Lack of bees in agricultural areas is limiting the supply of certain food crops, a new US-based study has found, suggesting that declines in pollinators could have serious implications for global food security.
Species of wild bees, such as bumblebees, suffer from loss of flower habitat, use of toxic pesticides and, increasingly, climate crisis. Meanwhile, managed honey is given by bees to beekeepers, but is still suffering from the disease, with concerns that three-quarters of the world’s crops dependent on pollinators may falter due to a lack of bees.
New research confirms these fears.
Of the seven study crops grown in 13 states across the US, five showed evidence that the lack of bees was hindering the amount of food grown, including apples, blueberries, and cherries. A total of 131 crop areas were surveyed for bee activity and crop abundance by a coalition of scientists from the US, Canada and Sweden.
“Crops that received more bees produced significantly higher yields,” said Rachel Winfree, an ecologist and pollination expert at Rutgers University, the paper’s senior author, published by the Royal Society. “I was surprised, I didn’t expect them to be limited to this extent.”
Researchers found that wild native bees contributed a surprisingly large proportion of pollination, which largely supported vegetation despite working in intensively cultivated areas. Wild bees are often more effective pollinators than bees but research has shown that many species are in sharp decline. The Rusty Patched Bumblebee, for example, was the first bee to be placed on the US endangered species list in 2017 after suffering an 87% recession in the last two decades.
To meet the growing need for crops, American agricultural hives are prepared by honeybees, replicated and transferred throughout the country due to hives.
Almonds, one of two crops that do not appear to be suffering from a bee deficiency in the study, are mostly grown in California, where most bees in the US are brought each year for the occurrence of almond pollination.
The US is repeating anywhere around the world that is at the forefront of different trends – farming becomes more intensive to churn out more to feed a growing global population, leveling wildlife grasslands Strategy for, spraying large amounts of pesticides and planting of monocultures. Areas of single crops are harming bee populations for crop pollination.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the amount of crop production dependent on pests and other pollinators has increased 300% in the last 50 years. Some fruits and vegetables may become scarce due to lack of pollination and may be more expensive, leading to nutritional deficiencies in the diet. However, staple foods such as rice, wheat, and corn will not be affected, as they are pollinated through the air.
“Honeybee colonies were weaker than they used to be and wild bees were declining,” Winfree said. “Agriculture is becoming more dense and bees are less, so pollination will be limited at some point. Even if the honeybees were healthy, relying so much on single bee species is risky. It is predictable that the parasites would target a species that we have in the fields of these monoculture crops. “
The paper recommends that farmers have a better understanding of the maximum amount of pollination required to boost crop yields, as well as review whether the level of pesticides and fertilizers used in the field is appropriate.
“The trends we are seeing now are setting us up for food security problems,” said Winfree. “We are not in a complete crisis right now, but the trend is not going in the right direction. Our study shows that this has not been a problem for 10 or 20 years – it is happening right now. “