The Information Highway has never been more complex, nor its content so difficult to appraise. Moreover, the digital (computer and information technology) deficit in the developing world grows larger by the day. By thinking of scientific and technical information as requiring depth, precision and accuracy it can be considered as a vertical component to knowledge. The dissemination of that information into practice as part of day to day life requires that the information be simplified for extension education, but without loss of rigour as what may be thought of as the horizontal component to general knowledge. Scientific and technical information is of little use if it can not be widely applied. INESP aims to provide the vertical component to the knowledge base, and to provide that to leaders (e.g. FAO, IBRA, IUCN, UNEP, global, regional and national agricultural and conservation organizations etc.) in the horizontal extension of that relevant and reliable information.
In short, The Task Force on Declining Pollination is expected to be able to provide the scientific capacity by which sustainability of pollination systems can be achieved. This scientific capacity depends on interdisciplinary scientific expertise that combines botany, zoology, ecology, ethology, environmental sciences, and so on with economics and social sciences, extension education methodologies in synthesizing and appraising information, both old and new, through modern approaches in informatics.
Botanical & Crop Science
For most plants worldwide for the pollination requirements are unknown. For some plants the pollination requirements are variously misunderstood and only for a few species is information adequate for addressing the issues of conservation. Thus, there is an astoundingly broad potential for the expansion of application of pollinator ecology into plant and animal conservation. It might be thought that pollination requirements for crops would be well known, but misunderstandings in crop pollination stem from incomplete knowledge of plant breeding systems and floral biology. For examples: The pollination of oil palm, the source of a major world commodity, was elucidated only in the last two decades: Is coconut insect or wind pollinated, or both, and under what conditions of growth and cultivation? Only recently have insights been gained into biogeographical difference in coconut pollination. Coffee, largely regarded as not benefiting nor requiring insect pollination, has been shown recently to yield much more when insects freely forage at the flowers. Information on some important oil seed plants is confused and difficult to synthesize: much of the problem derives from inter-cultivar differences that remain largely un-investigated. The same can be said of important orchard crops and small and tender fruits. In short, much of the literature on crops is dated, sometimes based on anecdote rather than on science, inaccurate and sometimes plain wrong. Given that that is the situation with respect to human food production, the shortfall of information for natural systems can be understood to be hugely greater. Major pollination and pollinator problems confront plants in nature and in agriculture in temperate areas. That, however, does not indicate that literature does not have its value. What it does mean is that the literature on pollination must be approached with caution and, more importantly, with expertise.
Zoology & Pollinators
The zoological side is perhaps even less properly understood. The major emphasis on honey bees as pollinators has resulted in some astounding successes in pollination technology, but in some cases has been wrong. Again, lessons from agriculture apply. Success with alternative pollinators on some major crops, e.g. bumblebees and greenhouse tomatoes, weevils and oil palms, leafcutting bees and alfalfa (lucerne), etc. help illustrate the need to consider pollinators beyond honeybees. A major constraint to the expansion of the pollinator base for conservation, as for agriculture, is the immense lack of biological information on potentially valuable players. The lack extends from the taxonomic constraint through to basic knowledge about biology and ecology as required for encouraging and conserving the pollinators.
In natural systems, as in managed, semi-managed, and exploited ecosystems (e.g. as in agroforestry and forestry) the situation with respect to pollination requirements of the plants and the nature of the pollinators on which the plants depend for reproduction is all but unknown from the view point of ecosystem function. Some very recent research indicates that pollinator assemblages provide more pollination services than the individual species themselves, even if in large numbers. The diversity and abundance of pollinator assemblages, and their tempral stabilities may be useful as measures of ecosystem function, but data are only recently accumulating to test these ideas in the context of ecosystem conservation.
