What food and drinks you have had this week? If you have eaten fruits, nuts, grains, meat or chocolate, or drunk juice or coffee, then you have pollinators to thank!

Pollinators play an important role in many of the foods we eat, according to Dr Dara Stanley, who is leading the SFI funded project SUSPOLL (Sustainable Pollination Services in a Changing World) to better understand how climate and environmental change will affect pollinators in Ireland.

“Pollinators, including bees and other insects, play a role in the production of about 75% of crops that we go on to eat,” explains Dr Stanley, an Assistant Professor in Applied Entomology [the study of insects] at University College Dublin. “In Ireland, pollinators are also very important for some forage such as clover that supports livestock.”

But with changing climate and habitats, what is the future for pollinators in Ireland? SUSPOLL is gathering data about the effects of pesticides and climate change, as well as other environmental drivers, to get insights into how even subtle changes could affect the type, location and behaviour of pollinators in Ireland.

“A lot of studies in the past have looked at how climate changes can result in plants flowering at different times, which means the pollinators may not be around to help the plants to reproduce. We want to look at the behavioural changes in pollinators and what environmental drivers are linked to them.”
Bee on flower. Photograph: Dr Dara Stanley

The researchers are interested, for example, in weather changes that could affect the activity of pollinators. “We think that bees are susceptible to changes in rainfall pattern, like having heavier showers,” says Dr Stanley. “We suspect that honeybees are more vulnerable to these changes compared to other bees, so if our rainfall patterns are changing in Ireland, we may not be able to rely on honeybees so much for pollination.”

Climate change will influence the kinds of pollinators and food and fuel crops that Ireland can support into the future, notes Dr Stanley, and it’s important to understand the options so we can plan in advance: “As the project develops, we will be sharing and discussing the findings with the public and with policymakers, because this will affect everyone.”