are doing badly: Their populations are shrinking both in Germany and around the world.

Global elimination of all pollinator animals simulated

But what if there were no more pollinators? Christian Lippert and his colleagues from the University of Hohenheim have now investigated this in a model simulation. In this they determined the short and long-term effects of the sudden elimination of all pollinating animals on agriculture, the economy in general and consumers in Germany and worldwide.

The researchers also took into account the extent to which the various crops depend on animal pollination. With apples and cherries, for example, we owe around 65 percent of the yield to pollination by animals, with some vegetables such as the pumpkin it is as much as 95 percent. Grains such as wheat and rice, on the other hand, are wind pollinators or self-pollinators and therefore do not require cross-pollination.

Loss of one to two percent of global economic output

The simulation showed: The global complete failure of animal pollination would cause noticeable losses to the global economy. "Depending on the price elasticity, the short-term losses due to the elimination of pollinators would correspond to between one and two percent of the global gross domestic product," report Lippert and his team. The income and profits for the years 2016 to 2018 were used as a reference value.

In the scenario of the complete absence of pollinators, there would be severe crop failures, the agricultural yield would decrease and, as a result, the prices would then rise. “Farmers can compensate for lower yields to a certain extent with higher prices. But the consumer definitely loses because he has to pay the increased prices, ”explains Lippert. "Therefore, in any case, most of the economic loss would have to be borne by the consumers."

Loss in Germany at 3.8 billion euros

For Germany, the economic losses would also be considerable: If all pollinating insects were eliminated, the economy in this country would lose an average of around 3.8 billion euros per year. The yields of apples, strawberries and cherries, but also beans, cucumbers and tomatoes would be particularly affected. In the case of the oil and energy plant rapeseed, there would also be very significant crop losses.

These losses apply mainly in the short term, for the year after the pollinators disappeared, as the researchers emphasize. In the long term, agriculture could adapt by changing cultivation practices, plant species or by breeding varieties that are independent of pollinators. “In agriculture, for example, more self-pollinated and / or wind-pollinated varieties could be grown,” explains Lippert.

Actual damage is much higher

According to the scientists, their simulations demonstrate how important pollinator animals are not only for ecology, but also for economy and society. An abrupt collapse, as in the scenarios, is rather unrealistic because the pollinator numbers tend to decline gradually. "But these declines in pollinator populations and the possible consequences for food production increase the need to quantify their ecosystem services economically," the researchers say.

However, they also emphasize that their calculations are only an incomplete approximation: "Of course we cannot capture all the ecological effects of such a catastrophic event on the environment and people that go far beyond the mere damage caused by a lower yield," says Lipperts Colleague Manuel Narjes. "But such estimates can raise awareness of the importance of intact ecosystems and thus make a contribution to maintaining biodiversity." (Ecological Economics¸2020; doi: 10.1016 / j.ecolecon.2020.106860)

Source: University of Hohenheim

17th November 2020

- Nadja Podbregar