Shortage of Wild Bees Threatens Food Crops
A lack of wild bees could cause a crop shortage, and this would have a drastic effect on humanity in the next few decades. It could lead to food security issues we are unfamiliar with so far.
Fruit crops that humanity enjoys would be under serious threat if bees and other insects die off to a degree that pollination of these fruits suffers.
According to a Rutgers University-led study recently published by The Royal Society, yields of these key crops are down across the USA because of a lack of bees in agricultural areas. This news does not bode well for global food security.
Important crop-producing areas at 131 US locations were surveyed, and it was found that 5 out of 7 crops suffered from “pollinator limitation,” with the assessment that yields could be improved with full pollination.
Crops observed in this study: apples, highbush blueberries, sweet and tart cherries, almonds, watermelons and pumpkins.
This 4:37-minute video by LivingC145 gives us a lovely overview of apple orchard pollination:
According to Rachael Winfree, ecologist, pollination expert and senior author of the paper, she was surprised that the crops that got more bees got considerably more crop production whereas pollinator declines were directly traceable to decreased production of the crops studied.
Wild bees contributed much to the pollination of the crops studied. The fact that both wild bees and managed honeybees are in decline is raising serious concerns about global food security, since most world crops rely on pollinators.
Some call this an “insect apocalypse” because actions taken by humans are endangering pollinators and causing them to dwindle everywhere. And it’s not just bees—bats, birds and other pollinators—all are threatened by monoculture, pesticides, climate change, disappearance of habitat due to vast building operations, and so much more. These creatures are the foundation of our food sources with three-quarters of the world’s food crops dependent on pollinators.
Wild bees are especially vulnerable to loss of wildflower and flowering habitat, climate change and deadly pesticides. Honeybees fall prey to diseases in addition to these blows to their well being.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization states that over the past 50 years, crop production has become 300% more dependent on insects and other pollinators than previously. At the same time, intensive high-volume farming has increased, which causes wildflower meadows to be flattened, insecticides to be used, and monoculture crops to be planted. All in the name of feeding the expanding human population. Using these tactics to feed more people actually has the opposite effect, as these practices damage bee and other pollinator populations.
This delightful 2:16-minute video by MelittologyNancy shows a variety of wild bee pollinators pollinating fruit trees:
As pollination shortfalls cause certain fruits and vegetables to become rarer, the prices will rise, and this will exclude these items from the diets of poor people. The results can be nutritional deficiencies if these nutrient-rich foods are replaced with such foods as rice, corn and wheat.
The economic value of these crops is usually around $1.5 billion yearly, and the value of all pollinator-dependent crops, according to a 2019 UN-backed assessment, is $235-577 annually. Fewer pollinators will have a huge financial impact.
The study encourages better conservation methods for wild bees, enhancing wildflowers, and looking at using managed pollinators other than honeybees to boost crop yields. It further noted that farmers should assess whether pesticide and fertilizer levels are appropriate in comparison to how much pollination is necessary to boost crop yields.
According to Winfree, the crisis isn’t quite here yet, but it isn’t looming as far as 10-20 years from now. The trends are disturbing and we are setting ourselves up for food security problems sooner rather than later.
Now is the time to turn the trend around, while we still can. You can read the full report at the Royal Society here.
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