A shortage of bees in agricultural areas in the United States limits the growth of some crops, a new American study finds. The research suggests that pollinator decline could have serious implications for global food security.
Species of wild bees, such as bumblebees, suffer from the disappearance of flowering habitats, the use of pesticides and, increasingly, the climate crisis. Of the seven crops examined, five showed evidence that a lack of bees hampers crop growth. Scientists from the US, Canada and Sweden have examined a total of 131 fields for bee activity and crop abundance.
"The crops that got more bees got significantly more crop production," said Rachael Winfree, an ecologist at Rutgers University, a senior author of the report, published by the Royal Society. "I was surprised, I didn't expect growth to be so limited," he told Guardian newspaper.
The researchers found that wild native bees accounted for a surprisingly large amount of pollination, despite being largely devoid of supportive vegetation. Wild bees are often more effective pollinators than honey bees, but research has shown that several species are declining sharply. The patched bumblebee was the first bee to be listed as an endangered species in the US three years ago, after a slump of 87% over the past two decades.
The United States is at the forefront of some agricultural activities in a variety of trends that are subsequently replicated elsewhere in the world, such as intensification, spraying large amounts of insecticide, and planting monoculture fields with separate crops. This is partly seen as the cause of the disappearance of bee populations that are crucial for pollination of crops.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the amount of crop production dependent on insects and other pollinators has increased by 300% in the past 50 years. Pollination deficiencies can cause certain fruits and vegetables to become rarer and more expensive, leading to nutritional deficiencies. However, staple foods like rice, wheat and corn are unaffected as they are pollinated by the wind.
"Honey bee colonies are weaker than they used to be and wild bees are likely to be declining," says the FAO. “Agriculture is becoming more intensive and there are fewer bees, so pollination will be limited at some point. Even if honeybees were healthy, it is risky to rely so much on a single bee species. It is predictable that parasites will target the one species we have in these monocultural fields. ”