Bees have been in the news lately as various factors (pesticides in particular) are threatening to drive them into extinction. Beekeepers are warning what a devastating effect this could have on the economy, while environmentalists are quick to point out that we’re butchering the planet’s ecosystem.
Now, a new study reveals that the situation may not be as dire as previously though, however there’s a bit of a catch. It turns out that only a small minority, 2 percent (2%), of bee species pollinate more than 80 percent (80%) of flowers in the United States and Europe. Within that 2% percent, only a very small number of wild bees are actually being threatened.
In fact, the study informs that most bee species rarely even show up in areas where most of our food is being grown.
The study, published earlier this week, on Tuesday (June 16, 2015), in the journal Nature Communications, has great value as it argues that ecosystems are not only worth protecting for their beauty and for the shelter that they offer wild animals, but also because they have monetary value to humans in the form of ecosystem services.
For the study, an international team of researchers led by David Kleijn of the Netherlands’ Wageningen University looked at data collected from 90 previous studies, which added up to more than 1.300 crop fields (1.394 to be exact) across five (5) continents. They began counting the number of bee species found in the studies in order to get a sense of hoe many of them were pollinating human crops.
The results showed that there were 73.649 individual bees, belonging to a total of 785 species that pollinated crops, which added up to 12.6% of known bee species in the areas covered by the studies.
When the researchers compared the studies, they found that “dominant crop-visiting species”, meaning the species that were responsible for at least 5 percent (5%) of the visits, all fit within just 2% of the bees species found in those areas.
The results stayed the same when the team considered factors such as different years, different crops, and different geographical regions.
They then finally checked to see how many of the pollinating species were being threatened. The process was made fairly easy as four (4) of the countries in the 90 studies – Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom – all had Red Data Books which catalogue endangered bee species.
There were a total of 19 studies that took place in those countries, and within them, the researchers noticed that only a mere 0.3 percent (0.3%) of bees pollinating crops were also threatened with extinction.
The researchers estimate that wild bees pollinating human crops contribute with roughly $3.251 per hectare, which in turn adds up to millions of dollars per year, and that two thirds of the most important crops in the world benefit from bee pollination. The study authors say that the instability of the honeybee population in recent years only serves to stress the importance of pollinating wild bees.
David Kleijn and his colleagues bring up the tern “ecosystem service” to empathize the importance of the study and how it applies not only to bee species, but to many other insects and animals as well: “Many experimental studies show that biodiversity increases the magnitude and/or stability of ecosystem functioning (of which ecosystem services are the subset that benefit people), and that most species contribute to ecosystem functioning in some way”.
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