Wild Bee Decline Endangers U.S. Crops

It seems like a decline in wild bees could prove detrimental to U.S. crops. Yahoo News reports that wild bees are on the decline in main agricultural areas around the United States. This is all based on the release of a recent report that visually identifies problem spots in national bee populations.

According to the report, 139 counties prove especially problematic for the future while land containing crops dependent on bees keep increasing.

“Wild bee declines may increase costs for farmers and, over time, could even destabilize crop production,” Taylor Ricketts, director of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, recently said.

He continued, “Wild bees help pollinate many of our most nutritious crops, support natural ecosystems and contribute over $3 billion to the U.S. economy each year.”

A honey bee walks on wax in California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A honey bee walks on wax in California. [Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

Many of the problem areas include regions in California, the upper midwest, west Texas, and the Southern Mississippi River valley. Some of the crops these counties grew were almonds, pumpkins, peaches, apples, and watermelons.

Taylor Ricketts says that 39 percent of the pollinator-dependent crop area of the United States will be inadequate for pollination in the future. But what’s the reason behind the decrease?

The study showed that wild bee numbers decreased 23 percent in the U.S. from 2008 to 2013 because of the conversion of their natural habitat to farmland.

“If you look at the maps, the places that show the lowest abundance is essentially a map of intensified agriculture in the US,” said Professor Ricketts, one of the authors of the study.

“That’s a footprint of agriculture’s effect on bees, and its a habitat loss thing and it’s also a chemicals and pesticides thing for sure.”

“Our results highlight the need for strategies to maintain pollinator populations in farmland, and the importance of conservation programs that provide flowering habitat that can support wild bees and other pollinators,” said Michigan State University entomologist Rufus Isaacs.

Because of this massive decline in bee habitats, farmers might have to start using commercial honey bee colonies to artificially pollinate their crops. Even though honey bees can do the job, they perform better when there’s even just a few wild bees present.

“Where there are wild bees present, even modest numbers of wild bees can make the honey bee a better pollinator of almonds,” Neal Williams, one of the authors of the study, said. “It changes the behavior of the honey bees. For some reason… the wild bees cause the honey bees to move more between varieties. So they’re essentially transporting better pollen.”

The Los Angeles Times reports the study comes in response to a White House effort to address the decline in wild bee populations. It called for a report on the population of wild bees as well as the creation of seven million acres of habitat for wild bee populations.

Neal Williams continued, “We are a state with a huge dependence on pollination. We have very intensive agriculture, which has challenged our wild bee pollination a lot.”

Farmers need bees for most of their crops.

Professor Rickets said, “It’s not a big mystery about how to help bees near your farm, they need flowers, they need places to nest and they need to avoid being poisoned by chemicals and we know how to do all those things.”

“Often this can be done at very little cost to the farmer because there’s marginal lands to do them on. So there’s hope for this one.”

Hopefully, the U.S. can turn this dangerous trend in the other direction, so we can become better at saving our crops for future generations.

[Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]

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