Scientists at the University of Leeds have been awarded nearly £1.5m to explore the causes and consequences of threats to bees and other pollinating insects in the UK.
The Leeds research is part of the Insect Pollinators Initiative, which aims to ensure that the pollination of agricultural and horticultural crops in the UK is protected and biodiversity in natural ecosystems is maintained. Of the eight initiative projects announced today, two are led by University of Leeds scientists and a third includes Leeds as a partner, confirming the institution's position as a leading centre in UK pollination research.
Improving our understanding of the decline of populations of bees and other insect pollinators - and what can be done to halt it - is critical because of the potential threat to agriculturally-produced food supplies and wider damage to the environment.
Insects pollinate around two-thirds of the agricultural crops grown globally and the total loss of insect pollinators could cost up to £440m per year in the UK - about 13% of the UK's income from farming.
Funding worth almost £10m in total has been announced as part of the Insect Pollinators Initiative, which is a collaboration between the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Natural Environment Research Council, The Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust, and is funded under the auspices of the Living With Environmental Change partnership.
Academics in the University of Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences have been awarded total funding of £1.47m. Dr Koos Biesmeijer leads a team that will provide the scientific underpinning for 'Sustainable pollination services for UK crops'; Professor Bill Kunin's project, 'Linking agriculture and land use change to pollinator populations', aims to elucidate the causes underlying the parallel declines in wild pollinators and flowering plants. Both are also involved in a third project 'Urban Pollinators: their ecology and conservation', led by Professor Jane Memmott of the University of Bristol.
The Leeds team includes not only ecologists, but also climate scientists, economists and computer scientists. Professor Kunin, Dr Biesmeijer and Dr. Chris Needham of the School of Computing will collaborate with colleagues at the Universities of Reading and Bristol, the Food and Environment Research Agency and the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology on the project 'Linking agriculture and land use change to pollinator populations'.
Professor Kunin said: "There is growing evidence that domestic honeybees and wild pollinators are in trouble, and that many wildflowers that depend on them for pollination are also declining. But we don't know how these trends are linked - whether pollinator declines are driving flower losses or vice versa. We will also test whether other factors such as pesticide usage and land use history have an impact on pollinators, and whether honeybees and wild pollinators affect each others' populations.
"Our job is to work out the cause and effect relationship between these plant and pollinator losses, and to see if we can work out ways to slow or reverse them. Ultimately, it's about maintaining the UK's biodiversity: maintaining a rural environment rich in wildflowers and wild pollinators. It's important because biodiversity makes our lives richer."
Dr Biesmeijer will collaborate with Dr Mette Termansen and Dr Andy Challinor of the University of Leeds, and colleagues at the Food and Environment Research Agency National Bee Unit and the University of Reading on 'Sustainable pollination services for UK crops'.
Dr Biesmeijer said: "The decline in wild pollinators and managed honeybees potentially affects UK agricultural production. We will determine which wild and managed pollinators contribute to pollination of insect-dependent crops and whether the lack of wild pollinators limits agricultural production in UK landscapes.
"We will also analyse how the supply of managed honeybee hives for crop pollination can be improved. Investigating whether climate change will affect UK crop pollination in the future is also a focus of our work."
Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said: "The UK leads the world in biology, and we have a strong community read and able to tackle important social and economic issues that scientific research can help address. To this end it is a priority for BBSRC to fund bioscience research that will contribute to meeting the challenge of feeding a global population set to reach 9 billion by 2050.
"The Insect Pollinators Initiative supports our aim to fund high quality research across BBSRC's scientific remit that will inform sustainable food production in the future. With such a complex problem, multidisciplinary and systems-based approaches will be extremely valuable and BBSRC's community is well placed to provide the necessary expertise to make this happen. Not only this, but these projects will also generate UK-based knowledge, skills and technical innovation in areas as diverse as genetics, virology, ecology and mathematical modelling."
Projects funded under the initiative are:
Jessica Kwok and Ronaldo Ichiyama, International Spinal Research Trust (Feb 2018), £94,450
Dave Lewis and Colleagues in South Africa, HEFCE Global Challenge Research (Jan 2018), £48,000
Sarah Calaghan, Ed White, John Colyer, Isuru Jayasinghe, BHF (Jan 2018), £128,308
Christine Foyer and Alison Baker, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £71,158
Alison Baker, Yun Yung Gong and Lindsay Stringer and ICRISAT India, HEFCE GCRF Grant (Jan 2018), £27,000
Graham Askew, Simon Walker, BBSRC (Jan 2018), £699,781
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society (Jan 2018), £512,801
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2017), £18,000
Jennifer Tomlinson, Royal Society-Research Fellows Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £94,681
Helen Miller, AB AGri Grant (Dec 2017), £73,600
Simon Walker, Royal Society Enhancement Award (Dec 2017), £10,000
Carrie Ferguson, Bryan Taylor, Harry Rossiter, The Physiological Society (Dec 2017), £7,392
Ralf Richter, Royal Society (Dec 2017), £6,000
Christine Foyer, British Council Newton Fund (Dec 2017), £49,840
Adrian Whitehouse and colleagues in School of Chemistry and University of Liverpool, MRC (Nov 2017), £622,319
Michelle Peckham, Neil Ransom, MRC (Nov 2017), £495,159
Dave Lewis, British Council India (Nov 2017), £22,540
Hannah Dugdale, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Elton Zeqiraj, Royal Society (Nov 2017), £15,000
Shaunna Burke, Cancer Research UK Innovation Grant (Nov 2017), £20,000
Alex O'Neill and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Nov 2017), £431,865
Jessica Kwok, Wings for Life (Nov 2017), £87,365
Tom Bennett, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £523,679
Neil Ranson, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £494,318
Nikita Gamper, BBSRC (Oct 2017), £490,426
Amanda Bretman and colleagues from UEA, NERC (Oct 2017), £430,886
Juan Fontana, Rosetrees Trust consumables grant (Oct 2017), £22,500
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products AG (Sep 2017), £69,988
Neil Ranson, Juan Fontana, Mark Harris, Michelle Peckham, Ralf Richter, Peter Stockley, Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle and colleagues in Engineering, FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Sep 2017), £418,000
Jamie Johnston, Physiological Society (Sep 2017), £10,000
Frank Sobott, Adrian Goldman, Mark Harris, Andrew Macdonald, Stephen Muench, Sheena Radford and colleagues in FMH and MAPS, Wellcome Trust Equipment Call (Aug 2017), £415,000
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000