More than half the people in some developing countries could be at the risk of malnutrition if crop-pollinating animals like bees continue to decline, a study shows.
Scientists at the University of Vermont and Harvard University have connected what people actually eat in four developing countries to the pollination requirements of the crops that provide their food and nutrients.
The team gathered survey data about people's daily diets in parts of Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda and Bangladesh.
"The take-home is: pollinator declines can really matter to human health with quite scary numbers for vitamin A deficiencies, for example," said scientist Taylor Ricketts from University of Vermont.
It can lead to blindness and increase death rates for some diseases, including malaria.
It is not just plummeting populations of bees.
Scientists around the world have observed a worrisome decline of many pollinator species, threatening the world's food supply.
Recent studies have shown that these pollinators are responsible for up to 40 percent of the world's supply of nutrients.
"Ecosystem damage can damage human health so conservation can be thought of as an investment in public health," Ricketts said.
"Continued declines of pollinator populations could have drastic consequences for global public health," the team wrote.
For parts of the developing world, the future could include "an increase in neural tube defects from folate deficiency or an increase in blindness and infectious diseases from vitamin A deficiency because we have transformed our landscapes in ways that don't support animal pollinators anymore."
The study appeared in the journal PLOS ONE.