Studies find wild bees and insects essential to food security

Mar 14, 2013
Studies Find Wild Bees and Insects Essential to Food Security
Most of our crops are pollinated, and half the pollination is the work of wild pollinators like this blueberry bee.

Wild pollinators – primarily wild bees, flies, and other insects – are at least as important, and often more efficient, at pollinating agricultural crops than domestic honey bee colonies, according to two new studies published in Science and the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

"This will be a surprise to the agricultural establishment," said Rachael Winfree, professor of ecology, evolution and natural resources in Rutgers' School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, who was involved in both studies. "There's a widespread assumption that domestic are doing the job. This work shows that's not true."

The first study, published in Science, involved 51 researchers from 20 countries on every continent but Antarctica, who visited 600 fields, in which grew 41 varieties of crop. It was led by Lucas Garibaldi of the National University of Rio Negro in Argentina.

About 75% percent of require pollination, making pollinators an essential part of food security. The researchers found that almost half that pollination is the work of wild pollinators.

Studies Find Wild Bees and Insects Essential to Food Security
A bumble bee, its pollen sacks full, at work. According to a recent study, bumble bees are declining in the northeastern United States and southern Canada. "They're important," says Rutgers resarcher Rachael Winfree. "They're big and hairy and carry a lot of pollen."' Credit: Tony Willis

The good news is that farmers can keep wild pollinators abundant by leaving a bit of around their fields – patches of wildflowers, some hedge rows or anything that gives wild bees a place to live, Winfree said. "Farms with a little bit of natural habitat are more sustainable in terms of their pollination," she said. She added that farms using pesticides and insecticides tend to have fewer pollinators than those that don't.

The second study, published in PNAS, examined historical changes in the population of wild bees in the northeastern United States and southern Canada. Winfree and Ignasi Bartomeus, then a postdoctoral scholar in her lab; John Ascher, a scientist at the in New York; and others employed web-based software to compile 30,000 museum specimen records representing 438 bee species.

The researchers looked at "species richness" – the number of species of bee in a specific region—and how it changed over time. They used museum records, going back to 1872. They found that wild bees as a whole had suffered some species losses but that these declines were moderate – about 15 percent of the more than 400 species over the 140 years.

Bumble bee colonies, on the other hand, are disappearing. Since 1872, according to the PNAS study, the number of bumble in the northeastern United States and southern Canada has declined about 30 percent.

Since, as Winfree and her many co-authors found in their Science paper, wild pollinators are key to successful of , a 30 percent loss in species richness is bad news. This is especially true of bumble bees. "They're very important," Winfree said. "They're big and hairy and carry a lot of pollen."

While the PNAS paper doesn't offer reasons for the loss in species richness for bumble bees or other bees, the authors point out that non-native species of wild bees seem to be doing better than those native to North America. There is some indication that climate change may play a role, since bees long associated with the south seem to be moving north.

"Environmental change affects species differentially," said Bartomeus, now a postdoctoral scholar at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Stockholm. "It creates 'losers' that decline with increased human activity, but also 'winners' that thrive in human-altered environments."

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The flight of the bumble bee: Why are they disappearing?

Aug 11, 2011

A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientist is trying to learn what is causing the decline in bumble bee populations and also is searching for a species that can serve as the next generation of greenhouse pollinators.

Bee species outnumber mammals and birds combined

Jun 11, 2008

Scientists have discovered that there are more bee species than previously thought. In the first global accounting of bee species in over a hundred years, John S. Ascher, a research scientist in the Division of Invertebrate ...

Recommended for you

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.