Pesticide regulation, diversified farming systems and long-term monitoring are all ways governments can help to secure the future of pollinators such as bees, flies and wasps, according to scientists.
In an article published today in the journal Science, a team of researchers has suggested ten clear ways in which governments can protect and secure pollination services – vital to the production of fruits, vegetables and oils.
A recent global assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) confirmed that large-scale declines in wild pollinators are happening in north Europe and North America.
The ten policies report, led by Dr Lynn Dicks at the University of East Anglia who also took part in the assessment, expands on its findings to provide clear suggestions on how to tackle the problem.
Dr Dicks said: “The IPBES report has made it very clear that pollinators are important to people all over the world, economically and culturally. Governments understand this, and many have already taken substantial steps to safeguard these beautiful and important animals. But there is much more to be done. We urge governments to look at our policy proposals, and consider whether they can make these changes to support and protect pollinators, as part of a sustainable, healthy future for humanity.
“Agriculture plays a huge part. While it is partly responsible for pollinator decline, it can also be part of the solution. Practices that support pollinators, such as managing landscapes to provide food and shelter for them, should be promoted and supported. We also need to focus publicly funded research on improving yields in farming systems like organic farming, which are known to support pollinators.”
“Pressure to raise pesticide regulatory standards internationally should be a priority. The World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have worked for many years to develop a global code of conduct on pesticide management, but there are still many countries that don’t follow it. This means pesticides are in widespread use that are unacceptably toxic to bees, birds, even humans.”
The report stresses the need to develop more in-depth knowledge about the status of pollinators worldwide. Dr Dicks said: “We need long-term monitoring of pollinators, especially in Africa, South America and Asia, where there is little information about their status, but the processes driving declines are known to be occurring.”
The ten suggested policies in full are:
- Raise pesticide regulatory standards
- Promote integrated pest management (IPM)
- Include indirect and sublethal effects in GM crop risk assessments
- Regulate movement of managed pollinators
- Develop incentives, such as insurance schemes, to help farmers benefit from ecosystem services instead of agrochemicals
- Recognize pollination as an agricultural input in extension services
- Support diversified farming systems
- Conserve and restore “green infrastructure” (a network of habitats that pollinators can move between) in agricultural and urban landscapes
- Develop long-term monitoring of pollinators and pollination
- Fund participatory research on improving yields in organic, diversified, and ecologically intensified farming
Prof Simon Potts, co-author and research professor in Agri-Environment at the University of Reading, said: “The definitive UN report is a sign that the world is waking up to the importance of protecting these vital pollinators. We hope that by going a step further and implementing these top policy opportunities, we can encourage decision-makers to take action before it’s too late.
“Three quarters of the world’s food crops benefit from animal pollination, so we must safeguard pollinators to safeguard the supply of nutritious foods.”
A portable power-free test for the rapid detection of bacterial resistance to antibiotics has been developed by academics at Loughborough University and the University of Reading.
The test, which is at least 12 times faster than current microbiological tests, is the result of research by Dr Nuno Reis, Lecturer in Chemical Engineering at Loughborough University, and Dr Al Edwards, Associate Professor in Biomedical Technology at the University of Reading. The full study has been published in the Lab on a Chip journal.
The study showed that dipstick tests routinely used for testing in a variety of scenarios from soil pH strips for the garden to pregnancy tests, could be updated using the latest approach in miniaturised testing technology to help form the basis of a new generation of advanced, yet affordable, point-of-care tests for global diagnostics.
As part of the study, different cellular tests were carried out to demonstrate the full potential of Lab-on-a-Stick devices for a range of clinical situations:
Anti-microbial resistance – this was measured with E. coli samples typical of common urinary tract infection (UTIs). UTIs can be hard to treat with antibiotics because antibiotic resistance is so common and lab testing takes at least two days. The assay detects antibiotic resistance – in other words, can the cells grow in the presence of the antibiotic, and how much antibiotic is needed to stop cell growth? This demonstrated the advantage of using the microcapillary film which enables 10 different concentrations of antibiotic per sample to be tested with a single test strip. The research team are currently optimising this so that the test, which currently requires overnight incubation in a multi-well plate, could in the future be completed in less than two hours in a single test strip.
Bacteria identification – classical analytical microbiology tests used for the identification of bacteria were miniaturised and performed in parallel microcapillaries, resulting in simple and rapid identification of bacteria. To identify bacteria, many different tests must be performed on every sample, illustrating again the benefits of microcapillary film which performs 10 tests per test strip. This study demonstrated a four-hour test to distinguish two very closely related bacteria – a harmless laboratory strain of E. coli from a type of Salmonella that causes food poisoning.
ABO blood typing – a simple blood test that takes only two minutes was miniaturised and the results were recorded using an everyday digital camera.
Dr Reis said: “This is a major step towards miniaturising complex, routine microbiological and clinical tests that cannot at the moment be performed outside of the laboratory setting.
“Our secret is simplicity. We have shown how microengineered film material made from a very transparent plastic with special optical properties, makes it easy to perform laboratory tests without lab equipment. Previously, we showed how a portable Lab-in-a-briefcase made it possible to record blood test results with the assistance of a simple smartphone.”
Dr Edwards, co-author of the study, said: “This is the latest demonstration of our exciting new technology called microcapillary film. Many researchers across the world have shown how miniaturising lab tests can speed them up using microfluidic Lab-on-a-Chip devices. But these are too expensive to be useful outside the laboratory. What we have done is to develop a low cost way of making thousands of miniature test tubes, so that we can use them for many important applications. Lab-on-a-Stick shows yet again how versatile these microscopic test tubes are.”
The University of Reading is a public research university in Reading, Berkshire, United Kingdom.
The University was established in 1892 as University College, Reading and received its Royal Charter in 1926. It is based on several campuses in, and around, the town of Reading.
The University has a long tradition of research, education and training at a local, national and international level. It offers traditional degrees alongside less usual and other vocationally relevant ones. It was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 1998, 2005, 2009, and again in 2011. It is one of the ten most research intensive universities in the UK and ranked in the top 1% of universities in the world by THE.
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