Loss of Bees Causes Shortage of Key Food Crops, Study Finds | Bees

The lack of bees in agricultural areas is limiting the supply of some food crops, according to a new study conducted in the US, which suggests that declining pollinators may have serious ramifications for global food security.

Wild bee species, like bumble bees, suffer from a loss of flowering habitat, the use of toxic pesticides and, increasingly, the climate crisis. Meanwhile, beekeepers are managing managed honey bees, but they have still been attacked by disease, raising concerns that three-quarters of the world’s food crops that rely on pollinators may falter due to lack of bees.

New research appears to confirm some of these fears.

Of seven crops studied in 13 American states, five showed evidence that a lack of bees is hampering the amount of food that can be grown, including apples, blueberries, and cherries. A coalition of scientists from the US, Canada, and Sweden surveyed a total of 131 farm fields looking for bee activity and crop abundance.

“The crops that got the most bees had significantly higher production,” said Rachael Winfree, an ecologist and pollination expert at Rutgers University, lead author of the paper, published by the Royal Society. “I was surprised, I didn’t expect them to be limited by this measure.”

The researchers found that wild native bees contributed a surprisingly large portion of pollination despite operating in intensively cultivated areas, largely stripped of the vegetation that supports them. Wild bees are often more effective pollinators than honey bees, but research has shown that several species are in sharp decline. The rusty patched bumblebee, for example, was the first bee to be listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2017 after suffering an 87% drop in the previous two decades.

The swaths of American agriculture are backed by honey bees, frantically replicated and displaced by the country in hives to meet the growing need for crop pollination.

Almonds, one of two crops that did not show a lack of bees in the study, are grown mainly in California, where most hives in the US are trucked each year for a mass pollination event of almonds.

The United States is at the forefront of the divergent trends that are being replicated in other parts of the world, as agriculture becomes more intensive to produce larger volumes to feed a growing world population, tactics such as crushing wildflower meadows, spraying large amounts of insecticides and planting monocultures. individual crop fields are damaging bee populations crucial to crop pollination.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the amount of crop production dependent on insects and other pollinators has increased 300% in the past 50 years. Poor pollination could cause certain fruits and vegetables to become rarer and more expensive, triggering nutritional deficits in diets. However, staple foods like rice, wheat and corn will not be affected as they are pollinated by the wind.

“Honey bee colonies are weaker than they used to be and wild bees are declining, probably by a lot,” Winfree said. “Agriculture is becoming more intensive and there are fewer bees, so at some point pollination will be limited. Even if the bees were healthy, it is risky to rely so heavily on a single species of bee. It is predictable that the parasites target the only species we have in these monocultural farming fields. “

The document recommends that farmers gain a better understanding of the optimal amount of pollination needed to increase crop yields, as well as reviewing whether the level of pesticide and fertilizer applied to fields is appropriate.

“The trends we are seeing now are preparing us for food security problems,” Winfree said. “We are not yet in a complete crisis, but the trends are not going in the right direction. Our study shows that this is not a problem 10 or 20 years from now, it is happening right now. “