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New Research Maps Farm Threats from Wild Bee Loss

Wild bee habitat is on the decline in many of the country's most important farmlands, according to a new report. (Debivort/Wikimedia Commons)
Wild bee habitat is on the decline in many of the country's most important farmlands, according to a new report. (Debivort/Wikimedia Commons)
January 5, 2016

DENVER - Wild bee populations in the U.S. are disappearing in many of the country's most important farmlands, including the Great Plains and California's Central Valley according to a national study led by the University of Vermont.

Taylor Ricketts, professor and director, University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics and the report's senior author, says continued losses could disrupt the nation's crop production.

"Wild bees are important because they help pollinate our crops," says Ricketts. "About 70 percent of the most important global crops require bees or other pollinators to set the fruit and vegetables we grow them for. That's worth billions, in the U.S. alone."

The report found the amount of wild bee habitat dropped by 23 percent in the lower 48 states between 2008 and 2013, and cites pesticide use and climate change as potential causes. Ricketts says farmers with crops that depend on pollinators, from apple orchards to pumpkin patches, face a growing mismatch between rising demand for pollination and a falling supply of bees.

A team of seven researchers from four universities created a map of wild bee populations and zeroed in on areas with the largest losses. Ricketts says he's hopeful the report will help conservation groups focus their efforts to carve out spaces more friendly to wild bees.

"The good news here is, it's not a mystery," says Ricketts. "They need three things, they need places to nest, they need flowers to feed from, and they need to not be poisoned by agrichemicals, like pesticides."

Ricketts calls the nation's nearly 4,000 species of wild bees a "precious natural resource." He says protecting them is critical to maintaining a $3 billion a year farming industry and keeping fruits and vegetables on dinner tables across the country.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO