Bees Are Still Stressed, Need Our Help
September 7, 2012

Honeybees And Wild Bees Need Our Help To Keep Going

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Agricultural yields have always depended on pollinators and their symbiotic ability to spread the powdery substance necessary for plant reproduction, a fact that has become more important as the unexplained drop in the worldwide bee population continues.

Pollinating insects add to the production of 84 percent of European crops and officials there are looking to boost the efforts of domesticated pollinators, such as honeybees, and wild pollinators, like bumblebees by initiating programs like STEP, or Status and Trends of European Pollinators.

Findings presented at the STEP symposium in Germany this week continue to confirm that the bee population is under unprecedented stress.

"We have shown that not only has bee diversity been declining but communities are becoming more uniform in their composition", commented Koos Beismeijer from Netherlands Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis whose research group analyzed over 32 million European records of plant and pollinators.

Results from the study pointed to the use of agrochemicals as the main culprit for the population and diversity decline.

“(W)e are now finding strong negative effects of pesticides, not only in honeybees and bumblebees, but also solitary bees — as Europe has more than 2,500 solitary bee species we expect the implications of our research to be very wide ranging" said Christoph Sandrock,  a biologist from the Swiss Bee Research Centre.

While many steps have been taken to supplement the managed populations of honey bees, any calls to boost the wild bee population and its impact on agricultural output have largely been ignored. It´s a situation that many presenters at the symposiums were saying needed to change.

"One of the big achievements of the STEP project will be the first ever European Red List for bees which will provide an essential tool for politicians and land managers to direct conservation efforts targeted at wild bees" said Stuart Roberts from University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

"There is increasing evidence that honeybee numbers are insufficient in many parts of Europe to provide adequate pollination services, and so wild pollinators are needed to cover the shortfall" said Roberts´ colleague at the university Tom Breeze.

Efforts to better understand and bolster the pollinator population are not confined to Europe alone. The United States agricultural industry also depends heavily on the beneficial effects of these flying insects.

According to a study published last year, California agriculture can attribute $937 million to $2.4 billion per year in economic value from wild bee species alone. While many farmers rent European honeybees to ensure crop pollination, the study by University of California at Berkeley researchers showed that wild pollinators were a significant source of crop pollination. The study estimated that wild pollinators provide 35 to 39 percent of all pollination to the state´s crops.

The UC Berkeley study shows that quantifying the impact of wild bees is still in its early stages, but a nationwide effort last month attempted to increase the data surrounding their effects. The Great Bee Count asked for anyone in the country to grow bee friendly plants and count the number of visitors the plants receive for 15 minutes each day.