Bees and other insects leave behind tiny ‘footprints’ of environmental DNA on plants each time they visit, giving researchers a way of tracking where insects have been and offering clues on how to help them flourish.

A team of researchers, including the Wellcome Sanger Institute and led by the University of Copenhagen, have used these DNA footprints as a non-invasive way to collect information on insect biodiversity, giving new insight into how to boost pollination and protect insect biodiversity and crops against threats such as climate change.

The new study, published today (6 December 2022) in Environmental DNA, is the first time DNA footprints have been used alongside visual observations to track the kind of insect visitors to crops, helping to see if there are any pests and informing new ways to encourage beneficial insects.

For example, the team uncovered the importance of wild non-bee pollinators that have previously been underestimated in their impact, along with identifying multiple pest species. These findings can inform new management strategies based on the specific insects visiting an orchard or crop.

This study is part of the BEESPOKE* project, which is a collaboration between a range of partners, including the University of Copenhagen, policymakers, and research institutes, from six North Sea Region countries. The aim of the project is to develop new products and approaches to increase the diversity of insect pollinators and crop yields.

Crops require bees and other pollinators to move pollen from one flower to another, allowing the plant to produce seeds and fruit. Threats such as pollinator decline due to pesticides and climate change can impact crop yield and quality, directly affecting many people’s livelihoods and food availability in general.

Having an environment that’s rich in biodiversity, with a variety of beneficial pollinators, can help protect crops against these threats. Therefore, knowing what insects are visiting crops, how they work as a community, and highlighting pest species is important to inform management techniques.

Currently, the insect community in an area is tracked by visual observation. However, the presence of observers can alter insect behavior. Visual observation is also extremely time-consuming and can miss certain populations of insects, especially those that are nocturnal, as most observations are carried out during the day when there is enough light.

Read the complete research at

Following insect footprints to improve crop resilience and monitor pollinator biodiversity, WELLCOME TRUST SANGER INSTITUT, in Environmental DNA, DOI 10.1002/edn3.362