Overcoming Taxonomic Constraints, Zoological & Botanical
Because of the inadequacy of the knowledge base in pollinator taxonomy and biology, the unreliability of much of the published literature in pollination, even in agriculture and the lack of information on the pollination biology of many economically important plants, the potential for novel approaches to pollination technology and pollinator husbandry, incomplete understandings of floral biology and plant breeding systems, and so on, it is unrealistic to expect conservationists to be able to convey thoroughly considered and interdisciplinarily valid information without scientific assistance. The Task Force on Declining Pollination is envisioned to provide that assistance.
Overcoming Ecological Methodological Constraints
Conservation and protection of pollination in agroecosystems and in nature recently has become a major concern internationally and worldwide after decades of neglect. Thus, there is little information in the literature on conservation and habitat management that relates directly to pollination. In fact, the conservation movement has progressed from endangered species to endangered spaces, but is only now starting to embrace endangered processes. Similarly, habitat management has tended to concentrate on specific problems afflicting particular situations. The The Task Force on Declining Pollination initiative intends to address conservation and habitat management from the levels of species (animals and plants), to spaces (as in specific habitats), to ecosystemic processes that are keystone to biodiversity, abundance, and the interactions of life forms with each other and with physical components of their environments.
Overcoming Economic and Educational Constraints
Biology and Ecology are not enough for The Task Force on Declining Pollination to accomplish its aims. One of the main messages that must be made to justify a major, globally active, program in sustainable pollination is economic. The value of pollination to agriculture can not be questioned, but economic analyses that explore the effects of pollination deficits on food security and prices have not been made in respect of the globalization of the economy, nor in respect of local to national markets. Socioeconomic benefits of sustainable pollination could be demonstrated for specific crops or cropping systems, or at various geographic scales. The Task Force on Declining Pollination intends to embrace economic and societal studies as part of its program, especially towards the integration of biology and ecology into the horizontal component of knowledge sharing. Because of the overall interdisciplinarity of The Task Force on Declining Pollination, and its holistic approach in embracing people as part of the agroecosystem, special and imaginative approaches to extension education and technology transfer are required.
Part of the information exchange capacity of The Task Force on Declining Pollination would involve Seminars and Courses (both advanced and basic). Some of these would be web-based, and others would be best presented through personal presence at the events.
Contributing to the Information Highway
Modern informatics will be central to The Task Force on Declining Pollinationís operational approaches. Information technology is needed from the critical reviews of existing information to synthesising it so as to arrive at the most rigorous conclusions and recommendations. The results of those studies must be made available as rapidly as possibly, as well as archived for future reference and updating. A web-based library will serve that purpose. The data base would include extended inventories of pollinators with respect to particular crops, cropping systems, and regions. Coupled to that would be taxonomic keys to pollinator identification, including computer-based expert and graphic systems. Data bases on agricultural production and trade would be accessed for economic analyses, through collaborative efforts with other initiatives in pollination conservation.. From the highly technical information, two sorts of information would be generated, extension material for use in the horizontal component of information sharing, and recommendations as to priority areas needing attention in the vertical component.
Teamwork & Team Building
The Task Force on Declining Pollination requires teamwork. Taxonomists, Ecologists, Botanists, Zoologists, Pollination biologists, Economists, Policy Analysts, Information Technologists, Systems Analysts, and Extension Educators need to work together and to have appreciations for the expertises of others on the team. Because research and extension needs will vary from highly specific to broadly interdisciplinary and general, the core team will be international (see below), and a data base of highly qualified personnel will be compiled for addressing problems at all levels. Particularly useful in respect to the latter is INESP (International Network of Expertise for Sustainable Pollination), various global and regional initiatives in Pollinator Conservation (International Pollinators Initiative (IPI), North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC), the African Pollinators Initiative (API), and others coming on-line, the International Commission on Plant-Bee Relations (ICPBR) and the electronic bulletin board POLPAL-L.
The Task Force on Declining Pollination will organize and help organize meetings such as workshops and expert consultations, to special symposia at various appropriate meetings at national and international levels, and The Task Force on Declining Pollination congresses from time to time.